In New York City in the late '90s, a 17-year-old girl heads off to her private school even though she has a cold. By art class her nose is gushing mucus and she's severely disoriented. Within seconds, it seems, she's in convulsions and, most bizarrely, can't stop biting herself. All the reader can do is hope she'll die quickly, but Kate Moran's body still has a few more disgusting turns to undergo, and Richard Preston--a Jacobean master of ceremonies par excellence--takes us through them in bizarre and bloody detail.
Clearly, whatever Kate had was a head cold with a scientific vengeance. Preston's heroine, Alice Austen, a doctor with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, realizes--in the first of several gripping autopsy scenes--that the girl's nervous system had been virtually destroyed. So far, only one other person is known to have died in the same way, but he was a homeless man. Austen must connect the two cases, seemingly linked only by the subway, before the media gets hold of them and drums up a paranoia-fest--and before the virus's creator can kill again.
The Cobra Event is itself a paranoia-fest, a provocative thriller that makes you wonder exactly how much bioterrorism is taking place in the real world. Preston, best known for his terrifying chronicle of the Ebola virus, The Hot Zone, and other impeccably researched nonfictions, is not content to create fast-paced nightmarish scenes. His novel is instead a complex morality tale anchored in uncomfortable fact. Preston is keen to convey the "invisible history" of bioweapons engineering and, equally, to show the unsung heroism of his scientific detectives (along with that of the nurses and technicians who literally sacrifice their lives for medicine). Like their creator, these characters are not without a sense of humor. One calls the manmade virus "the ultimate head cold." Readers will never forget literally dozens of scenes and will never again see the subway, rodents, autopsy knives, and--above all--runny noses in the same light. [via]