Picks and Pans Review: Whiteout

updated 12/20/2004 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 12/20/2004 AT 01:00 AM EST

By Ken Follett

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Think you're having a stressful holiday season? Not compared to Toni Gallo, head of security for a pharmaceutical research company in rural Scotland. Bad enough that two doses of an experimental drug designed to cure an Ebola-like virus have gone missing from Oxenford Medical on Christmas Eve, bringing Toni into contact with her ex-boyfriend Frank and his pal Carl, a reporter more interested in career advancement than in the facts. Bad goes to worse when a vial of the virus itself goes missing in a violent robbery. Set over a whirlwind two days (Christmas Eve and Christmas Day), Follett's taut and timely book combines international bioterrorism, suspense, family dynamics and even a midlife romance or two.

The emotional twists really set this novel apart: "She could, if she allowed herself, entertain a fantasy about... loving him and his children.... But she repressed that dream. The very strength of the family bonds kept her out." While some of the supporting characters tend to be wispy (Frank comes off as little more than a self-absorbed climber), Toni, a professional who hungers for a personal life, her handsome boss Stanley Oxenford and their extended families would fit in any novel. Toni's feisty mother, Kathleen, is a hoot, while Oxenford's black-sheep son Kit is tragic. Intellectually gifted but "sly and weak," he tries to get what he thinks he deserves from his father, with unexpected—and highly unpleasant—results. Follett delivers a thrill lover's ultimate present, particularly for those who prefer their Yule spiced with a bit of Halloween macabre.


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