by J. E. Stock

"The government is rapidly leaning into the lessons it learned from the SARS outbreak of 2002-2004, and which proved highly effective during the COVID-19 pandemic."

Dr. Michael Gates, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases in 2025, raises with his supervisor the idea of function research on influenza viruses but to no avail. He thinks the threat these now pose will be worse than COVID-19. Across town, FBI and Secret Service agents discuss social credit scores and conspiracy theories. Gates calls the Chinese ambassador who funds the research.

Flashing forward to the Secret Bioresearch Lab at a naval base in China, Dr. Johnson, a top American researcher sent to work with the lab, observes the Chinese steal a dangerous sample and is arrested during a call. Desperately realizing what the Chinese stole "could make COVID-19 look like a minor annoyance," Gates informs the president of what he suspects from his truncated call with Johnson. Agents appear at Gates' door, and he discovers he is being investigated for subversive activities by Homeland Security. An agent is run over and killed as he pursues the matter. A second agent narrowly avoids kidnapping by giving a black ops group the slip. She is led to a clandestine group for answers, and the plot thickens.

Stock deftly weaves in references to popular culture, such as the movie The Manchurian Candidate, 1984, and Vonnegut's Welcome to the Monkey House. All have been banned, but each obliquely refers to present conditions. The book could be macabre, but humor prevails. For example, the underground resistance hub to which the escaped agent seeking answers retreats is called The Dark Side. "On the Dark Side" plays as she walks in, and she is greeted with "Welcome to the Dark Side" after an elaborate special coded knock. Fans of thrillers dealing with global threats that could prove all too real may wish to read this book.

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