Latest indie book review: SECTOR C by Phoenix Sullivan

Independently published by Phoenix Sullivan.  No star rating given for indies. (Why?)

SUMMARY: (science thriller; veterinary medicine thriller; disaster/pandemic thriller) A rise in stroke-like cases in the area of the Dakotas & Montana catches the attention of CDC analyst Mike Shafer. Patients from toddlers to healthy adults to the elderly, are succumbing to rapid neurologic deterioration – and death.

Veterinarian Donna Bailey, meanwhile, is dealing with a similar outbreak in animals. It looks like mad cow disease but is too fast and affects multiple mammal species.

Mike & Donna are trapped amid a surging epidemic and national crisis. Their search to find Patient Zero leads them to a secretive big game compound engaged in some kind of genetic research. Then they witness the research in the flesh—and unwillingly become part of the experiment.

REVIEW: Sector C is a strong indie variant on the plague thriller with a couple of unique strengths.  First, it’s a rare medical/science thriller told from a veterinary perspective. Author Phoenix Sullivan has vet tech experience and it shines through in this story, which features a large-animal veterinarian working the ranch lands of western North Dakota.  I found her portrayal of the people who work with animals in agriculture to be refreshing, sympathetic, and honest. Medical ethics for veterinarians and the special bonds that exist between humans and their animals (whether farm animals or “pets”) are nice touches in the narrative.

Related to her engaging portrayal of the large animal vet’s life, Sullivan also uses the local setting of the rural plains to good effect. The reader feels her affection for the people and the place where her story is set.

As far as the plague plot, Sector C is a solid story, straightforward, that has a good scientific foundation (always a bonus with me).  The role of the CDC in uncovering statistical anomalies that might suggest an early epidemic felt accurate. Allowing for the usual dramatic license in terms of time and scope, the plague also is portrayed with much scientific basis in the nature and behavior of prion diseases. The molecular biology experiments performed by the secretive company are scientifically plausible overall.

The writing style of Sector C is definitely above average for an indie novel. Author Sullivan constructs her sentences, paragraphs, and chapters well.

WEAKNESSES: Sector C includes what I consider to be moderate amounts of scientific exposition. Some readers find this stuff fascinating; others ask, where’d the action go? Certain plot lines are introduced but not fulfilled; for example, what happened with the last batch of wealthy hunters, and where did the spy end up? The villain and his company are believable early in the novel, but as the situation deteriorates they behave with a recklessness that exceeds any profit motive.

The biggest problem I had, though, was with the ending. (Minor spoiler here.) The author builds a credible epidemic disaster scenario, but like many writers before her, must have discovered that it’s easier to create a pandemic plot than to end it. In Sector C, as the situation got worse and worse I grew ever more curious to see how she would wrap it up in the final chapters. The answer: she doesn’t, really. The story closes with the end to an immediate threat to the protagonists, but leaves the greater crisis hanging. As a reader, I wasn’t looking for a magic solution to everyone’s problems; I did wish for more of a feeling of resolution.

Summary: a page-turning plague story with strong veterinary elements. A quick and at times thought-provoking read that should appeal to readers who like science thrillers or apocalyptic fiction.

FCC disclaimer: A free e-copy of this book was given to me by the author for review. As always, I made no guarantee that I would read the book or post a positive review.

Key words: scrapie, bovine spongiform encephalopathy, cloning, dire wolf, nitrate poisoning, CDC, prions

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