cover image Reaper


Ben Mezrich. HarperCollins Publishers, $22 (342pp) ISBN 978-0-06-018751-4

The idea of an electronic killer virus that travels over a nationwide fiberoptic network jump-starts this new thriller by Mezrich, whose first book, Threshold, prompted People to liken him to Michael Crichton. But Reaper quickly loses steam under pedestrian prose and a barrage of characters cloned from other medical thrillers. Nick Barnes, a paramedic whose promising career as a heart surgeon was ended by a crippling hand injury, is called to a bizarre scene. Nine lawyers from a top Boston firm have been found dead in a conference room, their bodies bleached white and horribly contorted. A virus is suspected, which brings into the picture the gorgeous Dr. Samantha Craig, ostensibly an investigator with the Centers for Disease Control but really attached to a secret U.S. Army unit created to deal with killer bugs like the Ebola virus. Nick has a problem dealing with authority. He also lost his wife to AIDS (from a blood transfusion), so he knows a thing or two about viruses. Samantha had a much-loved, rebellious brother who died breaking rules; but she decides to let unruly Nick into her investigation and eventually into her life. Meanwhile, African American entrepreneur Marcus Teal, whose giant Telecon Industries has already put Microsoft's Bill Gates out of business, is getting ready to throw the switch on a system that will link every home in America to his new fiberoptic television network. We know very early that Teal's enigmatic assistant, Melora Parkridge, is behind the electronic virus, but it takes Nick and Samantha so long to catch up that turning the pages becomes a major effort. $350,000 ad/promo. (Feb.)