Book Review 43: Contagious

A little boy so afraid of the shadows under the bed that he couldn't move, couldn't look, sure that whatever was under there would grab him and pull him down forever and ever.

But now he wasn't afraid of the thing under the bed.

He was the thing under the bed.

Page 216

Note: Potential spoilers for the previous books in the series, "Infected."

Back in January, I picked up a copy of Soctt Sigler's "Contagious" when he did a reading at a local books store. You can read about that evening and Sigler's approach new media here.

"Contagious" is Scott Sigler's much anticipated follow up to the awesome sci-fi thriller "Infected." It picks up a couple weeks after "Infected" ends, and we follow the adventures of Perry Dawsey, Dew Phillips, Margaret Montoya, Amos, Clarence, and their CIA colleagues as they battle a secret alien invasion.

Sigler does a great job with "Contagious." The plot is strong and detailed. He fills it with surprise twists I did not see coming up to the end of the book.

This is a very different book from "Infected," however. Sure, it has the same high level of gore, and even more violence. But "Infected" was mainly about characters. We got deep inside Perry Dawsey's head and fought his internal battles with him as he surgically removed invaders from his body. We see the impact his father had on his childhood. And we get to know the deep, personal "Discipline."

During "Infected," we get to see Margaret grow from a young awkward researcher to be the powerful woman who commands CIA operatives. We get to know Dew Phillips as more than a 2 dimensional character who does the dirty work that needs to be done. We get to see his motivation, and the formative experiences that made him who he is today.

But you won't find as much of that in "Contagious." While "Infected" is a character driven novel, "Contagious" is a plot driven novel. A lot more happens in this book than happened in the previous one. The trade off to allow for more action, and a more complex story, is that the characters are thinner.

One of my biggest problems with "Infected" was the last chapter. It was a completely different tone than the rest of the book and felt out of place. "Contagious" is like that last chapter. It has the same tone and style. Since it's an entirely different book it works better than it did as part of the first book.

The scale of "Contagious" is much bigger than "Infected." The book opens in the Oval Office as the CIA briefs the new President on the alien invasion and everyone agrees the best thing to do is keep quiet. We spend time with the President throughout the book, which further demonstrates just how big this book is, as compared the personal battles in the previous book.

The President has two goals -- fight the invasion and keep people from learning about it and panicking. And they have good success with keeping the story and deaths quiet, even when deploying significant military assets in the US.

This was America. People got killed. Such is life. What time is the game on?

Page 101

We soon leave the Oval Office and join the field team. Perry Dawsey survived his infection and Margaret, the doctor, helped remove the last traces of the invaders from Perry's body. Yet he is still connected to the aliens somehow. He can hear them, and he can locate other infected hosts.

Whatever the science behind it, Perry's homing instinct had been the only thing keeping them in the game. Unfortunately when he found infected hosts, he killed them. First Kevin Mest, who had butchered three friends with a fireplace poker. Perry claimed self-defense for that one, and everyone bought it. His self-defense claim for burning three eighty-yearold women alive? Well, that was a little harder to swallow.

Page 28

Unfortunately, Perry sees other hosts as weak and pathetic. Perry fought his invaders and has the scars to show for it. Others lack the "discipline" Perry's father taught him. Despite the protestations of Dew Peterson, Margaret, and the others, Perry can't let them live.

What the fuck was Dew's problem, anyway? Pretending to get all pissed about that family. Why didn't Dew and the others understand? Those people weren't human anymore. They were weak. They didn't have discipline. That meant they needed to die. If one of them, any of them, was even trying to cut out the triangles, then Perry would let them live. Maybe. But it didn't matter, because so far no one had fought.

Page 64

Dew Peterson isn't happy about working with Perry, but it's his duty and he does it. They fight and argue throughout the early part of the book, and Perry keeps trying to kill hosts.

Thank God we've got Dawsey. Imagine that. The kid was twelve doughnuts shy of a baker's dozen, and he was their ace in the hole. What would ol' Charlie have thought if he knew that Dew had almost shot Dawsey in the mouth with the .45? Sorry, Charlie, our ace in the hole has a hole in his head.

Page 52

Eventually, they came to an uneasy understanding.

She did want him asleep, but she also didn't want to risk a second round of fighting. Perry acted different, defeated, but Dew probably hadn't calmed down yet, and any number of insignificant words might set the two men off again.

The only reason Perry Dawsey was still alive was that Dew Phillips wanted him to be.

Margaret needed to make sure Dew didn't change his mind.

Page 110

Some authors might be content to leave children out of the story. Not Sigler. In this book children are affected in a significant way and behave with a shocking violence. Some die in horrific ways. If that makes you uncomfortable, this may not be the right book for you.

Sigler brings some interesting references into the book. He has a Cain and Abel story in there.

That was a lie, of course. Beck wasn't dangerous, but Chauncey might have loved Beck more than her. Chauncey was Chelsea's special friend. With Beck gone it would stay that way forever and ever.

Page 221

And even early 70s TV shows get a sly reference.

Ridder put the cruiser in park and grabbed the radio handset. "This is Adam-Twelve, responding to reports of bodies on Orleans Street," he said. "We have two men down. Send ambulance and backup immediately. We're examining the scene."

Page 315

Sigler masterfully jumps into the heads of different characters. There is little third person omniscience in this book. Sigler tells the story in the third person but it's always through the different characters eyes. We see the story unfold from all these perspectives -- both the good and the bad. The attackers and the defenders. The balance works well and moves the story forward. Additionally, even though we know what most of the characters are planning to do -- because Sigler tells us -- there is still plenty of suspense in this book.

As we get towards the end of the book, the plot gets more complicated with multiple pieces moving simultaneously. The surprise plot twists that come quickly also make sense. The events are unfolding in real time, and when the characters take surprising actions, it's clear that is exactly what the would do.

As for the scale of what happens in the last third of the book, all I can say is, "Wow." And I would have preferred not be sitting on a Northwest Airlines Airbus A319 while I read it.

"Contagious" is a great book, and an excellent follow up to "Infected." It's a different book -- one that's more plot driven and less character driven, and in this book it works. It have moments of extreme grotesqery -- both physically and conceptually -- and it is violent. If you are squeamish or uncomfortable with things like that, you may want to skip it.

But if you are okay with that, pick up "Contagious." It's well worth the time. And I can't wait to see what Sigler does with next with this series.

If you would rather listen to Sigler read the book for free, or download it as a series of PDFs, you can do so at Sigler's website.

You can find more of my book reviews here.


Patricia Rockwell said...

I loved "Infected" and now I'm definitely going to read "Contagious." Thanks for the review!

Cromely said...

@Patricia Rockwell: You're welcome. Sigler's website is worth a visit too, and I think it's spoiler free.