The Deadliest Strain

( 7 )


What can stand between America and a plague that devours human bodies from the inside out?

Cases of sudden, unexplained deaths—marked by rapid decomposition—are cropping up across the U.S. Their cause: a supermicrobe that causes flesh-eating disease so aggressive that victims die within an hour and infect dozens more.

Suspecting bioterrorists at work, Homeland Security is willing to bend any rule to find the source of the deadly infection, even...

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What can stand between America and a plague that devours human bodies from the inside out?

Cases of sudden, unexplained deaths—marked by rapid decomposition—are cropping up across the U.S. Their cause: a supermicrobe that causes flesh-eating disease so aggressive that victims die within an hour and infect dozens more.

Suspecting bioterrorists at work, Homeland Security is willing to bend any rule to find the source of the deadly infection, even if it means resurrecting a "dead" Iraqi biochemist, long held in a CIA ghost prison. The disease's unwitting creator risked her life trying to destroy it. Her sister tried, too, and landed in prison. But time is running out as they search for the one person who might hold the key.…

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780778324584
  • Publisher: Mira
  • Publication date: 1/1/2008
  • Format: Mass Market Paperback
  • Pages: 400
  • Product dimensions: 4.21 (w) x 6.62 (h) x 1.05 (d)

Meet the Author

Jan Coffey is a pseudonym for Nikoo and Jim McGoldrick. Nikoo, a mechanical engineer, and Jim, a professor of English with a Ph.D. in sixteenth-century British literature, are living the life of their dreams. Under the name of Jan Coffey, they write contemporary suspense thrillers for MIRA and Young Adult romantic thrillers for HarperCollins/Avon. Writing under the name May McGoldrick, they produce historical novels for Penguin Putnam, and Young Adult historical fiction for HarperCollins/Avon. Under their own names, they are the authors of the nonfiction work, Marriage of Minds: Collaborative Fiction Writing (Heinemann, June 2000).

Nikoo and Jim met in 1979. Nikoo was six, and Jim was 30-something. (Just kidding...Jim was in his early twenties.) One morning, after a wild storm had ravaged the New England shoreline, Nikoo was out walking along the seawall in Stonington, Connecticut, and came upon a young man (early twenties...honest!) who was trying to salvage a battered small boat that had washed up on the rocks. Jim needed help dragging the boat up over the seawall and across the salt marsh. Anyway, by the time the two had secured the boat on higher ground, a spark had ignited between them. It was instant electricity...and Jim's been chasing Nikoo ever since.

Now, 25 years later, they live in Litchfield County, CT, with their two sons and their golden retriever, Max. They love writing, they love Harlequin/MIRA, and they love the friends (both readers and writers) they've made through their writing.

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Read an Excerpt

Moosehead Lake, Maine

As the sun rose, setting the eastern sky ablaze, the northwestern hills ahead of them grew bright against the deep blue to the west. It had been three hours since they'd started out from her sister's house in Portland. Haley knew they should be getting close to the lake now.

The sunny weather forecasted for the week had sounded like a good omen to her. She glanced at her husband, but Neil was focused on the road ahead. With good weather, Haley knew the two teenagers in the backseat would soon get over their complaining about being taken away on this "forced" family vacation. Their friends and sports and the zillion electronic gadgets were so important now.

Still, they'd been coming to this same island, renting the same cabin, for eight years now. The boys had been five and seven when they first started. Eager for a week of hiking, fishing, swimming—and having a hundred percent of their father's attention—the boys had always regarded this vacation as a special treat. That made it worth it to Haley. Neil needed this more than any of them. He traveled nearly fifty-one weeks a year for his job, and going to an island in the middle of nowhere in Maine, with no electricity or Internet or cell phone service, was the only way he knew of getting a full week to devote just to his family.

"I think you should wake them up," Neil said in a low voice as he turned onto the familiar road that took them to the lake's edge in Greenville. From there, they would take a rental boat out to the cottage.

Haley looked over her shoulder and smiled. At the sound of Neil's voice, their eight-month-old Lab was doing the job for her, stepping all over the boys, goingfrom one window to the other.

"What the heck!" the younger one whined, waking abruptly. "Mom, Trouble's gotta pee. He'd better not go on me." At thirteen, Stevie was in the throes of a love/hate relationship with their dog.

"Be nice to him, moron," Bobby snapped at his younger brother. "He's not going to pee on you."

The silence of a moment earlier erupted into a full-fledged brawl as the dog joined in, barking louder than the boys could argue.

In a few minutes the van pulled into a space in the gravel lot by the docks, and Haley scrambled out, taking the excited animal with her and leaving the peacemaking to Neil. She stretched and took a deep breath as the dog darted toward the water.

The cool scent of the lake and the pines was welcome and familiar. Haley followed the dog to the water's edge and marveled. It still affected her, just as it had when she'd first seen it eight years ago. The morning sky was a deep, cloudless blue, the air crisp and fresh, the water dark and clean. To her left, the sun was shining, bright and warm, on the trees and cottages along the Point. Here and there, the light flashed off a cottage window or a boat tied to a dock. Beyond the Point, where the lake extended for forty miles or more, pockets of mist could be seen rising off the water as the sun chased the darkness from the tree-lined eastern edge. Moosehead Lake was so different from the South Jersey suburb where they lived the rest of the year. Over the years, there'd been some development in Greenville, but not much seemed to change really. And almost nothing ever changed on the dozens of islands that dotted the huge body of water.

The dog ran back toward the car. Haley saw Judd McCabe's pickup truck had pulled in next to their van.

Judd was the owner of the cottage they rented. He also owned about fifteen other rental places scattered over the area. Every year, he made a point of meeting them at this very spot the first morning they arrived.

Now he was pointing out to Neil the boat he'd arranged for them to rent. Haley looked out at the dock.

As Neil and the boys started unloading the car, Haley clipped the leash on the dog's collar to keep him from getting in the way. She walked over and said hello to the older man.

"So, this is the new addition to the family," Judd said, petting the playful animal. "What's his name?"

"Trouble," she replied. Seeing the older man's wry grin, she nodded wholeheartedly. "It really is the beast's name. The boys named him Trouble, and it fits him like a glove. A well-chewed glove, but a glove nonetheless."

"Looks like a happy bit o' trouble, Mrs. Murray."

"He is, actually," she said, smiling. "By the way, thanks so much for not minding us taking him out to the cottage."

He waved a hand in the air. "Not at all. In fact, the people who are renting the other cabin on the island these two weeks have a dog, too."

"That's great," she said, hiding her disappointment. There were only two places to stay on the small island, and with the exception of one time about five years ago, the other cottage had always been unoccupied. This year they'd have to share their private island.

"Any kids?" she asked.

"One daughter. I think she's thirteen or fourteen."

"Perfect," she replied. "Friendly, I hope."

"Don't know. Pretty little thing, though." Judd glanced at the boys. "They arrived two days ago, and the girl seemed to be fighting a cold, so she was kinda quiet. With your handsome fellas around, though, I'm sure she'll be getting better and romping around the place in no time."

Having a girl on the island would definitely be an added attraction for the boys, especially Bobby. Haley decided to keep that little bit of news to herself until they got out onto the island.

"And we're in for perfect weather," she commented, watching Neil hand the last cooler to Bobby.

"Seems like it." Judd nodded toward the lake. "That fog hanging out around the Point should burn off pretty quick."

Haley looked across the water and saw the thick pocket of fog that enveloped the end of the Point. Frowning, she glanced at her husband.

"Why don't you folks stick around town till it lifts?" Judd suggested to Neil. He added with a laugh, "Hate to see you miss the island and end up in Canada somewheres."

Neil smiled at the older man as he locked up the car and shook his head. "No. The boys are excited. It's better to be on our way and get settled in. We'll be fine."

"I can grab another boat and you can follow me out, if you like. With the fog—"

"I can find my way," Neil said, too quickly for Haley's comfort. "After eight summers, I know these waters like the back of my hand. Thanks, anyway, Judd."

Haley shook her head. "Men and directions," she muttered, saying goodbye to the old man.

There was no point in arguing with Neil about it. She knew he wouldn't change his mind and take Judd's offer. After eighteen years of marriage, she knew her husband too well. The twenty-minute boat ride might take three hours, but Neil would never admit that he needed help. Haley let it go. They were taking a boat on a lake. There was only so far they could go before they'd reach one shore or the other.

Their coolers and bags of groceries and luggage and fishing gear were piled high in the middle of the small rental boat. The boys were already in, up at the bow, but it took some coaxing to convince Trouble to climb in. Haley held the dog between her feet in the stern seat, where she sat next to Neil.

"I get the top bunk," Stevie announced argumentatively up front.

"No, you slept there last year. I get the top bunk," Bobby asserted loudly.

The battle started before they'd even left the shore. Haley waved back at Judd, who was standing on the dock, looking after them pensively. He waved back.

The small boat cut through the waters toward the Point, and then moved past it. Haley only half listened to the ongoing argument. When the boat entered the bank of fog, however, the boys stopped abruptly. The fog became much thicker as they moved farther out onto the lake, and Neil slowed the boat. She could tell he was concentrating on going straight ahead. Haley could only see a few feet ahead of the boys, though every now and then she would get a glimpse of some trees to the right or left, or the end of a boat ramp coming down from the unseen shore of one of the islands.

The sudden appearance through the fog of another boat creeping toward them was a relief. The two men in fishing gear waved as they went by. Haley could see no sign of where they'd come from. The thick fog was sticking like a mist to her skin and she felt cold creeping down her back. She looked at the bag that contained her sweatshirt. Naturally, it was buried under everything else.

"Do you know where you're going?" she asked her husband quietly.

"Of course," Neil answered, obviously trying to sound cheerful. "Trust me, will you?"

Well, they weren't the only ones crazy enough to be on the water, she told herself.

Trouble stood up, shook himself, and then sat again against Haley's leg. The dog plunked his head on her lap and looked up at her almost mournfully. She shook her head and petted him, glancing at the shore of another island they were passing. There was something familiar about the boathouse. "We aren't too far away, are we?" she asked. "I recognize that place."

Neil nodded. "We'll go past one more island, and then you'll see our place."

Haley felt relief wash through her. "You hear that?" she said to the dog, scratching behind his ears. "Daddy led us straight to the cottage. He's a regular Daniel Boone."

"Very funny," Neil said.

Haley called to the boys. "We're almost there."

"What are we going to do first when we dock?" Stevie asked, turning in his seat.

"Are we going fishing?" Bobby chimed in.

The dog sensed the boys' excitement from the pitch of their voices. He stood up and looked around, ready to jump in the lake. Haley had to hold on tight to his collar.

"We'll unload the boat first. No one goes anywhere until we've taken everything out and put it in the cottage," Neil told them. He smiled at Haley. "That doesn't include you, honey. You do whatever you want."

She leaned over and gave him a peck on the cheek. Just getting close to their vacation cottage was making a noticeable difference in everyone's mood. Haley looked around. Even the fog seemed to be lightening. If Judd was right, in another hour the sun would be shining.


Haley considered that her best move would be to introduce herself to their neighbors first. Only the east side of the island was approachable by boat. The west side was rocky and heavily wooded. Because of that, both cottages had been built on the same side of the island, only a hundred yards or so of grass and pine groves separating them. They'd share the boat dock, as there was only one.

Suddenly, as they rounded the last island, the boat engine sputtered and threatened to go out. She had confidence that Neil would know what to do, though. He revved the gas, gently at first, and the motor responded. Speeding up a little, they again moved smoothly across the water.

Haley looked ahead, peering through the fog. She didn't have long to wait. The southern end of the island abruptly appeared through the mist, then the dark outline of the other cottage. No sign of life there. She looked ahead as the beach and floating wooden dock next to it came into view. Trouble started barking.

"He's never been here, and still he's excited," Neil said, petting the dog's head.

Haley noticed the other power boat tied to the dock. There were water skis piled on the dock, and a canoe and two kayaks on the beach. Their neighbors were definitely on the island. Trouble's barks were becoming more forceful. Haley held on to his collar, wrapping the leash around her hand.

"Quiet, Trouble," she said.

"He's just ready to run," Neil said.

"Judd mentioned that the family in the other cottage has a dog, too," Haley reminded her husband.

Neil shrugged. "You should let him off the leash. The dogs get along much better that way."

"We don't want to startle the neighbors. Especially since they must not have seen us coming. If I let him go and—"

"There'll be a lot of tail wagging and butt sniffing, but that's all," Neil said confidently, glancing up at the other cottage. "And they'll have to hear us coming in."

She had a hard time holding on to him. The dog was ready to jump in the water. Waiting until the boat pulled near the dock, she unclipped the leash. With one graceful leap, Trouble left the boat and landed on the wooden planks at a full run. Nose to the ground, he dashed off into the fog.

She shook her head at the disappearing animal and looked up at their own cottage. Haley couldn't even see it, but she knew it would be in good condition. That's the way Judd always operated.

"Where's Trouble going?" Stevie asked, standing up as his older brother jumped out onto the dock and quickly tied the bowline to a nearby cleat.

"I think he's looking for a buddy," Neil answered. Immediately, there were a dozen questions from the teenagers about the other family on the island. Haley pointed to her husband. "Help your dad. I'll give you the entire scoop in a minute."

She couldn't see or hear the dog. While the boys helped to secure the boat, Haley stepped onto the dock and walked toward the stretch of sand-and-rock beach. The familiar outline of their cottage broke through the fog. The rocking chairs on the porch, the two kayaks lying upside down on the path leading from the beach, the canoe next to it, the outside shower on the side of the cottage, the tire swing hanging from the ancient oak tree in the front yard…these were all familiar sights. She remembered exploring all over the island that first year. The oak was the only non-pine tree on the property. Looking at it always made her smile for some reason.

She looked back at the other cottage through the haze. There was still no one outside, but she noticed now the front door was open, and it looked like the screen door had been propped open, as well.

"Trouble!" she called out, hoping the dog hadn't decided to visit on his own. "Come on, good puppy."

There was no barking, no sound. She shook her head. Haley kicked herself for not asking Judd the other family's name. She guessed they must have gone off fishing, and Trouble had gone off after them.

The island was about half a mile wide and maybe a little bit longer. Neil and the boys liked to fish on the rocks on the west side. That was probably where the other family was. Well, they were in for a surprise when Trouble found them.

She walked up the path toward their own cottage. There were no locks on these houses. There was no crime, no one to intrude on people. Judd boarded the places up for nine months, and mostly the same people came back year after year during the summer. The people before them always left a dozen new paperbacks for the collection on the shelf by the stove. She was glad Judd had never put up more cottages out here.

She stepped on the porch and looked back. The fog was lifting. She could see that the boys had already unloaded everything on the pier. She opened the front door. The faintly musty smell, mingled with lemon wax, brought back more memories. Inside everything looked the same. The rustic furniture, the wood bunk beds in the nook off the sitting area, the little kitchenette with the lime-green fridge, the bedroom that was no bigger than a closet off the living area with the creaky double bed and the tiny bathroom off of that.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4
( 7 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 7 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted April 12, 2008

    A solid four

    Americans begin dying from a flesh eating disease which can kill within minutes. American intelligence agencies are desperately trying to determine how the disease is spread, what it is, and how to cure it. Meanwhile a scientist, Dr. Rohaf Banaz, has been 'detained' in a number of American prisons throughout the world for five years. These are 'black' prisons meaning civilians do not know who has been taken, where they are, how to communicate with the 'detainees' or even if they are dead or alive. What the jailers do not know is that the woman they have mistreated (that's putting it nicely) for five years is actually the sister of Dr. Rohaf Banaz, Dr. Fahimah Banaz. When Fahimah is released into the custody of a Homeland Security scientist, Austyn Newman, he figures out that she is not Rahaf and they begin a journey to find the missing Rahaf who has been searching for a cure to the bacteria she inadvertently created. This book gives a horrifying view into the 'detention' of men and women who 'are suspected of having ties to suspected terrorists'. They are stripped of all civil rights, are held in deplorable conditions, and are assumed 'guilty until proven innocent' which flies in the face of all America represents. The fact that only a few have ever been charged out of the hundreds taken is telling. As Fahimah said 'we are all victims of the actions of those who govern our countries'. I found the information about the Kurds, their pain and triumph, their customs and traditions, their strength and how they had literally risen out of the ashes fascinating and uplifting. We tend to think of Iraqi women as uneducated, downtrodden, forced to hide behind veils. While that may be true in many cases it's an inaccurate stereotype for others, particularly the women of Kurdistan. This was a good book but the ending was a little sad.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 2, 2008


    I have read all of Jan Coffey's books and this is the best. The topic is current, the plot complex enough to keep you on pins and needles, and the story is developed well. We are doing it for our book club this month -- should lead to some interesting discussion.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted December 9, 2008

    more from this reviewer

    A fabulous exciting tthriller

    The family of four and their dog were on vacation on an isolated island in Moosehead Lake, Maine with only one other family of three and a canine there. One week later the seven on the island, the owner of the two cabins, and two emergency technicians are dead as well as the two dogs. They are victims of extremely rapid necrotizing fasciitis bacteria that ate their organs in under 24 hours. Fear is that the disease will continue to concentrically spread wider as no one knows how it got there in such an isolated locale or by whom, and worse how to stop it as Homeland Security assumes a bioterrorist attack occurred.------------- The hope for a cure resides in a CIA secret prison. Kurd Dr. Rahaf Banaz accidentally invented the bacteria weapon and risked her life to find an antidote. The CIA holds her indefinitely, but she remains locked inside her head not willing to communicate with anyone. HSD Intel Officer and offensive biological weapons expert Austyn Newman hope to persuade the unresponsive Rahaf into helping them. There are only three problems with their scenario. First terrorists want the deadly bacteria to use on large populations second there is no known cure and third the female prisoner incarcerated by the CIA is not Rahaf, but instead is her non scientist sister Fahimah.------------- This is an exhilarating action-packed thriller that grips the audience the moment that the dog Trouble finds the decomposed corpses of the other vacationing family and never slows down until the climax. The scenario is frightening and worse plausible, especially as innocent people and the canines are the early victims. Fans will find THE DEADLIEST STRAIN fascinating while praying biological warfare never comes to pass. Although the ending seems too contrived, no one will leisurely be drinking coffee while reading this spine-tingling tale.--------- Harriet Klausner

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted May 1, 2012


    it was an okay book but could of got more to the point quicker and the ending seemed rushed.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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    Posted May 6, 2010

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    Posted November 8, 2010

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    Posted May 26, 2009

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