FBI Special Agent Robert Cavanaugh has been consigned to a backwater office in Southern Maryland where he can stay out of trouble. Yet trouble follows him as a special strain of malaria is discovered in Maryland that selectively kills African Americans with the sickle-cell trait.
Melanie Anderson is an epidemiologist who is travelling across the world trying to find the cause of this highly selective disease. But as evidence starts pointing toward a man-made cause and a possible government cover-up, she and Cavanaugh must work alone to try and uncover the truth and a cure.
When an outbreak of malaria in Maryland selectively kills African Americans with the sickle cell gene, and the mutant parasite at the root of the epidemic has not one but many coordinated alterations, it looks like a genocidal design. While African American epidemiologist Melanie Anderson hops continents in search of the surmised white-supremacist culprit, her collaborator, white FBI agent Robert Cavanaugh (a chief figure in Kress's previous bio-thriller, Oaths and Miracles) is out in the woods collecting mosquito samples and dodging marriage to his girlfriend. As clues surface that the U.S. government may be covering up evidence of the epidemic's source, Cavanaugh and Anderson work alone to unearth the true story. Although Kress excels at wringing drama out of hard science, her plot is jerky and contrived: the right things seem to happen but for no organic reason, and the ending (involving unexpected benevolence from on high) is sure to frustrate readers. One fine plotting device is Kress's interpolated "Interims": eloquent, synecdochic vignettes of the epidemic and its effects on everyday life. Yet despite these, and a fascinating twist involving the IRA, the Indian population of London and the genetic history of the sickle cell trait, few are likely to catch fever over this uneven malarial tale.