A good dose of thrillers

A good dose of thrillers

Global viruses, biological warfare and pandemics, oh my!

Recently, the World Health Organization reported that more than 1,200 people have now died of the Ebola virus in West Africa.

There is no licensed cure or vaccine for Ebola, which kills at least half of those infected. Concern about its devastation and spread has flooded news and health agencies. Recently, I happened to visit our local convenient care and had to fill out a short questionnaire on whether I have the symptoms of Ebola, including whether I've recently visited Africa.

When I asked the nurse about it, she said that it's just a precaution due to the university's popularity with international students.

Global health concerns have long been popular with novelists. When thinking of titles featuring a mass epidemic, one can't help but think of Stephen King's "The Stand."

A masterful work, it's about the coming end of the world due to a plague. A United States military lab creates the deadliest supervirus the world has ever known. It's a shapeshifting flu virus that is 99.4 percent communicable and 100 percent lethal. It was constructed to use as biological warfare, but instead gets leaked and creates havoc in a very short period of time.

This is the thing about King. Characterization. Some books have more blood or violence than others, but they all have one thing in common. You know the key players.

Their lives are detailed in such a way, that I am sure they are my neighbors, co-workers or family members.

Charles Campion and his family are immediately identifiable and spread the disease across the Southwest before dying at a Texas gas station. Then the station attendants get it and pass it on to everyone they meet. And so on. And so on.

In two weeks, most of America was dead. After another two weeks, it had spread worldwide.

Those who survived began to seek each other out and ask why they were chosen to live. And so begins the remainder of the book, the journeys taken to find one another and start anew.

There is, of course, King's trademark battle over good and evil in the characters of the sweet Mother Abigail and the evil-walking dude, Randall Flagg.

This is classic King and brings new thought on the idea of wiping a slate clean. What happens if we have to start over again?

Scott Sigler has a trilogy dealing with a global crisis, but instead of a virus, it's a parasite in "Infected."

Something weird is happening to a few people in the American Midwest. Former University of Michigan football player Perry Dawsey wakes one morning to find seven itchy welts on his body. He doesn't trust the medical system, so he deals with the rash himself. By itching. Furiously. Soon they swell, become infected and grow a strange blue fiber coming out of them.

In another town, a doctor from the CDC is examining her fourth dead body that looks like it was infected with the same parasite. It makes the host paranoid, angry and inconsolable. Driven insane, they commit acts of violence against themselves and others. Once dead, the parasite devours its host by making it disintegrate into a thick black fluid. This story is not for someone with a weak stomach, as some of the descriptions were disgusting, to say the least.

It does have a great story line and some characters who were well-drawn and led interesting lives. If you are currently suffering from a rash, I'd wait a bit before getting started on this one.

Last October, well-known author Michael Palmer passed away. A doctor in real life, he was able to bring that expertise to the novel by writing medical thrillers, and was compared to Robin Cook and Michael Crichton.

His last novel, "Resistant," was released last May and features a recurring character, Dr. Lou Welcome.

This time, he attends a national conference in Atlanta with his friend. Unfortunately, the friend gets injured while running and requires surgery.

While in surgery, his open wound plays host to a deadly microbial invader that begins eating him from the inside out.

Turning to the CDC for help, the doctor discovers a link to a mysterious group known as the One Hundred Neighbors. Unleashing deadly germs is just one item on their agenda, and Dr. Lou must race against time to stop them, the epidemic and his friend's life.

This title has lots of cutting-edge medical information, full-speed action and a list of interesting characters to root for — and against.

Palmer's novels have been translated into 30 languages and are sure to keep your heart racing.

Lastly is the new novel by up-and-coming author Megan Abbott. "The Fever" takes place in a cold and blustery northeastern town where three high school girls find themselves at the center of a strange epidemic that causes a fever and seizures.

The affliction affects only girls, which leaves parents and teachers hysterical with worry. Text messages fly, and gossip overcomes the townspeople as information about what causes the virus is scarce.

The crux seems to be what happens to people emotionally when dealing with a mystery virus. Less medical technology, more feelings and fear.

Either way you like your medical thriller, these titles would provide something for everyone. Once again, the novels get too close to what's going on in the headlines. Which, I think we can agree, are frightening enough.

Kelly Strom is the collection manager at the Champaign Public Library. She orders books, magazines, newspapers, audiobooks and CDs.

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