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The Plague Tales by Ann Benson

29th January 2008

The Plague TalesI had high hopes for this book, and it started out great. Alejandro Canches is a Jewish physician living in 14th century Spain. He is caught performing an autopsy on a Christian man, and must flee the wrath of the Catholic church. He goes into hiding, and eventually finds himself in the service of the King of England, at the height of the bubonic plague.

Janie Crowe is an American, working in present day England. Antibiotics are no longer effective against bacteria, and the world is a changed place. Jamie’s entire family has died from infections, children routinely die from strep throat, and the government has seized control of private, personal medical information, with the hope of preventing widespread outbreaks of disease. When Janie and her coworkers inadvertantly release a deadly microbe discovered on a cloth fragment deep beneath England, it’s a race against time to prevent the plague from once again decimating the world.

Benson alternates telling Alejandro’s and Janie’s stories. The suspense builds, and everything is set for an exciting conclusion. But in the end, nothing dramatic really happens, their stories are linked in some obvious ways, and the whole thing ends in a very stilted “Robin Cook” type manner. In spite of the disappointing ending, Alejandro’s story, in particular, was excellent, and Benson brings up some excellent issues about personal medical privacy, and the need for the medical community to guard against drug resistant bacteria, and to be prepared for the worst.

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