Review

The Pinocchio Syndrome

by David Zeman



Set in an unspecified year of the near-future, Secret Service Agent
Joseph Kraig and freelance medical reporter Karen Embry have a
tough task: to find out who is spreading a strange new disease in
the United States, what exactly the nature of that disease is, and
what the goal of this type of terrorist attack is. The illness is
odd, to say the least. Its symptoms begin with a sudden
overwhelming paralysis that leaves its victims with normal vital
signs and thought processes, while their ability to perform any
action at will is totally impaired --- in other words, they know
and understand that something is happening to them but they can't
do anything about it. They can't move at all in response to a
command, not even their eyes, which of course also means they can't
eat or in any way function alone, although the autonomic nervous
system continues to work, so they breathe and blink (but that's
about it).

And that is only the first stage of the strange disease. The final
stages are downright bizarre: victims develop deformities of the
hands and feet that seem to turn them into something resembling
hoofs --- fingers and toes fuse together, and in the case of the
feet, the toes draw down sharply to almost meet the heels, and both
hands and feet grow a hard, chitinous covering. It is this
hoof-like deformity that gives the book its title, referring to a
part of the Pinocchio story in which the perfidious puppet-boy is
turned into a donkey.

The first political figure to be struck down is the sitting U.S.
Vice President, an amiable ex-jock who holds about half the unnamed
President's popularity clout --- and this is a fictional president
who is in serious trouble for being ineffective at handling
terrorism, both foreign and domestic. He is losing ground fast to
an ultraconservative billionaire named Colin Goss, whose overtly
Hitlerian solution is to kill them all. "Them" being just about
anybody who isn't more, rather than less, white with origins in
what used to be called Western Civilization. Goss's rising
popularity got a big boost with an event that is recounted in the
book's prologue: a cruise ship with America's best and brightest
teenagers on board --- winners of an academic contest --- vanished
at sea, vaporized by a hydrogen bomb-blast, which was caught on
videotape by another boat nearby but fortunately (for them) out of
range. No known terrorist organizations have taken responsibility
for this outrage, but what else could it be but terrorism?

Sharing protagonist space with the Secret Service agent and the
reporter is an attractive Senator and his wife, both of whom are
soon placed at peril as this plot progresses.

Most likely by now, any frequent reader of thrillers will know
where this story is going, and will not be wrong.

David Zeman has mastered the thriller form, which is in itself no
small accomplishment. He has well in his grasp the fast pace, the
multiple story lines, the shifts in point of view, and the
proliferation of characters. He also has the advantage in this book
of having chosen a topic both timely and relatively (so far)
unexploited in fiction. Sadly, what he does not have is the sort of
credible plot that compels us to keep reading regardless of the
one-dimensional nature of his characters. Perhaps Zeman will do
better next time. Until then, unless you're seriously fascinated by
anything having to do with biological terrorism, you might prefer
to give this one a pass.

Reviewed by Ava Dianne Day on January 22, 2011

The Pinocchio Syndrome
by David Zeman

  • Publication Date: June 17, 2003
  • Genres: Fiction, Thriller
  • Hardcover: 512 pages
  • Publisher: Doubleday
  • ISBN-10: 0385509553
  • ISBN-13: 9780385509558