Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Review and Excerpt of The Seventh Plague and Q&A with James Rollins

The Seventh Plague
A Sigma Force Novel 12
William Morrow, December 13, 2016
Hardcover and eBook, 448 pages

In a breathtaking blend of scientific intrigue and historical mystery, #1 New York Times bestselling mastermind, James Rollins, reveals an ancient threat hidden within the pages of the Bible, one that threatens the modern world in The Seventh Plague

If the biblical plagues of Egypt truly happened—could they happen again—on a global scale?

Two years after vanishing into the Sudanese desert, the leader of a British archeological expedition, Professor Harold McCabe, comes stumbling out of the sands, frantic and delirious, but he dies before he can tell his story. The mystery deepens when an autopsy uncovers a bizarre corruption: someone had begun to mummify the professor’s body—while he was still alive.

His strange remains are returned to London for further study, when alarming news arrives from Egypt. The medical team who had performed the man’s autopsy has fallen ill with an unknown disease, one that is quickly spreading throughout Cairo. Fearing the worst, a colleague of the professor reaches out to a longtime friend: Painter Crowe, the director of Sigma Force. The call is urgent, for Professor McCabe had vanished into the desert while searching for proof of the ten plagues of Moses. As the pandemic grows, a disturbing question arises.

Are those plagues starting again?

Before Director Crowe can investigate, a mysterious group of assassins leaves behind a fiery wake of destruction and death, erasing all evidence. With the professor’s body incinerated, his home firebombed, Sigma Force must turn to the archaeologist’s only daughter, Jane McCabe, for help. While sifting through what’s left of her father’s work, she discovers a puzzling connection tying the current threat to a shocking historical mystery, one involving the travels of Mark Twain, the genius of Nikola Tesla, and the adventures of famous explorer Henry Morgan Stanley.

To unravel a secret going back millennia, Director Crowe and Commander Grayson Pierce will be thrust to opposite sides of the globe. One will search for the truth, traveling from the plague-ridden streets of Cairo to a vast ancient tomb buried under the burning sands of the Sudan; the other will struggle to stop a mad genius locked within a remote Arctic engineering complex, risking the lives of all those he holds dear.

As the global crisis grows ever larger, Sigma Force will confront a threat born of the ancient past and made real by the latest science—a danger that will unleash a cascading series of plagues, culminating in a scourge that could kill all of the world’s children . . . decimating humankind forever.

Qwill's Thoughts

The Seventh Plague by James Rollins is only the 2nd Sigma Force novel that I've read. I have to ask myself why I haven't read them all? The Seventh Plague is fabulous. It weaves together science, history, historical figures, and myth into a breathtaking thrill-ride.

The Seventh Plague is beautifully researched. The focus on the biblical plagues and what could have caused them and allow them to happen again is thoughtful and well-done. It all makes sense and is seemingly plausible, which is what I look for in an historical mystery. It works even when Rollins stretches things more than a bit because the historical and scientific foundation for the story is so well set out. There are maps and drawings and nuggets of historical fact that are just tantalizing. The places in the story are all easy to picture as Rollins is masterful in his descriptions.

Rollins does his research whether biblical history, locale or cutting edge science which lends great depth to the story. But equally important, Rollins does not skimp on characters and their stories. The personalities and depth of emotion that fill the pages are wonderful. From the head of Sigma Force to the misguided villain to the operatives out in the field, each character is distinct and an integral part of the story. Each of the main characters' struggles are laid bare along with their worries and concerns, their loves and hopes. There is a large cast of characters but you will remember each of them. If you've never read a Sigma Force novel you needn't worry - everything you need to know is here.

I enjoyed every minute reading The Seventh Plague. This is a deeply engaging novel with well-researched historical and scientific underpinnings, a thrilling mystery, terrific characters, and nail-biting excitement.

Don't skip the Author's Note to Readers at the end where Rollins lays out science, history and his fabrications, but read that after you read the novel.


9:34 P.M. EST
March 2, 1895
New York City
          Now this is more like it…
          With his goal in sight, Samuel Clemens—better known by his penname Mark Twain—led his reluctant companion through Gramercy Park. Directly ahead, gaslights beckoned on the far side of the street, illuminating the columns, portico, and ironwork of the Players Club. Both men were members of this exclusive establishment.
          Drawn by the promise of laughter, spirits, and good company, Twain increased his pace, moving in great, purposeful strides, trailing a cloud of cigar smoke through the crisp night air. “What do you say, Nikola?” he called back to his chum. “According to my pocket watch and my stomach, Players must still be serving dinner. And barring that I could use some brandy to go with this cigar.”
          Younger by almost two decades, Nikola Tesla was dressed in a stiff suit, worn at the elbows to a dull sheen. He kept swiping at his dark hair and darting glances around. When he was nervous, like now, the man’s Serbian accent grew as thick as his mustache.
          “Samuel, my friend, the night is late, and I still have work to finish at my lab. I appreciate the tickets to the theater, but I should be off.”
          “Nonsense. Too much work makes for a dull man.”
          “Then you must be exceptionally exciting…what with your life of such extreme leisure.”
          Twain glanced back with an exaggerated huff. “I’ll have you know I’m working on another book.”
          “Let me guess,” Nikola offered with a wry smile. “Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer get into more trouble.”
          “If only those two bastards would!” Twain chuckled, drawing the eye of a passerby. “Then I might be able to pay off my creditors.”
          Though Twain kept it quiet, he had declared bankruptcy last year, turning over all of his copyrights to his wife, Olivia. To help pay off his debts, he was due to head out on an around-the-world lecture tour over the next twelve months.
          Still, the mention of money had soured the moment. Twain kicked himself for mentioning it, knowing Nikola was struggling as much as he was with financial hardships, despite his friend being a veritable genius, a polymath who was equal parts inventor, electrical engineer, and physicist. Twain had spent many afternoons at the man’s South Fifth Avenue laboratory, the two becoming great friends.
          “Maybe one drink,” Nikola conceded with a sigh.
          They headed across the street toward the portico under the hissing gas lamps. But before they could reach the entrance, a figure stepped from the shadows to accost them both.
          “Thank God,” the man said as he ambushed them. “I heard from your doorman that you might end up here tonight.”
          Momentarily taken aback, Twain finally recognized the fellow. Surprised and delighted, he clapped his old friend on the shoulder. “Well met, Stanley! What are you doing here? I thought you were still in England?”
          “I only arrived back yesterday.”
          “Wonderful! Then let’s celebrate your return to our shores by raising a glass or two. Maybe even three.”
          Twain moved to draw the other two men inside with him, only to be stopped by Stanley at the threshold.
          “As I understand it,” Stanley said, “you have the ear of Thomas Edison.”
          “I…I suppose I do,” Twain answered hesitantly, knowing all too well of the deep-seated friction between Edison and his companion this night, Nikola Tesla.
          “I have a matter of urgency to discuss with the inventor, something to show him, a task given to me by the Crown.”
          “Truly? What a tantalizing bit of intrigue.”
          “Perhaps I could help,” Nikola offered.
          As the two men were unacquainted, Twain made proper introductions, acting as a potential matchmaker for this strange affair. “Nikola, this is Henry Morton Stanley—soon to be Sir Stanley if the rumors hold true—famed not only as an explorer in his own right but also regaled for his discovery of David Livingstone, a fellow explorer lost in the darkest heart of Africa.”
          “Ah,” Nikola said, “I remember now, especially how you greeted him. ‘Doctor Livingstone, I presume?’
          Stanley groaned. “I never said those exact words.”
          Twain smiled and turned to his other friend. “And this is Nikola Tesla, as much a genius in his own right as Edison, perhaps more so.”
          Stanley’s eyes grew wider upon this introduction. “Of course. I should have recognized you.”
          This drew some color to Nikola’s pale cheeks.
          “So,” Twain began, “upon what dire mission has the British Crown assigned you?”
          Stanley wiped a damp palm across his thinning gray hair. “As you know, Livingstone was lost in Africa while seeking the true source of the Nile. Something I’ve sought myself in the past.”
          “Yes, you and many other Brits. Apparently it’s a quest on par with finding the Holy Grail for you all.”
          Stanley scowled but did not discount his words.
          Twain suspected that the drive behind such a concerted search by the British had less to do with geographical curiosity than it did with the country’s colonial ambitions in Africa, but for once he held his tongue, fearing he might scare his friend off before the night’s mystery revealed itself.
          “So how does the source of the Nile concern the British Crown?” Twain pressed.
          Stanley drew him closer and pulled a small object from his pocket. It was a glass vial full of a dark liquid. “This was only recently discovered among the relics of David Livingstone’s estate. A Nubian warrior—someone whom Livingstone had helped by saving the man’s sick son—had given David an ancient talisman, a small vessel sealed with wax and carved with hieroglyphics. This vial holds a small sample of the water found inside that talisman, water which the tribesman claimed came from the Nile itself.”
          Twain shrugged. “Why’s that significant?”
          Stanley stepped away and raised the vial toward one of the gas lamps. Under the flickering flame, the liquid inside glowed a rich crimson.
          “According to Livingstone’s papers, the water was said to be thousands of years old, drawn from the ancient Nile when the river had turned to blood.”
          “Turned to blood?” Nikola asked. “Like in the Old Testament?”
          Twain smiled, suspecting Stanley was trying to set him up. The explorer knew of his personal disdain for organized religion. They’d had many heated discourses on that very subject. “So you’re claiming this came from Moses’ Biblical plague, the first of the ten he cast upon the Egyptians?”
          Stanley’s expression never wavered. “I know how this sounds.”
          “It can’t possibly—”
          “Twenty-two men are dead at the British Royal Society. Slain when the Nubian talisman was first opened and its contents tested in a laboratory.”
          A moment of stunned silence followed.
          “How did they die?” Nikola finally asked. “Was it a poison?”
          Stanley had paled. Here was a man who had faced all manner of dread beast, debilitating fever, and cannibal savages with nary a sign of fear. He now looked terrified.
          “Not a poison.”
          “Then what?” Twain asked.
          With deadpan seriousness, Stanley answered, “A curse.” He closed his fist around the vial. “This is indeed a remnant of God’s ancient wrath upon the Egyptians—but it’s only the beginning if we don’t stop what is to come.”
          “What can be done?” Twain asked.
          Stanley turned to Nikola. “You must come to England.”
          “To do what?” Twain asked.
          “To stop the next plague.”

A Dozen Questions about THE SEVENTH PLAGUE by James Rollins

(1)     Can you tell us a little about The Seventh Plague, your latest Sigma thriller? What’s it about?

The story starts when an archaeologist—who vanished along with a survey team into the Egyptian desert two years prior—comes stumbling back out and dies in a small village. But what’s strange is that his body is already partly mummified, as if someone had forced him to undergo the painful and gruesome ritual while he was still alive. Unfortunately when he came stumbling out of the desert, he wasn’t alone. He was carrying a plague organism, one that traces back to Moses’s ten plagues from the Bible. As this disease spreads and threatens to trigger the other nine Biblical plagues, Sigma Force is called in to search for a way to stop it. From there the story blows up into a global adventure spanning from Africa all the way up to the Arctic Circle. It’s one of Sigma’s biggest adventures yet.

(2)     Is it actually possible for people to mummify themselves while still alive?

Shockingly it is. Sokushinbutsu—or Buddhas in the flesh—can be found in Japan, where the practitioners underwent great and excruciating lengths to preserve their tissues after death. This involves fasting, consuming special bark and teas, and swallowing stones—then as death nears, they entomb themselves while still alive. You’ll also find similar practices in China and India.

(3     Back to those ten plagues from the Bible…could they really happen again?

This novel deals with an alternate timeline for the events featured in the Book of Exodus—the story of Moses, the plagues, and the flight of the Israelites from Egypt. It proves that these were historical events, not mere myths or legends. It’s a view well researched by Egyptologist and archaeologist David Rohl. Likewise, the plagues themselves have a rational and scientific explanation that not only shows they could have happened—but that they could indeed happen again.

(4)     Speaking of those plagues, you also tie this book to the current crisis involving the spread of the Zika virus. What does Zika have to do with your story?

The Zika virus originated in a monkey in Uganda, yet it’s grown into a tragic disease spreading around the world and now into the United States, causing crippling and deadly birth defects. Yet, as you can see from the media, we’re struggling to address it as it hits our shores. The organism in my novel is in the same family of viruses and causes birth defects and death, but only in male children, very much like Moses tenth plague—the deaths of the firstborn sons. So this novel serves as a cautionary tale about Zika and about our inability to face such crises.

(5)     Your novel also features “electric bacteria.” Those can’t possibly be real, can they?

They are very real. They’ve only recently been identified, but over a dozen different specimens have been found. These are microbes that feed directly on electricity, sucking electrons out of the environment and using them as an energy source. They’re so unique that a slew of labs are exploring practical applications for them—from growing them into living biocables that could conduct electricity to using them to power nano-machines capable of all sorts of industrial uses, including cleaning up the environment.

(6)     During this adventure, you also raise concerns about climate change. How does that play out in your book?

While I don’t intend my novel to be a diatribe about climate change, it’s hard to deny that the Arctic is getting warmer, the ice caps are getting smaller, and it’s opening up the entire north to exploration. Cruise ships are already plying the Northwest Passage, a trek once considered too hazardous to even contemplate and led to the deaths of countless explorers. Even more concerning, the whole region has become a political hotbed because the extensive melting is allowing easier access to the Arctic’s rich resources. Russia, Denmark, and Canada are fighting to divvy up the territory found under the Arctic Ice cap, with lots of butting heads, and Russian submarines are already patrolling under the ice, trying to stake a claim. It’s a powder keg waiting to explode.

(7)     You also look at a unique way of combating climate change, something called geo-engineering. What’s that?

These are massive projects, basically Hail Mary passes to save the planet. Most climate scientists believe we are near, at, or past the tipping point to do anything. So looking beyond just lowering carbon emissions, researchers are contemplating projects much larger: like enclosing the earth in a solar shield, or flooding Death Valley, or even wrapping Greenland in a blanket. The only problem—beyond the feasibility of funding or accomplishing them—is the danger of unintended consequences, disasters that no one could predict because the number of variables is so huge when talking about a global-wide engineering project. So, of course, I wanted to explore what might happen if someone actually attempted one of these projects.

(8)     The project featured in your book is tied to something actually up in the Arctic already.

It does. It ties to an Air Force installation called HAARP, which is an elaborate antenna array shooting energy up to the earth’s ionosphere, the electrically charged layer of our atmosphere. The installation has been the focus for many conspiracy theories, believing it might be a weather-control device or used to read minds. There were even concerns that is might set the sky on fire. So in my story, I built a larger, scarier version up in Canada—and make those fears come real.

(9)     As usual, you also fold some intriguing history into your novel, like featuring Mark Twain and his friendships with other historical figures, like the inventor Nicola Tesla.

I’ve always found it fascinating that so many bigger-than-life historical figures not only knew each other, but were involved in each other’s lives. Like how Mark Twain and Nikola Tesla were great buddies. Twain even spent time in Tesla’s lab, helping with experiments, and I’m sure being a general nuisance. I love one anecdote. Twain wanted to test Tesla’s “earthquake machine” to help with his constipation. Twain stepped onto the inventor’s large oscillating device and had to promptly and hurriedly excuse himself to the restroom. It’s such a fun relationship that I wanted to give that pair—a writer and an inventor—a great adventure of their own. And that’s what happens in this novel.

(10)     Besides Mark Twain, you even have Donald Trump’s uncle connected to Tesla’s story. Was that true?

Yes, and it ties into a great mystery surrounding Nikola Tesla. Tesla was a visionary genius, and later in life in The New York Times, he made the bold claim that he had discovered a new, and never-before-seen energy source, one that would change the world. But he never revealed his secret, so when he died, the U.S. government cleared out all of his papers and research journals, including notebook that Tesla had warned his nephew to secure upon his death. All of Tesla’s confiscated work was reviewed by the National Defense Research Committee, a group led at the time by John G. Trump, the uncle of a certain New York real estate magnate. Eventually, pressured by Tesla’s nephew, those papers were returned to his family, but not all of them. One conspicuous piece was missing—that notebook. In my book, it’s found.

(11)     Your stories are known for featuring animals in prominent roles. Is that the case with The Seventh Plague?

As a veterinarian, I love to fold animals into my story, and this book is no exception. I feature a young lion cub named Roho, but the emphasis is on the ingenuity of elephants. Elephants have the largest brains of any land mammal. In fact, they even have the same number of neurons and synapses in their cerebral cortexes as we do. And they put all that brainpower to good use. They use tools, are excellent problem solvers, show altruistic behavior, even self awareness. They are great painters, with a canvas done by a Picasso elephant named Ruby at the Phoenix Zoo selling for $25,000. They are also tremendous mimics, able to imitate other animals’ vocalizations, even surprisingly the sound of human speech. So I wanted to feature these great big beasts in my book, to highlight their majesty and intelligence.

(12)     Finally, as I understand it, this book is also very personal for you. Would you care to go into it?

I dedicated this book to my mother and father, who both recently passed away from complications secondary to Alzheimer's. In fact, my dad passed away while I was writing this book. In my series, the main character—Commander Gray Pierce—has been dealing with similar challenges of aging parents, including a father whose Alzheimer’s has been steadily worsening throughout the series. In this book, all of that comes to a head, as Gray tries to balance his professional and personal lives. It’s something we all struggle with in varying regards, so I think Gray’s struggle—and his shocking decision at the end of the novel—is something that will resonate with readers long after they close the book.

About James Rollins

Credit James Rollins
JAMES ROLLINS is the New York Times bestselling author of international thrillers, translated into more than forty languages. His Sigma series has been lauded as one of the “top crowd pleasers” (New York Times) and one of the “hottest summer reads” (People Magazine). In each novel, acclaimed for its originality, Rollins unveils unseen worlds, scientific breakthroughs, and historical secrets--and he does it all at breakneck speed and with stunning insight.

Website  ~   Twitter @amesrollins  ~  Facebook

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