Monday, December 17, 2012

Review: 12.21 by Dustin Thomason

In 12.21, author Dustin Thomason combines a medical thriller with a 2012 Mayan apocalypse tale. CDC researcher Dr. Gabe Stanton is summoned to a hospital in L.A. to see a patient with unusual symptoms suspected to be infectious. Stanton recognizes the symptoms as FFI (Fatal Familial Insomnia), a disease whose vector is proteins similar to Mad Cow. When it is determined that the infected patient is speaking a Mayan dialect found in Guatemala, the hospital contacts Chel Manu, a curator of Mayan antiquities at the Getty Museum, to come in and translate. As the patient feverishly rambles, Dr. Manu learns that he is connected to a recently surfaced codex that explains the collapse of ancient Mayan society. How are the 2012 Mayan apocalypse craze and FFI connected? Chel Manu and Gabe Stanton must find out.

Despite all his work to date, a cure does not exist and Stanton knows he is in a race against time to try to stop the spread of FFI by finding it's source. He needs Dr. Manu to help him understand where patient zero has been and what he has eaten - Stanton believes FFI, like Mad Cow, is transmitted by proteins such as those found in beef. Dr. Manu, of course, wants to help stop the march of this disease but she is also very interested in the codex he was in contact with and initially selfishly focuses on getting that information from the patient. At some point, it becomes clear that the codex may offer clues not just to the past and ancient Mayan society but do where the patient may recently have been and therefore the source of the disease. Dr. Manu and Dr. Stanton's worlds converge at this point and they work within their expertise in parallel. Dr Manu and her colleagues furiously try to decode the codex which is written in ancient glyphs while Dr. Stanton and his colleagues test treatments that can cross the blood-brain barrier to treat the infection. At the same time, the disease inexorably spreads throughout the city and beyond and disease control efforts go into full effect with a citywide quarantine and bans on all travel.

 My Thoughts
I don't generally read a lot of thrillers but medical thrillers are an exception - I find them fascinating. As a medical thriller,  I also found this book fascinating and hungrily read the sections detailing Dr. Stanton's work and enjoyed the detail on the biology of the disease and potential cures. However, the sections about the connection to Mayan Apocalypse theories did not hold my interest as much and I found myself skimming the translations of the codex. The author tried to link the Mayan anthropology storyline with the medical mystery storyline through a burgeoning relationship between Dr. Chel Manu and Dr. Gabe Stanton but the two storylines never fully integrated. A reader more interested in Mayan apocalypse theories, however, may have felt differently. In summary, this book succeeded for me as a medical thriller and will bring me back to that genre but I found the other storyline flawed and it subtracted from my enjoyment of the book.

I received an ARC of this book from the publisher


  1. If you like medical thrillers - look up Harry Kraus. He is a medical doctor who writes. I love his books.

  2. This is a very timely review, given the recent hubbub over the supposed end of the world next week. I don't read many medical thrillers, although Coma was a good one.

  3. My son came home from school asking if it was true the world was going to end on the 21st … I guess this stuff has trickled down to the third grade level.