It has taken Scott Sigler quite a bit of time to finish out his Infected series. The first two novel in the series, Infected and Contagious, were released in 2008 and I reviewed the audiobook version of both around the same time (here and here). The final volume in Sigler’s series, Pandemic, was released almost 5 years since I reviewed Contagious. I didn’t go back and take a look at the previous two volumes before jumping into Pandemic; a fact which made someone leery going into this novel. Thankfully, Pandemic is an extraordinarily approachable novel; not so approachable that it could be easily enjoyed in you missed Infected and Contagious but enough that the distance between the novels isn’t quite that noticeable. Needless to say spoilers for the first novel are ahead so consider yourselves warned.
Pandemic picks up not too long after, a couple of months maybe, and the now married Clarence Otto and Margaret Montoya are not living the most idyllic of lives. Montoya is unable to shake the guilt over the destruction of Detroit at the end of Contagious a notion compounded by her seeming addiction to following internet discussions about herself. Otto is struggling with holding their marriage together as Margaret disappears further and further into despair and self-loathing. Meanwhile, beneath Lake Michigan the final remnants of the Orbital lay waiting with the latest iteration of the virus that started the whole mess. Of course, an American fleet is working to investigate those remains and covert agents of another government are working to secure a bit of alien technology for themselves. Secrecy, greed, and an aggressive strain of bio-engineered alien virus make for a particularly vicious little pressure cooker. It isn’t long before Montoya and Otto are called in for aid against a threat far more apocalyptic than anything they’ve faced before.
Pandemic doesn’t quite capture the same visceral experience I remember from the first two novels. That isn’t to say it’s some kind of peaceful journey, not by any means, but there definite moments in the previous novels (particularly involving Perry’s struggle) that had me legitimately squirming in my seat. Those moments, while not entirely gone from Pandemic, lack the same amount of impact perhaps given the scale of destruction seen in the novel. The characters are certainly put through the wringer but there is more of a emotional and psychological element in play; no one has to cut part of themselves off or burn holes in their own body. While Sigler definitely keeps the pace up, and increases the stakes to a global level, there is a certain disconnect for me. Sigler spent two novels connecting readers with “Scary” Perry Dawson and his loss at the end of Contagious is still felt throughout Pandemic. I just didn’t connect as well with Margaret, Otto, Murray or any of the new additions seen in Pandemic. While Sigler leans heavy on Margaret and Otto’s relationship and its disintegration I didn’t quite buy into it; we never really glimpse them as a couple and so the emotional impact of their struggle feels deadened.
Sigler seems to enjoy picking out a character to be the physical and emotional punching bag of the story and this time out that laudable position falls on Cooper Mitchell’s shoulders. Mitchell’s salvage business plays an important role in accelerating the global destruction in the novel and over the course of the story Mitchell is the primary conduit through which readers witness the horrors wrought by the Orbital’s final iteration on the virus. As such, Mitchell is also the person who experiences some of the worst aspects of the seeming apocalypse that quickly grips Chicago (and the rest of the world) and, if truth be told, I looked forward to his chapters a bit more than the other characters. As the reader’s “eyes on the ground” Mitchell’s perspective is the one the features the nastiest of the nasty as we witness the horrors the virus transformed populace of Chicago enact Once scene in particular, in which Mitchell much prove that he belongs among the ranks of the converted, has a particularly visceral description of what he has to do in order to survive. Maybe I’m a bit sick for liking these parts the best, but Sigler is really at his best at these moments and Mitchell’s desperate fight for survival brings together a strong blend of tension, horror, and action that is hard to ignore.
The conclusion to Contagious brought a more other-worldly element to the novel towards its end. Unfortunately, Pandemic moves away from those elements in a very deliberate way. The focus, as the title indicates, is on the virus itself and its extraterrestrial origins is more window dressing than anything else. Needless to say that disappoints me a bit, as I was far too intrigued by Contagious‘ brief glimpse of the “masterminds” behind it all. While I enjoyed Pandemic a bit less than the first to novels it was still an exciting book and Sigler has such a strong grasp on action and tension that the nearly 600 page tome of a novel blows by at record speed. As much as I did enjoy Pandemic it felt more like an epilogue to the first two novels than a straight on continuation and as such was not quite a strong a book in my opinion. I still give the series as a whole a strong recommendation particularly for fans of science thrillers who don’t mine a bit of viscera in their action.