cover image And Then You Die

And Then You Die

Iris Johansen. Bantam, $22.95 (352pp) ISBN 978-0-553-10616-9

An American photojournalist finds herself the unwitting pawn of a terrorist scheme in this workaday thriller from Johansen (Long After Midnight), which pits the CIA and the Centers for Disease Control against a nefarious mastermind with a talent for ingeniously disguised germ warfare. Caught in a Mexican village during a mysterious, deadly epidemic, Bess Grady miraculously survives and--after she runs afoul of the local authorities--finds an unlikely ally in a hit man with the alias ""Kaldak."" Johansen weaves tidbits from the last few years' headlines (the latest HIV research, the Ebola virus, Saddam Hussein, the Balkan war) into a suspenseful, if preposterous, plot full of murders, narrow escapes, chases and explosions. Unfortunately, she doesn't bother with local color. Mexico, New Orleans, Wyoming, Atlanta and North Carolina all look and sound more or less the same. Worse, Johansen never fleshes out her intriguing main characters, whose uninspired dialogue--""This is most unfortunate. It could cause complications""--and trite narrative--""Underneath that harsh exterior, he was very human after all""--undermine what might have been a page-turner. Major ad/promo. (Jan.)