One of the most frightening possible attacks from terrorists on the United States involves biological warfare. In the opening pages of GERM, readers meet Despesorio Vero, who works as a lab assistant to scientist Karl Litt. Described in graphic detail, Vero helplessly watches a patient die a painful death after his organs liquefy. In the doorway Vero notices Litt observing the individual’s demise.
A year and one month later, Vero contacts FBI Special Agent Goodwin Donnelley --- and now they are fleeing for their lives. A complex assassin named Atropos, who is eliminating anyone connected to the investigation, catches and kills both Donnelley and Vero. But before his death, Donnelley hides a memory chip and leaves a dangerous clue for his partner, Julia Matheson.
Later, New York Times reporter Jeff Hunter receives a strange email with the subject line “The story of the century.” The email is blank, but included is an attachment that looks like a spreadsheet or a virus. He almost deletes it but decides that, because his computer is backed up, he can take a chance and open it. The attachment contains a list of 10,000 names, addresses and social security numbers. Hunter calls a few of these people to see if he can pick up on any pattern or connection, but he doesn’t find any.
Much later in the book, we learn that the individuals on this list contain matching strains of DNA and come from a cross section of society: politicians, business leaders, blue-collar workers, even children. The virus targets specific people, and as it moves from person to person, it acts like a normal cold. When it reaches someone with the matching DNA, that individual is stricken with an advanced form of the Ebola virus. Within days of receiving the germ, their organs liquefy and they painfully die.
Karl Litt is a key character throughout the novel because he is the scientist who genetically created this virus. As one of 32 gifted children, he carries out the research his father began in Germany toward the end of World War II. Slowly we come to understand the deeper motive of pure hatred from a child like Litt, who witnessed the death of his father and the demise of his country.
From the beginning we know that a horrible threat to humanity is looming. Robert Liparulo has crafted a multi-strand page turner and a highly recommended thriller.
Reviewed by W. Terry Whalin on November 13, 2011