By Grant Jacobs 02/12/2017


Book review: Cat Zero.

This book purrs. It does that thing that cats do, “playing” with their toy, gently poking at it, softly lobbing it in the air, then, eventually, lunging. I’d recommend it for those who’d like the interplay of scientific lives, permeated with motives and mystery.

Jennifer Rohn’s strength is her characters, their changing foibles—sometimes more than mere foible—and their muses. Of course there are the sticky messes that can result. You might think from the cover that you’re getting a light-weight thriller. It’s more mystery with solid characters, dialogue and motivations. Definitely not the lightly sketched plot of B-grade all-action thrillers, guns blazing into the night. It’s subtly mellow, and by turns odd, slowly building up with little claws-retracted prods, before talons are drawn nearer to the end.

A specialist in feline viruses, Artie is a new professor assigned the basement of a research think-tank in North London. She’s one of the few women leaders in the institute. Her colleagues are a challenging lot. Some chauvinistic; some, like the mathematical pair next door, unusual. Results suggest ‘her’ virus is more that it might be. Provoked, she investigates nearby deaths helped by her hunky colleague and savvy assistant. Throughout it all she battles her and other’s mental states, and manipulations. Nothing is quite as it might be.

As is common, the opening passage offers a glimpse of what you find later in the book, but it’ll be a while before you get there. The real reading starts at the second chapter, and builds slowly.

There’s science to be had, too. Biologists will find this light enough for the beach. Some readers may find the science plays a bigger part of the plot and more of the book than they’re used to, but scientific lives are like that. The projects become part of the plot of your life, although rarely as dramatic as Rohn’s story!

There’s more, but it’s not easy to mention them without spoilers. A little of all of feminism, mental illness, romantic and less so interactions, persuasive dealing, and just how people play for and against one-another. Lurking behind it all is a danger.

Cat Zero is Rohn’s third novel. Aside from being a group leader of a scientific laboratory she also runs the LabLit website. The scientific research in Cat Zero draws from her Ph.D. student days, when she studied feline viruses.

The novel is available now as a pre-order for the print edition at Amazon. A Kindle edition edition should be available too.

(This review is based on an advance copy of the e-book supplied by the author. I’ve copied the blurb for the book from the Goodreads review page for Cat Zero to the Footnotes below. )

Other articles in Code for life

Avery, a little bird helping children talk about their genetic disease (Children’s book.)

What books do you think geeks should read? (Open thread of ideas from my readers.)

Public opinion of gene editing and enhancement (Results of a recent survey.)

Finding platypus venom (An interesting genomics approach to finding new venom, with potential medical applications.)

Genetic tests and personalised medicine (From 2009, but still relevant.)

Book review: Victorian Popularizers of Science (Popular science communication history.)

Book excerpt – Losing the faces of your wife and children (A rather poignant quote from a book about faces.)

Footnotes

I’d like to thank the author for the review copy of her book.

Blurb for Cat Zero:

Artie Marshall is a scientist. She is perpetually underfunded, relegated to a damp basement, and besieged on all sides by sexist colleagues. Added to that she is immersed in a messy divorce. But she’s never been happier: she recently landed her own lab, based in an eclectic think-tank housed in the leafy suburbs of North London.

Artie spends her days studying an obscure cat virus that nobody else in the world seems to have heard of – or cares about. But her arcane little research problem suddenly becomes worryingly relevant as local cats start dropping dead overnight. Matters get worse when people start getting infected too.

Working with her right-hand man Mark, her vet friends and her street-smart technician, Artie races to get to the bottom of the ballooning epidemic. Unexpected assistance arrives in the form of two basement-dwelling mathematicians – a sociopathic recluse and his scary, otherworldly savant mentor. When their mathematical models suggest that the cat plague might actually be more sinister than it first appears, Artie gets drawn into a web of secrets and lies that threatens to blow apart her lab family, undermine her sanity – and endanger her own life.

References

Cat Zero

Bitingduck Press

ISBN: 978-1-938463-66-2

Featured image

Cover of Cat Zero