cover image Second Angel

Second Angel

Philip Kerr. Henry Holt & Company, $25 (340pp) ISBN 978-0-8050-5962-5

Quantum physics collides with metaphysics in this futuristic thriller, and sends its plot careening into wildly unpredictable territory. In the year 2069, most of the earth's population is infected with P2, a slow-acting parvovirus that inevitably brings ghastly death. A small, uninfected sliver of humanity lives in secluded aseptic environments and stores uncontaminated blood reserves on the moon in a bank whose impenetrable security system has been designed by architect John Dallas. But after Dallas challenges the decision to deny blood to his sick daughter, he's viewed as a potential security risk. When a botched attempt to kill him leaves his wife and child dead, Dallas schemes to break into the blood bank and destroy his employer's business--a stratagem that will force him into dangerous confrontation with protective nanotechnology, radioactive defense mechanisms and a transcendentally evolved artificial intelligence that oversees the bank. Kerr's (A Five-Year Plan) blend of science and intrigue merits comparison to the work of Michael Crichton, and his protagonists--a team of infected desperadoes who will use the heisted blood to cure themselves--will put readers in mind of Donald Westlake's tales of likably larcenous bank robbers. Once off the earth, however, the narrative deteriorates into a dilettantish display of SF cliches that includes fuzzy computer technology, speculative epidemiology, and an overlong adventure in virtual reality. Ultimately, Kerr depends on an omniscient Outer Limits-type control voice and intrusive historical and scientific footnotes to pull the tale's chaotic elements together. Though its suspense is as taut as a tourniquet, this excursion into philosophical science fiction could stand a transfusion of logic. Agent, A.P. Watt Ltd. (Jan.)