Okay, so there are sharks. And reconstituted dinosaurs. Unfriendly nuclear powers and hostile aliens and berserk asteroids. But the flu? Somehow, as a serious threat to the well-being of the world population, getting the flu has rated pretty low on my list of terminal things to worry about. Not any more. The flu in question, of course, is the Spanish Lady, the horrendous version of influenza that precipitated the most lethal medical event in history and killed more people after World War I than the war itself. The First Horseman, a potential nightmare encased in fiction, proceeds on the theory that, under certain circumstances, that flu bug could kill every unimmunized person on earth. And, luckily for readers, if not the world, there are three bodies buried in the Siberian permafrost from which the deadly virus can be recreated. After a good deal of hop, skip, and jumping around between places and persons, the story settles down to watch as the bad guys/girls, members of an off-the-wall religious cult led by a charismatic madman, work to preserve the endangered natural world by simply destroying that inconvenient scourge, all human life. Of course, the good guys/girls labor to foil them, taking considerable physical mistreatment as well as falling in love in their spare time. It's the perfect scenario for the next big movie thriller, although filmmakers may find it difficult to express the apparent expertise displayed by the author about both government and medical processes.

The first horseman reference touches on the famous four horsemen of the New Testament Apocalypse. But you knew that, of course. Whether or not he was originally identified with the spread of pestilence, (the Book of Revelation is not clear on that point), the apocalyptic connection indicates nasty consequences for an unknowing world. John Case, who wrote the bestseller The Genesis Code, is a pseudonymous award-winning investigative reporter in Washington, D.

C. He plants a mischievous hint at the end of the story that may make readers think twice about its status as fiction, but I am hopeful we can dismiss this as creative inspiration. It's bad enough, really, to know there are Charles Manson and David Koresh types out there who, like Solange in this book, seem to magnetically attract their disciples' loyalty through sadistic and abusive practices. The author effectively builds the reservoir of dread that fuels all good thrillers as he portrays the twisted mind at work turning ordinary people into amoral uncaring monsters.

The world survives, but, every time the flu bug goes around from now on (especially in April or May), those of us who have read The First Horseman will not feel entirely secure until the symptoms subside. Maude McDaniel is a freelance writer in Cumberland, MD.

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