(AgapePress) - - In the context of global terrorism, it stands to reason that biological warfare could be an ominous threat. The possibilities of a bio-terrorist attack might shock the layman, but nations around the world are working feverishly on plans to prevent or counter just such attacks, should they become reality.
Dead Man's Rule, a novel by San Francisco litigator Rick Acker, delivers the gripping tale of Dr. Mikhail Ivanovsky, an eccentric Russian scientist who is trying to prevent the spread of a lethal "Ebolapox" virus. The virus could wipe out entire cities within days and spread across a nation before the populace knew what hit them.
In the novel (Kregel Publications, 2005), Ivanovsky, now a resident of Chicago, persuades attorney Ben Corbin to help him secure possession of a strain of the deadly Ebolapox that had been stored for years in a bank safety deposit box. Corbin is intrigued by the intensity and single-minded focus of the aging scientist. So he takes the case knowing Ivanovsky probably cannot pay his usual rates.
Of course, Ivanovsky is not the only party trying to take possession of the stored virus. A notorious Russian gang, also in the race to the bank vault, thwarts Ivanovsky's legal claim to the virulent Ebolapox.
A legal technicality called the Dead Man's Rule bars one party (Ivanovsky) in an oral contract from testifying about the contract if the other party is dead. Of course, the "other party" becomes dead, thanks to the Russian gang. Therefore, Ivanovsky and others cannot offer evidence of the oral contract that gave him claim to the virus. It's a legal thriller with all the trimmings - courtroom drama, murder, near death experiences, shocking discoveries and gripping story lines.
Too much fiction? Think again.
"[Acker] paints an elegant fiction that is quite close to reality," said Diuto Esiobu, professor of microbiology at Florida Atlantic University. Esiobu is a researcher with a federally-funded program to develop bioterrorism countermeasures.
Acker has done his homework, and discovered that there are, indeed, such programs to try to prevent or prepare for bioterrorism. However, he learned more than some would want to know. In a Dead Man's Rule afterword, Acker wrote, "Some of the deadliest organisms used in biological weapons have no cure, and the CIA's most recent threat assessment found that more than two dozen terrorist groups are pursuing biological weapons."
The author also quotes President Bush, who cited biological weapons in the hands of terrorists as "the greatest threat of our time."
So much for fanciful fiction. This story can challenge the reader to reconsider the value of a lot of those things he's thought were safe and sacred, e.g., the "guarantee" of life, liberty and pursuit of happiness.
Acker tells a good, strong story with excellent use of some devices that make fiction fun and effective. First of all, the bioterrorism context - though we might not have recognized it before - is compelling and powerful.
Second, his character development is simple but strong. By focusing on two main characters and allowing others to be clearly secondary, Acker makes his story easy to follow. Ivanovsky and Corbin are both well-drawn with depth, personality and appealing qualities. The single-minded Ivanovsky might have become annoying in the ink of many novelists, but with Acker's portrayal, the reader readily likes him and cheers for him. Likewise with Corbin.
Finally, Acker's chapter endings use masterful twists, unanswered questions and cliff hangers that keep readers turning pages. Acker's gifts make him a welcome addition to the growing list of Christian novelists.
Randall Murphree, a regular contributor to AgapePress, is editor of AFA Journal, a monthly publication of the American Family Association.