**Foreword INDIES Book of the Year Awards Finalist**
Modern biotechnology propels an ancient ethnic rivalry to a terrifying new level…
In the 1930s, Japanese scientists in China committed heinous crimes in their quest for the ultimate biological weapon.
The war ended. Their mission did not.
Eighty years later, Japanese-American scientist Amika Nakamura won’t let rules stand between her and scientific glory. When the ambitious young virologist defies a ban on the genetic manipulation of influenza, she’s expelled from the university. Desperate to save her career, she accepts a position with a pharmaceutical company in Tokyo. Soon after, a visit to a disputed island entangles her in a high-profile geopolitical struggle between Japan and China. Applying her singular expertise with bird flu in a risky experiment may be the only way out. Little does she know that Japanese ultra-nationalists and a legacy of unpunished war crimes lurk in the shadows, manipulating people, politics, and science.
But DNA doesn’t lie. Amika uncovers a shocking truth: a deadly virus is about to put the “gene” in genocide.
Praise for THE HAN AGENT:
“Amy Rogers’s latest medical thriller is as exciting as it is frighteningly realistic. It could be tomorrow’s headline. Here is a story fraught with tension, and threaded through with scientific accuracy and speculation that will leave you stunned.”—James Rollins, #1 New York Times bestselling author of Sigma Force series
“In a stunning ‘what-if’ author-scientist Amy Rogers resurrects the idea of Unit 731, Japan’s notorious wartime biological weapons division, weaving together a diabolical tale of science, genocide, and modern-day bio-terror. Sobering, suspenseful, and absolutely chilling.”—Barry Lancet, award-winning author of The Spy Across the Table and Tokyo Kill
“In this gripping thriller by Amy Rogers, World War II-era history, ultranationalism, and biological genocide intertwine. The Han Agent is a surefire genre hit, fast-paced and full of elements of mystery and adventure. Science fiction hounds in particular will dig the information about DNA sequencing, virus detection, and how plagues can spread.” —Foreword Reviews magazine
“The Han Agent will get your heart pounding and your blood boiling. Putting huge swaths of humanity in its crosshairs, this pressure cooker of a thriller portrays with chilling realism how individuals can use specialized scientific knowledge for good or evil.”—J.E. Fishman, bestselling author of Primacy and the Bomb Squad NYC series
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
Shoulders aching from too many hours with her arms reaching into the isolation chamber, Amika Nakamura resisted the urge to scratch her nose. Violating biosafety level two precautions in the laboratory wouldn't kill her, but her research was at a critical phase and the last thing she needed was to get an infection.
Cell incubators warmed the small, windowless room that smelled of yeast. The room was dark except for the garish fluorescent light that illuminated her workspace. An air filtration system ran constantly, filling her ears with a low roar that cut her off from the outside world. She wriggled her nose under the surgical mask to try to relieve the itch.
On a stainless steel counter inside the isolation cabinet in front of her sat a row of clear plastic petri dishes, each holding a quarter inch of urine-colored liquid. For the bird cells clinging to the bottom of those dishes, yellow was the color of death.
Time for resurrection.
With gloved hands she vacuumed the contaminated liquid away and replaced it with clean, pink fluid. She could almost imagine the cells sighing with relief as their little plastic prison went from fetid to fresh. Years ago, the ancestors of those cells had come from a real bird. That bird was long gone, and the cells were now a cancer growing in a dish. They lived a pampered, immortal life — at the cost of their freedom and identity.
Amika knew women who would make that kind of trade. She wasn't one of them.
The room's air pressure changed, making her ears pop. Someone had opened the door.
She glanced over her shoulder and saw her principal investigator (and employer) Professor Herberger, accompanied by a man she barely knew but recognized as Herberger's boss, the dean of the college.
Her muscles stiffened. Was the jig up?
The rumble of the air system was loud, but not that loud. She pretended not to hear them speak.
"Dr. Nakamura," the dean's stern voice repeated at higher volume, "put down the pipette."
She almost laughed. He said it like she was holding a gun.
Then again, considering what they probably suspected she was doing, comparing it to a lethal weapon wasn't a big leap.
She laid the small tool on the counter and turned slowly to face them. Her accusers. A couple of old men. Paunchy bellies. Six-figure salaries. Tenured. Two scientists who never put their hands on an actual experiment anymore. The dean had been out of the lab, working in administration for so long he'd have to go to a museum to find equipment he knew how to operate. These old men didn't understand how hard it was to launch a career in science these days. For anyone, but especially for a woman. They didn't understand how the competition was so fierce, you had to find a way to stand out. They were comfortable with the status quo and uncomfortable with risk.
I take bigger risks than they've taken in the last year just walking home on University Avenue after another fourteen-hour day at the lab. This project was a gamble they couldn't possibly understand.
I don't ever want to be like them. Except for the tenured part.
"Yes?" she said, putting as much peeve in her voice as she thought she could get away with without being openly insolent.
Professor Herberger spoke. "Amika, we need to talk. Shut down the biosafety cabinet, would you please?" Pompous cowards. With exaggerated care she covered the dishes and returned them to an incubator. Then she sprayed disinfectant and wiped down the workspace. How long could she drag this out? Dr. Herberger and the dean wouldn't dare to interrupt while she was following biosafety protocols.
Not if they thought a deadly flu virus was involved.
She wondered how long they would stand there, her professor resting his arm on a shoulder-tall tank of compressed gas, the dean rocking back and forth in his leather dress shoes. She fantasized about keeping her gloved hands inside the cabinet forever, doing the work that needed to be done, the work that would make her famous. Influenza virus — the flu — was her passion. The desire to understand its secrets had propelled her through her PhD years and into this post-doctoral fellowship at Cal. Answers to some of her most important questions about this life form were tantalizingly close.
The dean again. "Dr. Nakamura, I'm going to have to ask you to shut down now."
The surgical mask flattened against her nose and mouth as she took a deep breath to subdue her anger. Her younger brother Shuu Nakamura, a US Army veteran, had taught her you could lose some battles but still win a war. This confrontation with the administration at the University of California was her battle. She had time yet to win her war. She was only twenty-seven years old. On average, winners of the Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine were forty-five years old when they did their prize-winning work.
"Yes sir," she said and turned off the airflow. A heavy silence settled in its absence. She stripped off her latex gloves with a snap and tossed her face mask and paper gown into the trash.
"Let's go to my office, shall we?" Dr. Herberger said.
He closed the door to the cell culture room behind them as they left. Amika had a sinking feeling she would not be allowed to pass through that door again.
When they reached his office, Herberger stood next to a tall, black swivel chair behind a desk covered with documents and drab technical journals. "Have a seat," he said, gesturing to one of two small chairs on the other side.
Amika complied. The dean, in a typically male display of status, rolled the second chair away from her and over to the professor's side. Herberger's office wasn't much larger than his desk, and the dean rattled the cheap Venetian blinds on the window as he squeezed in. Diplomas and a photo of Herberger with the Surgeon General scowled at Amika from the walls.
Her rage-fueled, righteous indignation cooled as fear took over. These men had all the power. She might be smarter, bolder, a better scientist than they, but she owned nothing of the currency of their realm. No independent grant money, no committee appointments, no endowed chair. Surely Dr. Herberger had access to dozens, maybe hundreds, of applications from junior scientists like her, all clamoring for a job at the fabled UC campus. From her boss's point of view, she was utterly replaceable.
Dr. Herberger sat and rested his elbows on his desk. "Do you know why we're here, Amika?"
She couldn't help herself. "To congratulate me on being invited to speak at the Global Virus conference?" Neither of them cracked a smile. She sensed her dreams slipping away.
"I'm surprised, Dr. Nakamura," the dean said. "By all accounts you're an intelligent young woman. Did you really think you could submit banned research to a prestigious conference and the university wouldn't notice?"
Well, the university wasn't clever enough to discover that I was actually doing the research, right under their noses.
She chose a guarded response, defending her work. "The 1918 influenza killed tens of millions of people. It's not a question of if, but when it will happen again. We need to be able to recognize a potential pandemic flu virus in the wild and prepare —"
Dr. Herberger held up his hand to cut her off. "This isn't about the validity of your work. It's about following the rules." He lifted a sheet of paper and pointed at the heading from the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. "We're under a moratorium for gain-of-function research."
"This university depends on millions of dollars in federal funding," the dean continued. "Your reckless work on influenza jeopardizes that."
"It's not only the money," Dr. Herberger added. "Mutating the virus to make it more infectious is dangerous."
If there was one thing she couldn't stand, it was hypocrisy. "Six months ago you thought it was a brilliant idea. You agreed that it could teach us the difference between harmless mutations and ones that pose a threat to human health."
Her accusers exchanged a glance. The dean said, "Sometimes we get a little carried away by our ideas, don't we? Look, we're not here to argue about whether something important could be learned from your work. The point is, there are risks and I think it's wise for us to pause until we've had time to examine whether we can do it safely. And right now, the federal government says we must."
She wanted to say, I can do it safely. The elephant in the room was the reason the Feds called a halt to this type of research on disease-causing viruses and bacteria. There'd been some incidents of astonishing carelessness. Somebody at the National Institutes of Health had recently stumbled on a cornucopia of deadly germs in an old freezer, 327 vials in all, including smallpox, for cripe's sake. They'd been stashed and forgotten. Then the Centers for Disease Control had screwed up with anthrax, shipping live bacteria to labs that thought they were getting inactivated material. Thank God nobody died, but the lesson was clear: you couldn't trust scientists to manage their stuff.
So even though Amika was meticulous to a fault, and felt she was perfectly capable of keeping her viruses contained and properly labeled, those clowns at NIH and CDC had ruined things for everyone. Because of them, she was supposed to abandon her important work on flu.
But she hadn't abandoned it. And she'd made some breakthroughs in understanding the genetic differences between run-of-the-mill seasonal influenza and new flu viruses that could wipe out several percent of the world's population. This knowledge was valuable to humanity, and frankly, it was valuable to her career. She had decided to submit her work to the prestigious Global Virus meeting, in hopes they'd invite her to give a lecture.
I got invited for a lecture, all right.I'm getting it now.
"You broke the rules, Amika," Dr. Herberger said.
"The rules are wrong," she growled.
The men communicated silently yet again. She was ready to argue — nothing left to lose — but they apparently had this whole thing choreographed in advance. Discussion was not part of the plan. The dean dredged a legal-sized manila envelope out of a messenger bag and laid its contents on the desk. The paper was covered with text. Several red tabs labeled "Sign Here" stuck out from one side.
"This terminates your employment at the University of California," the dean said. "It applies to all campuses, not just Berkeley."
His words were like a gut punch. The genius of her work meant nothing. They were actually going to fire her. From the whole UC system. Her connections at UCSF, where she went to graduate school, were worthless. Speech failed as she forced herself to keep breathing. No tears, she vowed. No tears.
"It also mandates your cooperation in identifying and destroying any samples of genetically modified influenza virus in your possession," he continued. "Because your data on virulence could be misused, the University demands that you delete all gene sequence files derived from the prohibited research. You further agree not to store, transmit, or publish your data in any form."
Wait a minute. Asking her to destroy her data was pointless. You can't suppress genetic information. It comes from the natural world. The DNA was out there, just waiting for somebody to decode it. Even if she didn't publish her results, there was about a one hundred percent chance that another, less repressed scientist would do it in the near future. And she would get no credit for the discovery. This was punitive. They had no right to do that.
Galvanized, she wondered what would happen if she refused to sign the papers.
The dean must have read her mind. "Obviously we can't force you to sign. Should you refuse, however, the University will take legal action against you." His expression softened. "You made a mistake. Don't make it any harder on yourself."
A mistake? He was the one making a mistake.
"I'm sorry," Dr. Herberger said.
He wasn't sorry. She would make him sorry someday when she accepted her Nobel Prize, and people were talking about how stupid he was to let her go. She shook her head to hide the blinking of her eyes.
Do not touch your face. Do not let them see you cry.
The papers lay there, the red type violent against the bland backdrop of legalese printed in a small font. The air felt hot and thick. How was she going to tell Shuu that his big sister, who'd bailed him out of trouble more times than anyone could count, wasn't so perfect after all?
Her lip started to quiver. Any verbal rebuttal died in her throat. With as much dignity as she could muster, she snatched the documents and marched out of the room. The second the office door closed behind her, she ran. Away, down the empty corridor. Thankfully no one saw her like this, distraught and weak as she slipped into the women's restroom.
She splashed water on her face. This will not be the end. She recalled that Marie Curie, winner of not one but two Nobel Prizes, was forbidden to attend university in her home country of Poland. She left. If I must, I will too. I will find a way.
May 24 (six months later)
Salty spray cooled her skin as Amika Nakamura stood at the rail of the Kumamoto. Brilliant sun heated the deck of the Japan Coast Guard's patrol vessel, evaporating the light rainfall from earlier that morning. She closed her eyes and breathed deeply of the misty sea air. Having grown up in arid Los Angeles, she loved the exotic feel of humidity here in the tropics of Asia. The ship rose and fell softly on gentle waves and the wind ruffled but failed to tangle her short-cropped hair.
After the trip down from Tokyo where she now lived, and a pre-dawn departure from the port on the island of Ishigaki, Amika was a long way from Berkeley, both literally and figuratively.
She felt something break the wind at her side and she opened her eyes. Hiroshi Naito, her traveling companion and the savior of her career, offered her a pair of binoculars.
"The captain let me borrow these," he said in Japanese. "Have a look. You can see the islands now."
In the distance, small, dark, formless masses of land interrupted what had been an empty seascape for the past several hours. With the binoculars, the tiny Senkaku Islands resolved into distinct specks.
"Shuu is waiting for us on the big one? In the middle?" she asked.
"Yes, that's Uotsuri-shima," Hiroshi said, "but I wouldn't call it big. It's only four square kilometers."
"It looks tall from here."
"A bit. The rocky peak is close to four hundred meters high."
She returned the glasses to him. "I guess the goats like it."
"They're breeding like crazy there." He smiled. "Must be a romantic place."
Her face burned. Was her boss flirting with her? Ever since he invited her on this wild excursion away from work, she'd been trying to tell if her presence was more than just a courtesy to her brother. She hoped he was flirting. Of course there was some risk but she'd be a fool not to start a relationship with this man if she could. Hiroshi Naito was rich, charming, and probably a mere ten years older than she. As heir to a family-owned Japanese drug company, he also had the power to determine her future as a scientist.
Job security plus a little fun? Why the hell not?
"I see why the islands' ecosystem is unique," she said. "They're totally isolated."
"Yet somehow the Senkaku mole and the Okinawa-kurooo-ari ant found their way here," he said.
"Like I did," she said. "It seems crazy that Shuu and I are working together on a project. Vaccines and guns are a strange combination."
She remembered the dark day five months ago when she was fired from her fellowship at the University of California and broke the news to her brother Shuu. He was living in Tokyo, so she could have kept it a secret, but that didn't seem right. Shuu had struggled after he left the US Army. About two years ago he'd announced he was going to get a fresh start — in Japan. She and he had learned to speak Japanese from their parents, but she was worried Shuu thought that moving to a new country would somehow solve all his problems.
Yet somehow, it did. Or at least it solved all the problems that had required her intervention in the past.
Then against all odds, Shuu had bailed her out when she needed help.
"As crazy as two Americans coming all the way out here to help protect a Japanese national treasure?" Hiroshi said.
Excerpted from "The Han Agent"
Copyright © 2017 Amy Rogers.
Excerpted by permission of Science Thrillers Media.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
BIOHAZARDOUS. 3.5 stars. This is the first book by Amy Rogers that I have read so I wasn't sure what to expect. What I found was a well written medical thriller. This can be read as a standalone. There is violence. The book blurb adequately describes the storyline so I'm not going to repeat that all info here. The author did a good job of explaining what is going on and describing the history and settings of the story. The characters, even though I couldn't stand some of them, were well written and multidimensional. There are a lot of clues in the storyline that keep you guessing what twists and turns will be revealed next. This storyline makes you wonder if this could be happening right now somewhere in the world. I received a copy of this book from NetGalley and chose to leave a review for other readers.
The Han Agent by Amy Rogers is a so-so medical thriller. In the 1930's Japanese scientists began experimenting with biological weapons, but the program was forced to end due to WWII and all notes and evidence of the experimentation was hidden away. Jumping to the present, Japanese-American scientist Amika Nakamura is an ambitious young virologist working at U.C., Berkeley who defies a ban on genetic manipulation of the 1918 influenza virus. She publishes a paper on her work and is subsequently expelled, fired, and banned from working at any U.C. school. She accepts a position with Koga, a pharmaceutical company in Tokyo. Her younger brother Shuu also works for Koga. She travels to the Senkaku Islands, near the southern tip of the Japanese archipelago and quickly Amika and Shuu are entangled in a high-profile geopolitical struggle between Japan and China. Those of you who follow my reviews know I enjoy thrillers involving viruses, plagues, dystopian scenarios, etc. The Han Agent was seemingly a perfect fit for my preferred genres. What I never envisioned was being bored and having to force myself to finish a book featuring biological weapons. After an intriguing opening, the action in the first first half of the book slows down and the hook, the biological weaponization of a virus, is set aside for political posturing. Now, I can suspend disbelief with the best of them and roll with the action, assuming there is some action, but it is difficult to overcome sheer disdain of the main character. Amika is arrogant, self-important, overly confident, and annoying as all heck. I rapidly grew tired of her and her whining. Add to this a predictable plot and the lack of true, thrilling action and suspense and it is hard to rally support and enthusiasm for a novel. The quality of the writing is good, however, and the narrative does reach a satisfying conclusion. I'm sure there are other readers who will enjoy this novel more than I did. Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of ScienceThrillers.