4 out of 5 stars
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The use of poisons like polonium-210 in targeted assassinations has only recently made headlines. Nevertheless, throughout history, state-sponsored biological weapons programs have used diseases such as smallpox, anthrax, and plague as weapons of war. A substantial number of individuals are employed in the field of biological sciences, doing research in laboratories across the globe and silently facilitating the public’s access to potentially deadly bacteria. The publication of Robert Hirsch’s Invisible Threat occurred a mere six months into the coronavirus pandemic. Yet, the thoughts and writing for this medical thriller began far earlier. In this work of fiction, the author creates a plausible, unsettling, and timely contemporary horror scenario.
Alan is an odd confluence of Jewish and Iranian origins. Ghaffar, Alan's father, escaped Iran in the early 1980s and surprisingly married Leeza, a Jewish American. Alan struggled to find his sense of self in his formative years, grappling with the complexities of his unique family background. However, he quickly became impassioned by the plight of his Muslim heritage. He excelled academically and graduated from the esteemed medical school at Harvard. While attending school, Alan meets Sabina at a nearby mosque. Sabina’s family also relocated to the United States, but they did so from Iraq during the rule of Saddam Hussein. The two quickly found common ground in the creation of a jihad-oriented global Muslim caliphate in America, married, and started a family of their own.
By the time Alan was accepted into the prestigious Johns Hopkins University to work on neurovirology and immunizations, both Alan and Sabina considered themselves radicalized Muslims. Against the backdrop of the 9/11 tragedy, a subsequent terrorist attack on the highway system, and a biological attack at the Olympics, Alan and Sabina find themselves in the middle of a harrowing plot. The novel takes readers on a journey through an unlikely measles outbreak, a web of disinformation, the engineering of a deadly vaccine, insider trading, murder, and a high-stakes investigation by the Joint Terrorism Task Force. What role, if any, did Alan and Sabina play in these events? Within the pages of Robert Hirsh’s modern nightmare, masked in fiction, lies the answer, waiting to be discovered.
I appreciated how the author organically blended historical figures and events into his narrative; it gave the character’s motivations more depth and authenticity. The author uses vivid descriptions, capturing even the most minute details, such as the lingering scent of smoke within a rented vehicle, immersing the reader fully. I found the exploitation of America’s strengths in diversity, inclusion, and tolerance, and the escape from prosecution against itself, paradoxical and heartbreaking. The author’s deep understanding of the medical environment effectively brings the scenes and activities to life. I loved being able to learn the complex ways in which diseases can be transmitted between individuals and across various geographical areas. The cover was enticing, and the inclusion of germ-like images for the chapter headings added a nice touch.
There were a few things that could have been better. It would have been preferable if the author had employed a more nuanced approach to revealing the characters’ roles in the plot. The numerous clear clues throughout the story made the conclusion somewhat foreseeable. I craved a deeper exploration of the investigation that would ultimately bring about a more satisfying resolution. The character’s responses to the mistakes could have been more convincing. For instance, one might have anticipated a pronounced display of outrage and paranoia with the research paper outcome. In a separate instance, I also would not expect such an intelligent person to contemplate murder, given the apparent risks involved. The book’s first half has a slower pace, and I felt like the attack at the Olympics was an attempt to remedy it, making the story less cohesive. The author seemed to devote overwhelming attention to the character Nari, even dedicating entire chapters to her. However, despite this focus, she didn’t play a significant role in the story. She seemed to hold some importance solely because the author hinted at possibly using her character in a sequel.
Overall, the novel's plot was quite engaging. It provided a valuable opportunity to delve into the significance of immunizations and presented a thought-provoking exploration of the grim reality of biological weapons. The book's competent editing was another plus for me. I have deducted one star for the issues I mentioned, giving it an overall rating of 4 out of 5 stars. Anyone who is a fan of suspenseful thrillers with a Robin Cook or Patricia Cornwell vibe will likely enjoy this one.
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