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Viral by James Lilliefors
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Today’s generic thriller is best known for its nonstop action, a characteristic of the genre that is often emphasized by the book’s extremely short chapters and cardboard characters. Thrillers are not usually literary in nature but, because readers of the genre do not expect literary masterpieces, they do not have to be. When a thriller writer does get a little more ambitious by offering fully-fleshed characters, a subplot or two, and a well researched main plot, readers have hit the jackpot. But this is an easy line for an author to cross – as happens when an overabundance of exotically-named minor characters makes the plot almost impossible to follow.

James Lilliefor’s Viral, an intriguing tale of scientists who succumb to what is possible while ignoring the ultimate consequences of their research, is one of those “literary thrillers” I describe. The book’s main characters, brothers Charles and Jon Mallory, are made believable by the manner in which Lilliefor explores their boyhood relationship to help explain how they have become the men they are. Lilliefor takes it a step farther by revealing the pair’s personal successes and failures to illustrate just how different from one another the brothers are.

Jon has always admired his older brother, the family’s golden boy, even though he could never match Charles’s accomplishments and believes that he was a disappointment to their father. Charles is a former CIA agent who is putting his counterterrorism expertise to good and profitable use as a private contractor with a worldwide reputation for effectiveness. Jon has taken on the rather more mundane role of investigative reporter for a Washington D.C. newspaper. These days the two seldom even speak to each other, but after their father dies unexpectedly, Charles leads Jon along a mysterious trail around the world that will save millions of lives if they can solve the puzzle in time.

Viral did, however, leave me a bit frustrated and mystified at times. Lilliefor populates his book with so many side character villains that I could not keep up with their various relationships to the conspiracy despite trying to track them by handwritten notes to myself. There is just not enough time for Lilliefor to develop all his characters to the point that they become unique and memorable to the reader. Too, after having spent so much time with Lilliefor’s “ticking bomb” kind of a plot, I found myself somewhat disappointed in the book’s climax even though all the loose ends are tied up rather neatly.

That said, Viral is still one of the better thrillers I have read in recent months. It combines the best elements of medical thrillers with those of rogue-government-agent-conspiracy thrillers to tell a plausible tale that encompasses villains worthy of a confrontation with James Bond himself. Just be forewarned that it is best to track very carefully the comings and goings of every character right from the beginning in order to avoid the kind of confusion I experienced.

Rated at: 3.5 ( )
  SamSattler | Apr 16, 2012 |
Reviewed at RTE. Strong journalistic writing paired with a rather far-fetched storyline about a plot to release a deadly virus in an African country.
  bfister | Apr 14, 2012 |
Interesting take on the machinations of corporate and government bodies trying to out maneuver the other, when in actuality it comes down to greed at the expense of those that are unable to fight back.

I found myself interested in the story, but caring little about the characters. Too much like watching a game of chess played out with plastic figurines. ( )
  souleswanderer | Apr 12, 2012 |
First Line: Cloud shadows carpeted the African countryside as a privately owned matatu rattled along the dusty lorrie route toward the capital.

In remote, impoverished areas of Africa, a deadly virus is moving through farming villages and shanty towns like a well-honed scythe leaving no survivors. The vaguest of rumors about this swirl through the rest of the world. Only a former CIA operative, Charles Mallory , with the help of his brother, investigative reporter Jon, seem able to put the clues together to learn that someone is putting plans into motion-- plans to create a new, technologically advanced society. Will the brothers be able to stop a bold and terrifying "humane depopulation" before it goes any further?

This book is not your typical thriller; there's a lot to digest in its pages. In a very real way, it's a two-pronged cautionary tale: telling us of what may happen if we keep ignoring the Third World, and of what obscenely wealthy people think they're entitled to do-- all in the name of "good". At its best, this cautionary tale can make your blood run cold.

But as a thriller, it doesn't quite run like a well-tuned machine. The cast of characters is too large, and they're scattered all over the place. It's difficult to get a fix on any of them and care what happens to them.

Of the two main characters, younger brother, Jon, is the more sympathetic. Jon hasn't really had any contact with his brother Charles in years, but Charles suddenly begins sending him riddles obliquely referring to their childhood that Jon is expected to decipher. Since his life depends on his decoding speed, it's good that Jon's up to the task. The scenes with Jon in Africa are particularly chilling and heartbreaking.

On principle, once I knew who the villains were and what their goals were, I detested them, but they were too shadowy for me to make that feeling personal. The villains just weren't "real" enough.

The pace of the book is also glacial at times. The author's story takes so long to put into place and is so detailed that I found myself wanting to put my foot down on the accelerator and speed things up a notch or two.

There are many things to like about Viral; when the scenes are in Africa, it can chill your blood and break your heart, but it never really involved me to the degree that it should have. I always felt removed from what was happening, and I really wanted to feel as though I were right in the middle of it all, fighting the good fight. All this being said, I have to admit that I am curious about any future adventures of the Mallory brothers. James Lilliefors is an author to watch. ( )
  cathyskye | Apr 10, 2012 |
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When a pandemic virus sweeping through Third World villages expands with frightening potency, former CIA operative Charles Mallory discovers clues about a secret war and genocidal plans to create a new, technologically advanced society.

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