You’d think that the last book I’d want to read while still in the thick of the COVID-19 pandemic is one about the next big outbreak. But here’s the wonderful appeal of genre fiction, and the reason I’ve been reading so much romance, mysteries and thrillers in the past year: you know how it’s going to end. You won’t know the specifics, and the best stories keep you on tenterhooks throughout, but you know that if you read a romance, the couple will end up together; if you read a mystery, the bad guy will be revealed by the end; and if you read a thriller, the situation will have a resolution.
And that’s why Lost Immunity, by doctor-author Daniel Kalla, is the perfect comfort read for these times. Unlike the current real world COVID-19 pandemic, where I can only wait my turn for the vaccine, and watch helplessly as new, more contagious variants appear, Kalla’s thriller gives me a chance to live vicariously through Seattle’s chief public health officer Lisa Dyer, who is at the forefront of stopping the pandemic in her fictional universe.
Kalla’s story takes place post-COVID-19, when a meningitis outbreak at a Bible camp results in the deaths of teenagers, and reveals a deadly, highly contagious strain of the disease. Dyer responds swiftly, negotiating the rapid approval of a vaccine on the verge of Phase 4 testing in Iceland, where a similar pandemic had recently been recorded and contained, inoculating campers and their families, and setting up mass immunization clinics around Seattle. She deals with corporate bureaucracy and anti-vaxxers (apparently ‘vaccine hesitant’ is their preferred term), led by a naturopath with an autistic son and a nurse girlfriend working at one of Dyer’s clinics. And she also contends with her own anti-vax family, which becomes rather urgent when the contagion spreads to younger children and Dyer’s own six-year-old niece is endangered.
Watching Dyer in action, along with Nathan and Fiona from the vaccine development team, is comforting. They’re up against a scary disease, and working hard against time, but early clinical trials have proven the vaccine effective, and despite the urgency of the events, the reader never truly feels the outbreak is out of their control. Perhaps most comforting is that, unlike the current pandemic, Kalla sets his thriller up with a bad guy, someone intent on tampering with the vaccinations, and whose perspective we see in chapter interludes. The results of this bad guy’s plan becomes clear when some of the vaccinated teens fall ill with a really serious, potentially deadly, condition, and while doctors conclude it’s less a side effect than a random, unexpected occurrence (I forgot the technical term they used), the occurrence is still statistically relevant enough to jeopardize the plan for widespread vaccination.
The bad guy’s identity and motives are sadder than I expected, but their very existence is, to me, a comfort. It’s much easier to conceive of a bad guy being stopped than it is to control a worldwide pandemic, and while a similar situation playing out in real life would be terrifying and infuriating, Kalla’s thriller is comfortingly familiar.
I loved this book. Kalla’s writing is crisp, and his pacing brisk. He creates characters we care about: from Fiona the grieving widow, to Lisa’s husband genuinely trying to fix their troubled marriage, to Lisa’s mentor Angela who battled COVID-19 and is now battling cancer, and even to Lisa’s anti-vax sister, who is forced to reexamine her beliefs when her daughter is in danger. His story may be a bit too much, too soon for people on the frontlines of battling the COVID-19 pandemic. But at least for those of us fortunate enough to be able to work from home, and still waiting for a be-all, end-all COVID-19 solution that seems far too slow in coming, Lost Immunity is an entertaining and comforting alternate reality, where outbreaks can be contained, science wins over politics (the government is remarkably absent from this novel, which is unrealistic, but I personally didn’t mind), and where the villain is an individual / group of individuals rather than a virus we can neither see nor control.
Thank you to Simon and Schuster Canada for an egalley of this book in exchange for an honest review.