It is always a huge pleasure to find a fabulous thriller with teen appeal. Spiral is receiving rave reviews all around; comparisons have been made to Michael Crichton at his best. Film rights have been optioned.
And the author knows his science. Paul McEuen is the Goldwin Smith Professor of Physics at Cornell University and director of the Kavli Institute at Cornell for Nanoscale Science (from the bio on his website). His writing is based on what he knows — Spiral‘s main character is a professor of nanoscience at Cornell, and the World War II strand of the plot connects to McEuen’s fascination with his grandfather’s tour of duty in the Pacific. Not to mention that all of his principal character names are based on those of his and his wife’s dogs!
Adult/High School–Generations ago, the cutting edge of science in warfare focused on who had the larger weapon, tank, or arsenal. As brilliantly depicted in Spiral, gaining the upper hand today is all about how small you can get–the combination of nanotechnology and the most devastating of biological weapons is almost impossible to defend against. Cornell science icon Liam Connor is found dead in a suspicious suicide. At first, his physicist colleague Jake Sterling is confused as to why someone would steal the MicroCrawlers–robotic miniature spiders–that he loaned to Liam for cultivating his thousands of fungi specimens. Then a madly wailing student dumped in the middle of Times Square is found with a top-secret strain of a deadly fungal infection in his bloodstream. The demand is simple: release an old World War II war criminal or the MicroCrawlers will be programmed to spread the deadly bioagent, creating an unstoppable chain reaction that will infect all humankind. Jake enlists Maggie, Liam’s granddaughter, to help him discover Liam’s connection to this biological weapon and find a way to counter it. What raises this above other suspense novels is the effortless infusion of science. The heavier stuff of biology and physics permeate the story without being condescending or overwhelming. Some blood and violence, a pitch-perfect narrative style, and plot complications that seem impossible to resolve without tragedy make for an extremely entertaining and blood-chilling thriller. McEuan’s gripping storyline and realistic characters are impossible to forget. Give this to science-oriented teens or suspense fans, and book talk it as a fictional, more modern companion to Richard Preston’s The Hot Zone.–Priscille Dando, Robert E. Lee High School, Fairfax County, VA