Plague Maker (2006)
Author: Tim Downs
Genre: Thriller (Christian)
Japanese scientist Sato Matsushita is a man on a mission—to let loose in New York on July 4th genetically modified bubonic plague in order to avenge his sister who died at Hiroshima. The only people standing in his way are Nathan Donovan, a FBI agent, his ex-wife Macy Monroe, a Columbia University professor, and Li, a quirky Chinese expatriate from Britain. Li has his own 60-year mission—to confront Matsushita about the murder of his wife, Jian, during one of Matsushita’s human testing experiments. SPOILER: Matsushita’s plans require sailing into New York Harbor and delivering the plague-infested fleas through special fireworks. However, his Arabic backers decide to betray him and go with their own plan: blow the ship up in the harbor. Donovan, Macy, and Li are able to get onto the ship where Li is able to complete his mission—forgive Matsushita—but not before he, Matsushita, and Macy contract the deadly plague. Donovan and Macy are able to escape from the ship before it is torpedoed by the Navy but are left on another boat, in quarantine, to talk and forgive themselves for not being there for each other when their young son died of cancer.
Geographical Setting: New York City, NY
Time Period: Contemporary (2006)
This is a novel whose entire extant plot is actually a frame for the real story, which is finding forgiveness. However, it focuses on forgiveness in two different ways, external (forgiving someone else) and internal (forgiving yourself). It is this intense focus on these two elements that influences everything about the book from writing style to the character's actions. The author’s smooth, tight, and concise writing style is fashioned specifically so that readers can focus on the characters, especially Donovan and Li, and the circumstances that led up to why they are all thrown together. Indeed, any character besides Donovan, Li, Matsushita, and Macy are stereotypically portrayed (e.g. the Arabic terrorists, the members of the U.S. military, etc.) since they are not important to the overall story. This means that the pace is rather slow for a thriller so that the four character’s various forgiveness stories, that between Li and Matsushita, Li and Donovan, and Donovan and Macy, can become the reader's focus. Moreover, it is these four characters’, but most especially through Li’s, dialogue where the tone of the story comes through: that of understanding, forgiveness, and simple necessity. Each specifies to the reader why the character is the way he/she is and how that character needs to go about finding forgiveness.
Read-alikes: Tim Downs also writes a forensic thriller series that features his smooth and tight writing style but expands on his use of likeable, quirky and witty main characters like Li. Book three in the Bug Man Series, First the Dead, takes place in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans where Nick Polchak, a forensic entomologist, finds that some deaths were not hurricane-related. Another thriller that is not subtle, unlike Downs, about including references to God and the Trinity is the controversial book by William P. Young, The Shack. In this book Mack’s daughter is abducted during a family camping trip and is never found. God then sends a letter asking him to return to the scene of the crime, which he does. Like Downs, Young’s book uses the plot to frame the overall story of lessons that can be learned about such things as forgiveness, love, and spirituality. Moreover, Young’s book equals Downs’ in terms of pace—fast in some areas and more meandering in others depending on what is going on in the story at the moment. Supernatural thriller writer Ted Dekker and his book Adam feature a similar characterization motif as Downs: main characters are flushed out while secondary/unimportant characters aren’t as well developed or even stereotypical, while keeping the same concise and tight writing style. Daniel Clark, an FBI agent, has finally found out who the serial killer ‘Eve’ is but has lost that memory after dying and being resuscitated. He eventually finds out that he has to go deeper into darkness in order to catch ‘Eve’. In addition, many reviews said that it was a whirl wind, nail-biting read, making it faster-paced than Downs' novel. Tracy Groot’s historical novel, Madman, follows Tallis as he tries to find out the reasons for the disappearance of a Socratic academy set up in Palestine with the only good witness being a madman. Many reviews were impressed with the details that Groot supplied in her book and her well-developed characters, which is, again, very similar to Downs' style in terms of the huge amount of details included and his build-up of his main characters. Finally, there is Robert Liparulo’s Comes a Horseman. Two FBI agents are caught up in an ancient society’s attempt to raise the Antichrist. The same characterization motif as Downs is again prevalent in this novel. While writing styles are similar, it should be noted that this book is rather more gory than Downs'.
Red Flags: Gory descriptions; some violence