Christopher Belton, Author . Leisure $6.99 (372p) ISBN 978-0-8439-5295-7

Strong echoes of the SARS scare are present in Belton's second novel (after Crime Sans Frontieres ), which deals with a contagious biological agent that has accidentally leaked from a secret Japanese laboratory and spread like wildfire. The virus, an engineered version of pediatric meningitis, causes death within a few hours and is easily transmitted. At the center of the action is American Peter Bryant, a language expert who translates patent applications for the company that created the virus. In just a matter of days, the virus threatens all of mainland Japan, and Peter is contacted by an anonymous figure within the company who wants to help. Meanwhile, Americans are being airlifted out of Japan, but Peter is forced to stay behind to maintain contact with the informant. Belton's science is compelling and believable, and his Crichton-esque pacing during these passages is brisk and readable. Unfortunately, an abundance of details about the Japanese political system and its machinations bog down the action. Belton includes gut-wrenching scenes portraying the societal chaos that one would expect during such an outbreak, but the book's focus too soon returns to the smaller story of Peter and his efforts to find the cure. Though this is a provocative, if overlong, tale, readers may feel the narrative lens is pointed in the wrong direction. (Dec. 2)

Reviewed on: 10/27/2003
Release date: 12/01/2003
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