by Brian Andrews
(very good; top 50% of SciThri)
SPECIAL NOTE: An author to watch!
Year published: 2012
Category: science thriller; debut novel; possibly start of a series? (Think Tank #1)
Tech rating (out of 5):
SUMMARY (from publisher):
An unprecedented genetic mutation, an underground think tank, and an unscrupulous pharmaceutical company collide in this debut thriller.
For one hundred and fifty-five days, Will Foster has been locked in medical quarantine without his consent. The doctors claim he is infected with a deadly virus, but this is a lie. Encoded in his DNA is a mutation that provides immunity from disease for all who possess it, source code that Vyrogen Pharmaceuticals aims to commercialize as a multi-billion dollar gene therapy.
Against all odds, Foster escapes his laboratory prison and steals a virulent strain of bubonic plague as insurance. To help him unravel the mystery inside him, Foster contacts the only person he can trust–a former lover and microbiologist living in Vienna– and the two become fugitives, hunted across the heart of Europe.
Under the guise of averting a plague pandemic, Vryogen hires an elite, underground Think Tank to track down Foster. But when the team sets a trap for Foster, they discover they’re not the only ones in the hunt. In a race against two deadly assassins, can the brilliant minds of the Think Tank unravel the truth before time runs out for their quarry?
The Calypso Directive is a debut science thriller by Brian Andrews, a U.S. Navy submariner and all-around smart guy who did his homework on this one. As described in the summary above, this novel is a variant on the thriller theme of wronged/imprisoned/framed good guy escapes evil government/corporation/syndicate and goes on the run to clear his name/save his life/etc.
Andrews brings some exciting additions to this storyline. First, and for us at ScienceThrillers.com foremost, science is an integral part of the plot. DNA fiction junkies will love the centrality of genomics and infectious disease science. Personally I was thrilled to find immunology front and center; a new type of lymphocyte plays a role, and there’s plenty of talk about immune responses (most of it accurate and quite comprehensible to the lay reader).
Second, Brian Andrews creates a new super-secret intelligence group/agency, The Think Tank. Does the thriller world need another Sigma Force (James Rollins) or Chess Team (Jeremy Robinson) or MI-6 (of James Bond stories) type team of geniuses? Of course! I loved the Tank, partly because the ethical leanings/moral foundation of the organization as a whole are murky, but the individual team members are all heroic. I hope another Think Tank novel is in the works.
Andrews writes terrific action sequences. The best, most compelling parts of the book are the tension-filled recitations of dialogue among team members across their super-high-tech communicators during field operations. The opening sequence, in which the mysterious patient escapes his quarantine prison, is a winner too.
Characters in the novel are constantly telling lies and playing mind games, which creates plenty of interest for the reader. However, at times the effect is confusion. Andrews creates depth in some of the characters by avoiding black & white moral categories, but I was left wanting a bit more guidance in how to interpret/react to some of them, especially Nicolara, the Tank’s founder. Good guy or bad guy? On a similar note, the ending is dramatic but a little confusing to this reader. The last ten pages or so didn’t give me the satisfaction I like at the end of a long chase. Last point of criticism: Thrillers often stretch the limits of credibility but The Calypso Directive has a coincidence that goes too far–the ex-girlfriend, who happens to be a molecular biologist, who also happens to be living in Europe.
Biohazard rating: 4 out of 5. There’s lots of science here, and when the author is relaying factual information or explaining a topic, he’s accurate. However, when the background science is applied to the plot, improbable becomes impossible. For example, there’s discussion about an H1N1 infection that doesn’t make much sense. But unless you have a sophisticated understanding of immunology and epidemiology, you probably won’t notice.
OVERALL: An action-packed science thriller with lots of my favorite subject (immunology!), a page-turning read that introduces an intriguing new organization, The Think Tank. It is the author’s debut novel and has some flaws that I sense will be corrected as he continues to develop as a writer. I rate Brian Andrews as an author to watch.
NOTE: Sample Brian Andrews’ writing with his novella Ring of Flowers, which tells the backstory behind the mutation in The Calypso Directive.
Key words: Vyrogen; skeleton key lymphocyte; bubonic plague; Xavier Pope; gene patents; immunoglobulin; T cell receptor
FCC disclaimer: A free hardcover 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.