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Jack Collier is a brilliant but troubled Ph.D. candidate at Harvard - the kid from the wrong side of the tracks. But he has an idea that will make medical history: train Strep A bacteria (also known as flesh eating bacteria) to attack tumors rather than healthy flesh. When his mentor, a renowned professor, steals Jack's idea and sets him up to get expelled from Harvard, Jack is devastated and nearly destroyed. But something has gone wrong with the cure and as Jack travels across the country, he unknowingly leaves a wake of deaths in his tracks. A sympathetic FBI agent wants to find Jack and stop him - before those that want to see his genius silenced find him first.
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One might wonder what thriller authors occupied themselves with before the onslaught of biotechnology: gene splicing, smart viruses, cloning techniques, and PCR-polymerase chain reactions are the current darlings of a host of writers, including Gary Braver (Elixir), Richard Preston (The Hot Zone), and Holden Scott (Skeptic). In Scott's second novel, The Carrier, Jack Collier, a Harvard Ph.D. candidate, has found a cure for cancer by engineering Streptococcus A bacteria--known to tabloid newspaper fans everywhere as flesh-eating bacteria--to recognize and attack tumors rather than healthy flesh. It's a personal victory as well as a scientific breakthrough: haunted for months by the knowledge that his girlfriend, Angie, is dying of ovarian cancer, Jack has labored endless hours in the hopes of saving her.
But altruism is a rare bird in academic circles, and Michael Dutton, Jack's adviser, steals his idea, sets him up to be expelled, and nearly destroys the young man. Desperate to reach Angie, Jack breaks into his own lab, stows his petri dishes in his backpack, and takes off on a cross-country race against time. He doesn't know that something has gone terribly wrong with the cure, and that he is leaving a trail of death behind him. With two FBI agents--one a sympathetic scientist (who, perhaps too neatly, is a breast-cancer survivor) and one a militant psychopath (intent not just on finding Jack, but on killing him)--in hot pursuit, Jack's journey is one of narrow escapes and personal redemption.
Scott spins a mean story; though his characters and prose are occasionally stiff, there's no denying his ability to make us keep turning pages. The keen irony of Jack's predicament--technology has made him both a savior and a killer--is well crafted, and Scott refrains from belaboring the point. One might wish for a bit more "science" in this biotech thriller; the moments when Jack is in the lab are by far the most interesting, but they don't come often enough. With luck, the author's next scientific foray will rely more on the nitty-gritty, the test tubes and the electron microscopes. --Kelly FlynnAbout the Author:
Holden Scott is the pseudonym of a 30-year-old Harvard graduate, and the author of four previous novels, all of which have been optioned for or made into movies. He lives in Boston.
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