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All three were in the personnel department of Oxenford Medical. Antonia, always called Toni, was facilities director, and her main responsibility was security. Oxenford was a small pharmaceuticals outfit-a boutique company, in stock market jargon-that did research on viruses that could kill. Security was deadly serious.
Toni had organized a spot check of supplies, and had found that two doses of an experimental drug were missing. That was bad enough: the drug, an antiviral agent, was top secret, its formula priceless. It might have been stolen for sale to a rival company. But another, more frightening possibility had brought the look of grim anxiety to Toni's freckled face and drawn dark circles under her green eyes. A thief might have stolen the drug for personal use. And there was only one reason for that: someone had become infected by one of the lethal viruses used in Oxenford's laboratories.
The labs were located in a vast nineteenth-century house built as a Scottish holiday home for a Victorian millionaire. It was nicknamed the Kremlin, because of the double row of fencing, the razor wire, the uniformed guards, and the state-of-the-art electronic security. But it looked more like a church, with pointed arches and a tower and rows of gargoyles along the roof.
The personnel office had been one of the grander bedrooms. It still had Gothic windows and linenfold paneling, but now there were filing cabinets instead of wardrobes, and desks with computers and phoneswhere once there had been dressing tables crowded with crystal bottles and silver-backed brushes.
Toni and the two men were working the phones, calling everyone who had a pass to the top- security laboratory. There were four biosafety levels. At the highest, BSL4, the scientists worked in space suits, handling viruses for which there was no vaccine or antidote. Because it was the most secure location in the building, samples of the experimental drug were stored there.
Not everyone was allowed into BSL4. Biohazard training was compulsory, even for the maintenance men who went in to service air filters and repair autoclaves. Toni herself had undergone the training, so that she could enter the lab to check on security.
Only twenty-seven of the company's staff of eighty had access. However, many had already departed for the Christmas vacation, and Monday had turned into Tuesday while the three people responsible doggedly tracked them down.
Toni got through to a resort in Barbados called Le Club Beach and, after much insistence, persuaded the assistant manager to go looking for a young laboratory technician called Jenny Crawford.
As Toni waited, she glanced at her reflection in the window. She was holding up well, considering the late hour. Her chocolate-brown chalk-stripe suit still looked businesslike, her thick hair was tidy, her face did not betray fatigue. Her father had been Spanish, but she had her Scottish mother's pale skin and red-blond hair. She was tall and looked fit. Not bad, she thought, for thirty-eight years old.
"It must be the middle of the night back there!" Jenny said when at last she came to the phone.
"We've discovered a discrepancy in the BSL4 log," Toni explained.
Jenny was a little drunk. "That's happened before," she said carelessly. "But no one's ever made, like, a great big drama over it."
"That's because I wasn't working here," Toni said crisply. "When was the last time you entered BSL4?"
"Tuesday, I think. Won't the computer tell you that?"
It would, but Toni wanted to know whether Jenny's story would match the computer record. "And when was the last time you accessed the vault?" The vault was a locked refrigerator within BSL4.
Jenny's tone was becoming surly. "I really don't remember, but it will be on video." The touch-pad combination lock on the vault activated a security camera that rolled the entire time the door was open.
"Do you recall the last time you used Madoba-2?" This was the virus the scientists were working on right now.
Jenny was shocked. "Bloody hell, is that what's gone missing?"
"No, it's not. All the same-"
"I don't think I've ever handled an actual virus. I mostly work in the tissue-culture lab."
That agreed with the information Toni had. "Have you noticed any of your colleagues behaving in a way that was strange, or out of character, in the last few weeks?"
"This is like the sodding Gestapo," Jenny said.
"Be that as it may, have you-"
"No, I have not."
"Just one more question. Is your temperature normal?"
"Fuck me, are you saying I might have Madoba-2?"
"Have you got a cold or fever?"
"Then you're all right. You left the country eleven days ago-by now you would have flu- like symptoms if anything were wrong. Thank you, Jenny. It's probably just an error in the log, but we have to make sure."
"Well, you've spoiled my night." Jenny hung up.
"Shame," Toni said to the dead phone. She cradled the receiver and said, "Jenny Crawford checks out. A cow, but straight."
The laboratory director was Howard McAlpine. His bushy gray beard grew high on his cheekbones, so that the skin around his eyes looked like a pink mask. He was meticulous without being prissy, and Toni normally enjoyed working with him, but now he was bad-tempered. He leaned back in his chair and clasped his hands behind his head. "The overwhelming likelihood is that the material unaccounted for was used perfectly legitimately by someone who simply forgot to make entries in the log." His tone of voice was testy: he had said this twice before.
"I hope you're right," Toni said noncommittally. She got up and went to the window. The personnel office overlooked the extension that housed the BSL4 laboratory. The new building seemed similar to the rest of the Kremlin, with barley-sugar chimneys and a clock tower; so that it would be difficult for an outsider to guess, from a distance, where in the complex the high- security lab was located. But its arched windows were opaque, the carved oak doors could not be opened, and closed-circuit television cameras gazed one-eyed from the monstrous heads of the gargoyles. It was a concrete blockhouse in Victorian disguise. The new building was on three levels. The labs were on the ground floor. As well as research space and storage, there was an intensive-care medical isolation facility for anyone who became infected with a dangerous virus. It had never been used. On the floor above was the air-handling equipment. Below, elaborate machinery sterilized all waste coming from the building. Nothing left the place alive, except human beings.
"We've learned a lot from this exercise," Toni said in a placatory tone. She was in a delicate position, she thought anxiously. The two men were senior to her in rank and age-both were in their fifties. Although she had no right to give them orders, she had insisted they treat the discrepancy as a crisis. They both liked her, but she was stretching their goodwill to the limit. Still, she felt she had to push it. At stake were public safety, the company's reputation, and her career. "In future we must always have live phone numbers for everyone who has access to BSL4, wherever in the world they might be, so that we can reach them quickly in an emergency. And we need to audit the log more than once a year."
McAlpine grunted. As lab director he was responsible for the log, and the real reason for his mood was that he should have discovered the discrepancy himself. Toni's efficiency made him look bad.
She turned to the other man, who was the director of human resources. "How far down your list are we, James?"
James Elliot looked up from his computer screen. He dressed like a stockbroker, in a pin- striped suit and spotted tie, as if to distinguish himself from the tweedy scientists. He seemed to regard the safety rules as tiresome bureaucracy, perhaps because he never worked hands-on with viruses. Toni found him pompous and silly. "We've spoken to all but one of the twenty-seven staff that have access to BSL4," he said. He spoke with exaggerated precision, like a tired teacher explaining something to the dullest pupil in the class. "All of them told the truth about when they last entered the lab and opened the vault. None has noticed a colleague behaving strangely. And no one has a fever."
"Who's the missing one?"
"Michael Ross, a lab technician."
"I know Michael," Toni said. He was a shy, clever man about ten years younger than Toni. "In fact I've been to his home. He lives in a cottage about fifteen miles from here."
"He's worked for the company for eight years without a blemish on his record."
McAlpine ran his finger down a printout and said, "He last entered the lab three Sundays ago, for a routine check on the animals."
"What's he been doing since?"
"For how long-three weeks?"
Elliot put in, "He was due back today." He looked at his watch. "Yesterday, I should say. Monday morning. But he didn't show up."
"Did he call in sick?"
Toni raised her eyebrows. "And we can't reach him?"
"No answer from his home phone or his mobile."
"Doesn't that strike you as odd?"
"That a single young man should extend his vacation without forewarning his employer? About as odd as rain in Glen Coe."
Toni turned back to McAlpine. "But you say Michael has a good record."
The lab director looked worried. "He's very conscientious. It's surprising that he should take unauthorized leave."
Toni asked, "Who was with Michael when he last entered the lab?" She knew he must have been accompanied, for there was a two-person rule in BSL4: because of the danger, no one could work there alone.
McAlpine consulted his list. "Dr. Ansari, a biochemist."
"I don't think I know him."
"Her. It's a woman. Monica."
Toni picked up the phone. "What's her number?"
Monica Ansari spoke with an Edinburgh accent and sounded as if she had been fast asleep. "Howard McAlpine called me earlier, you know."
"I'm sorry to trouble you again."
"Has something happened?"
"It's about Michael Ross. We can't track him down. I believe you were in BSL4 with him two weeks ago last Sunday."
"Yes. Just a minute, let me put the light on." There was a pause. "God, is that the time?"
Toni pressed on. "Michael went on holiday the next day."
"He told me he was going to see his mother in Devon."
That rang a bell. Toni recalled the reason she had gone to Michael Ross's house. About six months ago she had mentioned, in a casual conversation in the canteen, how much she liked Rembrandt's pictures of old women, with every crease and wrinkle lovingly detailed. You could tell, she had said, how much Rembrandt must have loved his mother. Michael had lit up with enthusiasm and revealed that he had copies of several Rembrandt etchings, cut out of magazines and auction house catalogues. She went home with him after work to see the pictures, all of old women, tastefully framed and covering one wall of his small living room. She worried that he was going to ask her for a date-she liked him, but not that way-but, to her relief, he genuinely wanted only to show off his collection. He was, she had concluded, a mother's boy.
"That's helpful," Toni said to Monica. "Just hold on." She turned to James Elliot. "Do we have his mother's contact details on file?"
Elliot moved his mouse and clicked. "She's listed as next of kin." He picked up the phone.
Toni spoke to Monica again. "Did Michael seem his normal self that afternoon?"
"Did you enter BSL4 together?"
"Yes. Then we went to separate changing rooms, of course."
"When you entered the lab itself, was he already there?"
"Yes, he changed quicker than I did."
"Did you work alongside him?"
"No. I was in a side lab, dealing with tissue cultures. He was checking on the animals."
"Did you leave together?"
"He went a few minutes before I did."
"It sounds to me as if he could have accessed the vault without your knowing about it."
"What's your impression of Michael?"
"He's all right...inoffensive, I suppose."
"Yeah, that's a good word for him. Do you know if he has a girlfriend?"
"I don't think so."
"Do you find him attractive?"
"Nice-looking, but not sexy."
Toni smiled. "Exactly. Anything odd about him, in your experience?"
Toni sensed a hesitation, and remained silent, giving the other woman time. Beside her, Elliot was speaking to someone, asking for Michael Ross or his mother.
After a moment, Monica said, "I mean, the fact that someone lives alone doesn't make them a nutcase, does it?"
Beside Toni, Elliot was saying into the phone, "How very strange. I'm sorry to have troubled you so late at night."
Toni's curiosity was piqued by what she could hear of Elliot's conversation. She ended her call, saying, "Thanks again, Monica. I hope you get back to sleep all right."
"My husband's a family doctor," she said. "We're used to phone calls in the middle of the night."
Toni hung up. "Michael Ross had plenty of time to open the vault," she said. "And he lives alone." She looked at Elliot. "Did you reach his mother's house?"
"It's an old folks' home," Elliot said. He looked frightened. "And Mrs. Ross died last winter."
"Oh, shit," said Toni.
I normally love Ken Follett books. However, this one had my eyes rolling. I will say, I did listen to the audio book version as we were on a long car ride and my husband loves audio books - I prefer reading. Anyway, I thought it was really cheesy. A disappointment from one of my favorites.
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Posted May 18, 2010
This is definitely not up to par compared to the other novels I've read by Follett. I continued onward to hope it gets better & all I did was huff at each turn it felt like a kid doodling on paper, (where you expect the plot to go one way but "let's just go the opposite" just for fun). All those opposites felt like a waste of time & didn't enhance the plot in any way. The only time I'd recommend it is if you're a person into cop/science AND you want something to give you a winter-feeling.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted April 21, 2010
I totally enjoyed this book. I have read others by Follett and it ranks pretty low on his scale but still a good read. Those people who have a problem with sex scenes shouldn't read Follett. That or your just not getting it at home and are angry about it. Remember that in this book with the sex scene of the two teenagers, THEY ARE NOT REAL PEOPLE. Sometime you have to add things to certain stories for depth, and Follett likes to make his books more realistic. Teenagers actually do have sex.
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Posted January 20, 2010
Posted September 19, 2009
Posted October 25, 2008
Once I picked this book up I had a hard time putting it down! It's thrilling and suspenseful but it also has a great warm familial feel to it too. The director of a big research facility has his children and grandchildren to the family home in secluded Scotland for Christmas. On the same day, a deadly virus is stolen from his research facility by a band of 3 thugs and that's where the action is. They all converge at the directors home in the middle of a blizzard and everyone has to use their wits as well as strength to survive the night. A couple parts might have been slightly unbelievable but it really didn't detract from the story. The characters in Whiteout are diverse and authentic. Whiteout is a great atmospheric book for the Christmas season.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted May 13, 2007
I have read several Follett books and have enjoyed them. This one being no exception. To me there were several parts that were kind of unbelievable, but not worth condemming the book over. I would recommend it to read. Also I don't think it hurts an author to explore new territoryWas this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted May 8, 2006
This most definately isn't one of Ken Follett's best novels....it took me an entire week to get through the first half of the book, and then only one night to get through the other half. I could not get into the first half at all...I dont know what it was exactly? Maybe lack of action and suspense? or just it was really boring...but the second half was pretty good i guess since i couldn't put it down once i started reading it. The book was just not up to par with some of Follett's other novels...if you have the time and patience i'd recommend it.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted April 1, 2006
This is the first Ken Follet book I've read and really enjoyed it....very suspensful. And the description of the blizzard - I felt like I was traveling in the blizzard myself. I liked the way all the characters were developed - it was definitely a page turner. I'll certainly be reading more of his books.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted February 6, 2006
An easy and worth while read. Not a heavy read like some of his other books, but one you can read and enjoy on a weekend. I don't mind an author changing styles but I see some of the reviewers do. Not Pillars of the Earth, not even on par with it, but maybe he wrote it like I read it - as a fast paced enjoyable adventure.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted December 3, 2005
Yeah, agree with fellow reviewers...not such a great endevour. Recently his material is adrift from the solid characterizations and story lines of his earlier work. White Out is formulaic, trite, passe. It certainly helped get this reader to sleep at night (saved me a little on my Lunesta prescription).Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted September 2, 2005
Ken Follett has been one of my favorite writers for the past twenty years. I began with the key to Rebecca and was trapped. 'Whiteout' comes close to the other great titles by this author. The setting, plot, dialogue, pace and characters are effective in making this book another great Follett novel. I was kept on the edge through out the story and wasn't altogether happy that it came to the end so fast.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted June 13, 2005
I thought this book was really weak! Follet, usually a highly entertaining author, disappointed this reader with a total lack of character developement and motivation, a sincerely creepy teen-sex scene, and a boring, perfunctionary ending. Follet's many characters each had some major issues: anger, jealousy, lonliness, maybe even depression, but he never includes the motivation for their behaviors in his book. The sex-scene between the two kids is totally creepy considering an older man has written about the breasts and crotch of a 14-year old girl. Yuck! Finally, the ending was so awful. The reader doesn't feel any kind of relief, like, at least the bad guys got what they deserved, kind of thing. Even the freaky female felon who was run over three (?) times and torn to shreds, lives to exact more evil in prison? Come on! Very disappointed here, although I won't give up on an otherwise entertaining author.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted March 10, 2005
Posted February 26, 2005
I was disappointed, having read reviews that were positive, and knowing that Follett is a good writer. However, this book feels like a write-by-numbers, easily-adapted-to-screenplay, tossed-out-to-fulfill-a-contract obligation, weekend-typing-marathon effort. It lacks detail, the plot is predictable with cookie-cutter characters, has the 'insert obligatory sex scenes here', and with a little more effort by Follet this could have been a wowzer.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted January 27, 2005
This book is trite, written to the complexity of 'Dick and Jane', and the plot is obvious on page 2 of the book. It is shocking that Ken Follett would put his name on this stinker.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted January 22, 2005
I hate to give any author 5 stars (unless it's his final book) because there is nowhere to go but downhill. So this is a 4 star thriller that any true Follett fan will enjoy. It reminds me of Night Over Water(one of my FF -Follett Favorites). I am rearly disapointed in Follett or any of my favorite authors because almost all of their books are good and entertaining reads. Some are better then others and this one is up near the top. If you really like Ken Follett buy the hard cover, if you're so-so on him wait for the paperback, but no matter what, READ THIS ONE.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted January 10, 2005
If you've read any of Ken Follett's books over the years, you've no doubt come to recognize how he does things. None of his books (Pillars of the Earth being the lone exception - 5 stars!!) are meant to be anything more than an entertaining diversion. There will be suspense, there will be intrigue, there will be exaggerated characters, and there will be a love story. That combination, however, is not a bad thing (Hammer of Eden being the lone exception - 1 star.) You read Ken Follett to help pass time on a slow day, on a plane ride, or at the beach. Whiteout is no exception. It's entertaining, it's suspenseful, and it's actually (at times) funny...on purpose. My one complaint is that there are too many subplots (and I'll only mention the names Hugo and Sophie, so as to not give anything away) and not enough attention to the main plot (what COULD have been a CATASTROPHIC world event was treated, for the most part, as a local problem that the locals would handle-- weather permitting.) Overall, it's worth 3 and 1/2 stars, and I can't wait for the next one. Just accept Follett's books for what they are, and you'll enjoy it immensely.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted December 31, 2004
As long-time Follett fans, this book was a big disappointment. The dialogue reads like a poorly written romance novel, and the level of excitement enjoyed in other Follett books just isn't there. Hopefully the next book will be better.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted December 26, 2004
Another great Follet novel. He is rapidly becoming one of my favorites. Whiteout keeps you on the edge and you can almost feel the tension. My disappointment came only because I finished. I could have read much more. When is the next novel due?? hurry!!!!Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.