Robin Cook’s ‘Pandemic’ Offers an Unnerving Look at the Future of Biotechnology [REVIEW]

New York subway

When a young woman dies on the New York subway, it is no ordinary incident. (Photo courtesy Canva)

A mysterious death. An unidentified body. An unknown virus. When a veteran medical examiner investigates the dark side of medicine, will he be able to stop a deadly outbreak before it’s too late? Find out in Robin Cook’s latest thriller, Pandemic.

Robin Cook's PANDEMIC

G.P. Putnam’s Sons

Modern medicine is changing at breakneck speed. Scientific researchers and physicians work tirelessly to find new ways to extend and improve life. Meanwhile, the dean of medical suspense, Robin Cook, uses these new breakthroughs to deliver a novel that is by turns educational, titillating, and utterly unnerving.

In Pandemic, M.E. Jack Stapleton is back, and this time he’s looking into the puzzling death of a Jane Doe who recently had a heart transplant, only no immunosuppressant drugs are found anywhere in her system. Most confounding of all, her death appears to be the result of a rapid, unknown virus.

Determined to stave off an epidemic, Jack is determined to crack the case, discover where the virus came from, and how to stop it from spreading. But even as he digs deeper into his investigation, other incidents raise his suspicions, like his victim’s unusual tattoo, her mysterious cause of death, the leaks about the case to the media, and the strange SUVs that follow him home.

Laurie Montgomery, Jack’s wife, orders him to drop the case, but he refuses and immerses himself into the seedy underworld of the organ transplant market. Everyone he encounters, both friends and enemies, seem to have something to hide. Soon Jack realizes someone is playing God with untested biotechnology, and even as he attempts to claw his way out of a tangled web of deception and bad science, he is convinced more than ever that it is up to him to stop the contagion before it is too late.

I’ve been a fan of Cook’s work ever since I picked up a dog-eared copy of Coma in a used book shop when I was a teenager. He is so adept at making the science behind medicine comprehensible, I always feel like I come away from his books with a better understanding of what is happening in both laboratories and medical centers across the country. Pandemic is no exception. Here, Cook digs into contagious pathogens and altered genetics and the potentials and dangers of both. But he also reveals how these elements affect the personal relationships physicians have, at home and on the job.

In this case, Jack seems to be running on overload. His ego grows, his humor fades, and as a result he becomes more than a little ill-tempered, which can make him a bit unlikable at times. Those who have read the Stapleton/Montgomery series since the beginning will realize that this is nothing altogether new. Readers who have only read Cook’s stand-alone novels may find plumbing the depths of their relationship a bit indulgent in the midst of a suspense novel, however. Nevertheless, Cook never goes completely off the rails here, and manages to keep the story moving forward, utilizing the angst in Jack’s personal relationships to add layers of character and tension to an already intriguing plot.

In the end, Pandemic is a thoughtful, nuanced story that will heighten reader’s awareness of what is happening in the halls of medicine. Yet it doesn’t maintain the same level of high-octane suspense and deep-seated fear that earlier works have had. If you’re a die-hard Cook fan, you won’t want to miss this one. Otherwise, you may want to wait and pick up a copy of Pandemic at your next library book sale.

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Robin Cook

Robin Cook
(Photo by John Earle)


Doctor and writer Robin Cook started his medical career as a general surgical resident and finished with an ophthalmology residency at Harvard.

He is the author of 34 previous international bestsellers and is credited with creating and popularizing the medical thriller genre with his novel, Coma, which was published 40 years ago. His most recent bestsellers include HostCellDeath BenefitCure, and Charlatans.

Cook divides his time among Florida, New Hampshire, and Massachusetts. He invites his readers to visit his home on the web at and to like him on Facebook.

By Robin Cook
400 pp. G.P. Putnam’s Sons. $27.

Purchase Pandemic at one of these fine online retailers: Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Books-A-Million, IndieBound, and Powell’s.

About Jathan Fink
Jathan is a journalist, philanthropist, and entrepreneur. He is also a travel junkie, foodie and jazz aficionado. A California native, he resides in Texas.

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