PLUM ISLAND by Nelson DeMille

Plum Island (John Corey Series #1)

For years Nelson DeMille was one of my favorite fiction writers, and for some reason I did not pick up another of his books for a number of years.  After reading an interview with Greg Iles, who mentioned that DeMille was one of his favorite writers, I decided to revisit his work.  While perusing my bookshelves I noticed that there were three John Corey novels that I had never read so I immediately took the plunge and opened PLUM ISLAND.

After the recent Ebola crisis in Africa that resulted in a few cases of the disease in the United States my choice of PLUM ISLAND was rather timely.  The title of the book was the location and name of an animal disease center research facility on the tip of Long Island.  The center becomes a focal point for a murder investigation involving New York police detective, John Corey.  Corey, recovering from three bullet wounds suffered six months earlier is sitting on his uncle’s porch convalescing peering out into the Long Island Sound.  Corey, a rather sarcastic and humorous individual is approached by Sylvester Maxwell the Chief of Police in Southold Township in Suffolk County, who asks for his assistance with the murder of two Ph.D. biologists who conducted biological research on Plum Island, Drs. Tom and Judy Gordon.  Plum Island is part of the Department of Agriculture and theoretically conducts research to prevent disease and pandemics.  For Corey, their job description lies under the heading of “biological germ warfare.”  Corey is paired with a local homicide detective, Elizabeth Penrose and must navigate the bureaucratic jealousies of the CIA, FBI and possible other government agencies represented by FBI agent, George Foster, and the supposed Department of Agriculture operative, Ted Nash.

The question from the outset is why these two young research scientists were killed?  Was it a burglary gone wrong?  Was it a drug deal of some sort or possibly something else?  After a visit and tour of the Plum Island facilities, a visit sanitized by the federal government, another possibility emerges.  Dr. Karl Zollner, the head of the research facility tries to convince everyone that it was impossible for any dangerous pathogens to have left the island and he introduces the idea that if any substance had left the island it was probably a preventative drug that was designed to stop the spread of a pandemic.  The Gordons were working on genetically altering a simian Ebola virus so that it could not cause disease, but would produce an immune response in animals.  The scenario that Zollner put forth is that the murdered couple may have tried to sell their research to a pharmaceutical company for money.   Corey is not convinced by this explanation and believes that it is a government “line” designed to alter the truth.

As Corey proceeds in trying to solve the murder, avoid government interference and other obstacles his patter is caustic, pointed, and always humorous.  The more Corey thought about the murders he grew convinced it was some sort of conspiracy and was being covered up.  The question was what was hidden and how he could solve the murders.  From this point DeMille has gained the reader’s attention and the novel becomes intriguing.  DeMille’s character descriptions and pithy dialogue is very entertaining.  Corey’s relationships allow the reader a glimpse into his personality and perhaps the persona that he shows the public hides numerous insecurities.  As far as the plot is concerned, the reader is led down a number of paths and then all of a sudden Corey’s intuition changes and the storyline shifts dramatically.  DeMille does a nice job introducing the different personalities in the book and his comments on “eastern Long island society” seem dead on.  The story evolves at a measured pace, and the reader will be surprised by the number of twists and turns it takes.

Overall, PLUM ISLAND measures up to DeMille’s previous efforts be it a John Corey novel, writing about Vietnam or the myriad of topics he has produced.  It is a good read and I look forward to tackling another John Corey novel next.

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