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by Lori Andrews
St Martin's Minotaur, June 2006
288 pages
ISBN: 0312352700

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

I tend not to read books that focus on serial killers; they bore me at the same time as they terrify me. In SEQUENCE, however, Lori Andrews spends relatively little time on the aspects of serial killer books that drive me away. She also caught my attention because she uses, as the locus of her debut thriller, a little-known department in the federal government; little known, that is, except to me. And when you have esoteric knowledge, don't you just love when it shows up in your life?

I admit that I know little about the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology, but it's shown up in my life in a medical investigation. AFIP is a part of the Defense Department, and is where civilian geneticist Dr Alexandra Blake performs her esoteric research. And she deals with conflict.

As a civilian, she's not required to follow military discipline, but Alex works for and with military personnel and the entire focus of the organization is military. AFIP provides several services, from expertise on pathology and consulting on exotic cases from all over, to weapons research. It has links to Walter Reed Medical Center and it houses one of the country's odder museums.

Blake is studying the Spanish Flu epidemic; it sounds arcane and implausible except it's related to bio-terrorism and genetics. But her expertise and lab skills are needed when it appears that there's a very secret killer at work.

It's Washington of course, so issues of influence, power and secrecy matter big-time; the FBI wants the case but the new guy in charge, a military man, wants it back. Andrews very skilfully shows the "a day in the life" issues that complicate the work being done, in the environment where everyone is sure their way is better. Telling a civilian to obey orders doesn't always sit well; ordering someone around who's used to having the freedom to perform her own tasks is bound to create tensions.

The story was engrossing. The only false note I encountered was Alex's relationship with Congressman David Thorne; there just never seemed to be a reason for it. He pursued her, he was good-looking and appreciated her intelligence, yeah, yeah, but she never expressed any real plausible reason for going out with the guy, other than the fact that he asked.

She had, understandably, issues with the life he led; always concerned with how things would look, the constant demands on his time, everything subservient to his schedule. While he was often insistently persuasive, Blake never even thought about love or the future. The conversations about her avoidance seemed pretty unoriginal "you fear commitment" lines, and it simply never gelled for me.

The book succeeded far better when Alex interacted with co-workers and others. Her friendship with Barbara Findlay, a Navy lieutenant, was so real; two of the few women in a very male atmosphere, holding their own and genuinely liking each other. The men ranged from plausible to military men convinced of their own attractiveness and their own perfection.

There were a couple of moments where I found the protagonist a tad too super-powered -- overcoming someone who was not likely to show weakness, and there was the occasional scene that lacked a little credibility, but I'm really hard on thrillers, especially endings which are often 'chase, confront and catch' scenes, because they tend to notch up the suspense a bit too high.

All in all, though, SEQUENCE is a very credible and readable first novel. Andrews gets points for having Alex as founder of the Barbie Liberation movement -- they're heroes in my house.

Reviewed by Andi Shechter, March 2006

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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