by Alex Ryan
(excellent; top 30% of SciThri)
Tech rating (out of 5):
Publication date: May 10, 2016
Category: Science thriller
Summary (from the publisher):
When ex-Navy SEAL Nick Foley travels to China to find purpose and escape the demons of his past, he instead stumbles into a conspiracy his Special Forces training never prepared him for. A mysterious and deadly outbreak ravages a remote area of western China, and Nick finds himself the lead suspect in a bio-terrorism investigation being conducted by China’s elite Snow Leopard counter-terrorism unit.
To clear his name and avoid prosecution, he must team up with beautiful Chinese CDC microbiologist Dr. Dazhong “Dash” Chen to find who is really behind the attack. As their investigation proceeds, their budding friendship is tested by nationalistic loyalties and suspicion.
In a race against time, Nick and Dash must risk everything to stop a mad man before he unleashes the world’s next super-weapon in Beijing.
Beijing Red is the first book in a new thriller series by Alex Ryan, the pseudonym for the writing team Brian Andrews and Jeffrey Wilson. Andrews and Wilson, both thriller novelists with books of their own, happen to both be US Navy veterans, Andrews having served as an officer aboard a nuclear submarine, and Wilson as a combat surgeon with the Navy SEALs. International Thriller Writers annual summer conference ThrillerFest brought these two together, and a collaboration was born.
The result is awesome. I love it when smart people who can write, write thrillers, and their intelligence shines through.
Beijing Red delivers everything you’d want from a thriller: an exotic setting (China), an unlikely pairing of hero and heroine (a former Navy SEAL and a Chinese scientist), a ticking clock to mass disaster, and plenty of twists. On top of that, it’s got science.
The book opens with a sudden, unexplained, gruesome death. An unknown killer germ is high on the list of suspects. Dash’s investigation of the deadly agent proceeds in a largely believable way (with the exception, perhaps, of her inadequate protections against a possible BSL-4 organism) and the laboratory scenes get a thumb’s up from me. When the nature of the agent was revealed, I gave a squeal of delight. Any thriller that correctly uses acquired vs innate immunity, and apoptosis, makes my day.
While I was attuned to the science aspects of this novel, its military / special operations angle is perhaps its greatest strength. Nick Foley, the main character, is an ex-Navy SEAL medic, and the expertise of the authors shows in their portrayal of this man. You’ll get a sense of how real veterans must think when confronted with a hunt, or a threat. And there’s plenty of military lingo and weapons vocabulary, all of which I’m sure is accurate (not that I would know).
In fact, I think the strongest scene in the entire book isn’t even part of the central plot. It’s a flashback to Foley’s time in Afghanistan, and the scene is brilliant.
Twists in Beijing Red don’t rise to the level of being total, breathtaking surprises, but they’re good enough. Without giving a spoiler, I’ll say that I particularly liked the way certain alliances were formed counter to my expectations.
The novel has its imperfections. My main criticism is that logic and motivation are sometimes given a back seat to the page-turning plot. A couple of great scenes unfold that make the reader happy, but they do raise my eyebrows in terms of whether they are believable. Late in the novel, a decision to enter Beijing’s Underground City was an example of this.
But this is a thriller novel. In exchange for entertainment, the reader will forgive a little unreality. Beijing Red delivers the goods in terms of fun, thrills, a little horror, science, and heroics. The Nick Foley series is off to a great start.
This book should appeal to fans of James Rollins‘s Sigma Force series