The First Horseman by John Case
What the Back of the Book Has to Say:
On the Norwegian Sea, an icebreaker forges its way through frozen waters to a remote island in the Arctic, carrying a scientific team that hopes to unearth the bodies of long-dead miners. "Washington Post" reporter Frank Daly has the story of a lifetime. But his plan to join the scientists on their historic mission is ruined by a ferocious storm. When he meets up with the ship upon its return to port in Norway, it is clear that something has gone terribly wrong.
Fear haunts the faces of the crew. No one will talk. And someone wants Daly to stop asking questions. But the more he uncovers, the more dangerous the stakes become until at last he comes face-to-face with a shocking secret, a secret that pitches him into a harrowing race to prevent nothing less than ... apocalypse.
Reason I Picked It Up:
I felt like reading a thriller and was intrigued by the shiny gold cover. Yes, I judged a book by its cover.
What I Think:
First, let it be known, that I believe the use of ellipsis in the blurb on the back cover of a book to be completely over used. After copying down a large number of short summaries in preparation for this blog, I have discovered this troubling problem. Whoever is in charge of writing these needs to realize that there are more ways to create dramatic tension than a painfully obvious nonverbal pause. In this case, maybe a bit more plot detail because, honestly, the back of the book makes it sound a lot more boring than it is.
The first half of this book is, indeed, very deserving of the term "thriller." For the first forty pages or so, the point of view changes so many times that I kept having to flip back to remember who was who. While this might sound like a confusing and annoying state of affairs, the truth is that so much was happening, it just added more drama to the mystery itself and kept me intrigued.
Risking perhaps telling too much, I'll let you in on a bit more than the original blurb writers did. First, you follow a charming young woman as she fakes getting lost in a suburban neighborhood to kidnap a middle aged couple. Next, you fly to Korea and watch a small village burn to the ground through the eyes of man who was out collecting wood when it happened. The next chapter finds you in DC when someone is informed of the Korean man's escape to authorities. Meanwhile, a biological researcher and her colleague get special funding for their journey to Arctic to study a long dead strain of bacteria frozen in the ice years after they'd been told it would never happen. This is all in the first twenty pages.
One thing that does throw me a bit, though, is that they don't introduce our protagonist, Frank Daly, for far too many pages. After the hectic pace of the beginning of the novel, once they introduce Daly, we follow him pretty exclusively and it slows the plot down. Between him and the female lead, Annie (who is, admittedly, a breath of fresh air as a female scientist), the only other perspective we come back to is the young woman from the beginning and thank goodness, because otherwise there would be no way to follow what was truly going on plotwise. While it is flattering that the book allows the reader to make connections it never fully reveals, rare for a thriller, it's a strange stylistic jump that doesn't sit right.
The only other problem with the book is something Case had no way of working around: the apocalyptic event he predicted when he wrote the book in 1998 actually occurred in the real world ten years later. If you don't want to be spoiled, I would recommend you stop reading here. ..... Ready? The horrible event that is set to be unleashed upon the world? Is an epidemic. An epidemic that is basically Swine Flu. Once I realized that, most dramatic tension of the novel washed away. Of course, it's not Case's fault I read this novel in the future and had already lived through the panic, only to realize there was nothing much to worry about but is a bit of a let down.
All in all, this is a thriller that would be much more thrilling before 2009. However, the writing is well done and the plot is fairly twisty. Given the chance, I would read more John Case. Unfortunately, though, that doesn't seem to be in my future. Happily, though, there are many more novels that predict real life disasters and I have all the time in the world.