The Seventh Plague

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James Rollins continues his Sigma Force series in his latest thriller “The Seventh Plague.” (William Morrow, 425 pages)

The head of a British archeological expedition in the Sudanese desert, Professor Harold McCabe, vanished in the desert and was presumed to have been killed by Islamic rebels. Professor McCabe emerged from the desert in a state of extreme delirium and before he could explain his dangerous trek, the explorer died.

Upon carrying out an autopsy on his body, the pathologists in Cairo, Egypt, are shocked to find that he had been attempting to mummify himself, while he was still alive.

The Professor had been infected with a strange illness, one that is quickly spreading throughout Egypt and threatens to become a pandemic. The crisis intensifies when it is revealed that Harold McCabe was attempting to prove that the Biblical plagues of Exodus were real and not merely religious allegory.

Senior curator at the British Museum, Safia Al-Maaz contacts Painter Crowe, director of the Sigma Force, to aid in discovering the nature of this illness.

What the group from Sigma Force uncovers is a strange microorganism, a member of the archaea domain, that is capable of conducting electricity and thus, is attracted to the area of the body rich with electrical impulses — the brain.

Symptoms of this strange disease are the victims will suffer hallucinations before dying. Worse yet, the organism can carry viral particles that attack the “y” chromosome of males, causing a fatal defect — mirroring the Biblical plague in which the firstborn in the land of Egypt were struck down.

To stop this ancient disease from developing into a modern pandemic, members of the elite Sigma Force travel to the heart of the African jungle where they discover an amazing herd of elephants who hold the key to curing the mysterious plague.

As in his previous novels, Rollins peppers his fiction with fascinating elements of truth. The strange microorganism known as Archaea do indeed exist.

Another interesting medical tidbit is his reference to the fact that researchers discovered that a prescription mentioned in a ninth century medical text relating to a potion derived from garlic, onions, leeks and wine and mixed with the bile of cows was found, when tested, to be effective against ninety percent of the dangerous MRSA bacteria.

The wisdom of past civilizations may be indispensable as man carries on the never ending war on microbes.

The reader will note, that in his writing, James Rollins reveals a profound respect and admiration for animals –a tribute to his training as a veterinary surgeon.

In this latest Sigma Force novel, he describes a fictitious group of albino elephants. Yet the amazing intellectual abilities he attributes to these beautiful creatures are rooted in observations of elephant behavior.

In his deep love of all creatures great and small, Rollins is reminiscent of another veterinarian turned writer, James Alfred Wight, who wrote under the name “James Herriot.”

For those who enjoy an intelligent medical thriller, “The Seventh Plague” is another impressive work from James Rollins.