When I decided to return to the arena of medical thrillers for some summer escapism, I figured: what better author to return to than the king of the subgenre, Robin Cook, who thrilled me with Coma so many years ago? And in truth, Vector is a lively read. But it has a few problems.
This story lets you peek at both the machinations of the bad-guys--in this case, a disillusioned Russian emigre to the U.S. who has forged a sinister alliance with an extreme right-wing organization called the People's Aryan Army--as they cook up a plan, and the ingredients to unleash anthrax and botulinum threats in New York, while also checking in thoroughly with our hero, Jack Stapleton of the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner, who, through his gruesome work, unknowingly comes across hints that terrorism is fermenting around him. This means that there is not much mystery to the story, of the superb type I recall from Coma. We have, layed out for us, all aspects of what's going on, and most of the suspense derives from the reader knowing of dangers that Jack does not know, or can't seem to figure out fast enough to save hundreds of thousands in the Big Apple, smart and intrepid though he may be. Thankfully, he gets some help and inspiration from various associates, among them Laurie Montgomery, who unsettles him when she introduces her to dashing Paul Sutherland, new love of her life (thus is the romantic triangle subplot spring upon us--although, call it a love trapezoid, as we have another fella named Lou, likeable Doctor-guy, also pining for Laura). But the romantic dithering is a less than satisfying aspect of the novel, as is the book's final stages, where a clever bit of surprise-inclusion comes in tandem with a rather dull final confrontation between heroes and villains, in terms of action and all-out excitement.
Anthrax and botulinum do come across as very nasty weapons when in the hands of terrorists, in this story. Jack Stapleton is a character with scads of moxey--bucking proper process and putting his job in the line to follow up slim clues that a few seemingly random deaths point to a ticking clock of certain doom--and I like his style (especially on a bicycle immersed in New York city traffic while a small army of gun-toting terrorists are pulling up beside him, or when talking cool at the point of a pistol held by a paranoid bioweapons expert in a room loaded with anthrax spores). But everything is so obvious to the reader, that I kept hoping for something to leap out of nowhere and shake up the story. I also felt that the story hinged on a few big coincidences--and besides that, didn't generate the kind of heart-stopping suspense a first-rate medical thriller could do.
But it was a fun read, in an unnerving kind of way, and it was a treat to return to Robin Cook's work after so many years; I had been quite frightened by the film Coma as a youngster and eventually went on to read the book. Vector is too open and obvious in its machinations to compete with that earlier, chilling story, but it has its moments.