by Robin Cook

(good; ~30th percentile for SciThri genre)

Year published: 1999
Category: medical thriller; science thriller; series

Tech rating (out of 5):

SUMMARY {from the back cover}:

A disgruntled Russian émigré is poised to lash out at the adoptive nation he believes has denied him the American dream. A former technician in the Soviet biological weapons system, he possesses the knowledge to unleash a bioweapon on New York City. But first he must experiment on a few unsuspecting victims…


Is it possible this book was written by the same author who gave us Coma?

Well, considering how incredibly prolific Robin Cook is as a writer, I’ll forgive him a below-average book. Even here, his story ideas were timely and compelling: Vector is about bioterrorism using anthrax. He wrote this book years before such an attack actually occurred in the U.S., with the anthrax letters mailed in late 2001.

Although the plot is weak, the science and history behind it are spot-on and just as important today as ten years ago. The accidental release of aerosolized anthrax from a bioweapons facility in the Soviet city of Sverdlovsk is a documented (though little-known) fact, and the Soviet biological warfare research program continued in secret long after the USSR signed the global Biological Weapons Convention, banning such work. Who knows what all those educated biowarfare technicians are doing today—for the right price?

Sadly Cook fails to pull his fascinating plot elements into a solid story. Set in New York City and featuring Cook’s series characters Dr. Laurie Montgomery and Dr. Jack Stapleton, both medical examiners, Vector is ruined by predictability and one after another of the most outrageous coincidences. Sure, any good thriller may rely on an improbable event or two, but the coincidences here are glaring and also essential to the plot. This reader doesn’t buy it.

Stapleton is a typical thriller hero: clever, rebellious, both morally and intellectually above his superiors at work. He’s challenged in the love department (trying to get something going with Laurie Montgomery), and emotionally handicapped by the earlier loss of his wife. In Vector, he’s a loose cannon with a lucky streak.

Themes in this book: anthrax; bioterrorism; Sverdlovsk; Soviet bioweapons program; white supremacists; domestic terrorism; forensic pathology

Robin Cook novels featuring New York medical examiners Jack Stapleton and Laurie Montgomery:
Blindsight (1992); Contagion (1995); Chromosome 6 (1997); Vector (1999); Marker (2005); Crisis (2006)

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