Hallie Leland is finally reclaiming her feelings of self-worth, working in a Florida dive shop, after fleeing Washington, DC, in disgrace and embarrassment. Accused of selling security secrets the once celebrated microbiologist is now happily leading divers through Florida’s coral formations and caves. When a virulent drug-resistant strain of bacteria threatens to annihilate first the residents of military hospitals, and then the entire world population, Hallie is ordered back to Washington to continue work on the antidote she’d been researching before she was fired. The problem is that the necessary lab samples are no longer available and the only place that they can be found is in the subterranean interior of a remote cave deep in the jungles of Mexico. Known to live only in the adverse biological conditions found in the cave, the organisms, called extremophiles, provide the only hope of preventing a raging pandemic, and Hallie and her team must find them. What would be a difficult task under normal circumstances becomes gut-wrenchingly suspenseful when the obstacles of drug cartels, mythological curses, government moles, spies, and assassins are added to the treacheries of descending into the noxious environment of a dangerous cave and locating, securing and retrieving biological matter in a very short time span.
James Tabor is new to the world of fiction, but he’s written widely about outdoor pursuits, so his descriptions of spelunking and diving ring true with a magnificent realism that is accuracy enhanced by evocative descriptive prose. It is almost impossible not to feel the dank confines of the cave as Hallie and the others descend into their private Hell. He incorporates global environmental, political, economic and humanitarian issues into the arresting plot as he moves his characters around the world to find a remedy for the deadly virus. He also provides an appealing complement of heroes and villains, adding a dash of romance to the quest for the ultimate prize of the life-saving material from the Mexican cave.
The Deep Zone is eerily fascinating because of recent medical incidents involving mysterious flesh destroying organisms or bacteria. It reminds us that even in a world of advanced medical knowledge, there is still a threat from the deadly unknown. Paul Michael’s narration effectively conveys the terror the scientists feel encountering perilous conditions, as they venture from the relative safety of their labs. The book is compelling and thought provoking with a likeable main character who leaves the reader cheering for her personal and professional success. This is a book that is thrilling on the initial reading, but invites rereading for an in depth examination of the implications for our current and future civilization.
The Deep Zone by James M. Tabor
Read by Paul Michael
Random House Audio, unabridged: 14 hours on 12 CDs