White Plague by James Abel (Berkley, Jan 2015)-White Plague kind of has everything I like in a straight up thriller: strong, interesting protagonist in Joe Rush, a Marine who happens to be a bioterror expert; a cold, inhospitable environment (here, it’s the Arctic); people trapped in claustrophobic environs with a danger that can’t be escaped… Ok, so, when White Plague begins, it’s discovered that the submarine USS Montana is in a heap of trouble. A fire has broken out and the entire crew could be in great danger, and Joe and his team (including his best friend Eddie, also a doctor), are sent to attempt a rescue. They’re to board an icebreaker used for scientific research, get to the Montana, where Joe will have to make the decision to attempt a rescue or destroy the sub. Destruction of the sub is a very real possibility, because it absolutely must not fall into enemy hands, and the Chinese and the Russians would love to take control of the state of the art sub.
However, Joe and his team soon learn that the crew aren’t just injured from the fire; they’re sick, but the nature of the illness is a mystery. Joe must not only figure out what is wrong with the crew of the Montana, and hopefully get help, but also juggle the diplomatic aspects of commandeering a scientific vessel without stepping on all kinds of toes. It also seems to Joe that a few folks in high places are keeping secrets. But, what would a thriller be without some juicy secrets, right?
Joe is still reeling from an event in his past, when he was in Iraq (in one of the most horrifying scenes in the book), and it doesn’t help that he’s forced to work with the man that now shares his ex-wife’s bed. Awkward, yes? But, Joe’s a pro, and his mission is clear. Well, sort of. There’s a huge storm coming, so communications are spotty, and they soon find out that an enemy sub is racing them to get to the Montana (resulting in another nail-biting and very tense scene.) Then there’s that mysterious illness. It’s pretty nasty, and its origins are surprising. Can you tell I’m really, really trying not to spoil anything? The author really did his research on his setting, and the details on ice, and its many incarnations, are fascinating. If you love “Hot Zone” like scenarios, which I personally find absolutely terrifying, you‘ll enjoy this. I’d call this a beach read if it didn’t want to make me want to wrap a warm blanket around myself while reading it and it would be a compliment. This is just pure, thrilling, page turning fun.