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The Jiangxi Virus: A Novel of Bioterror    by Steven Schlossstein order for
Jiangxi Virus
by Steven Schlossstein
Order:  USA  Can
Stratford, 2002 (2002)
* *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

This bioterrorism thriller opens with a rather macabre 1918 skip-rope song, 'I had a little bird, / Its name was Enza. / I opened up the window, / And in flew Enza.' The story's heroine is a disease detective, crack epidemiologist Ellen Chou of the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) - 'Skepticism and stubbornness were her twin pillars of faith.' Ellen was born in China but adopted to the United States.

There's a strong Chinese connection to the tale. Readers quickly discover that Chinese military officers, operating outside their chain of command, have set up a covert laboratory in Jiangxi, headed by a Russian virologist, to develop biological weapons against the United States. Colonel Fu Barxu is the driving force, hot to avenge past Western humiliation of his country and to clear the way for it to become the next superpower.

The story begins from the point of view of these rather stereotypical villains, giving contrived speeches to each other about their intentions. However, it quickly becomes engrossing, cleverly tieing in to the real-life, mysterious Navajo plague of 1993 and the equally deadly 'flu outbreak in Hong Kong's poultry market in 1997 (both, in this account, engineered by the Chinese villains).

There's also a Mexican connection, revealed through Ellen's involvement with counter-terrorism agent Paul Cerruttti, and the plot quickly thickens as Ellen is sidelined by political pressures on her agency. She doesn't let this slow her down much, but soon Chinese agents are striking fast and frequently against the investigation, which is itself further hampered by Washington politics.

If you enjoyed the movie Outbreak, then you really should read The Jiangxi Virus. Though the dialogue is occasionally awkward in its attempts to convey information to the reader, the plotline is riveting, the details of disease detection disturbingly fascinating, and Ellen makes for a feisty and formidable lead character. I echo the hope in this novel's dedication 'that such a horrible tragedy -- whether natural or man-made -- never darkens our land.'

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