Stephen Miller’s novel, ‘The Messenger’, has a lady terrorist told to lose her burke or burka, as we call it, and join the Christian community in Italy so she can hide in plain sight, ready for an attack in the USA. Daria Vermiglio’s final part of the mission is to be given the potential antidote so that she can live long enough with an infection of smallpox and anthrax to spread across the American population when she arrives there. She, in effect, becomes the ground zero terrorist, carrying an infection that no one can see but can be picked up by her touching you or anything she has touched. You’ll become wary of business cards after reading this book. Just remember to regularly wash your hands.
There is one very big problem with this book. Although much of it follows Daria as she travels around America, it isn’t written in first person. It is written in third person report, so you are told what she does but rarely with any insight into the characters themselves. You aren’t even given any insight into Daria’s religious indoctrination that drives her, as she goes around being a good little soldier terrorist and gets to like some people along the way. If the author can’t get inside the motivations of what drives such people, how can the reader? The same also applies to Dr. Sam Watterman, employed by the FBI to track her down and catch her alive for a needed blood serum to counter-effect the viruses. He pops up occasionally but only to keep an eye on the progress to that aim. Oddly, the effect of the infection itself gets put on the backburner, so to speak, and you don’t really see the threat it poses to the population other than the rare report. The story, essentially, could be treated as a Sunday School outing when all things should have been raised to a higher degree of threat.
Whether Stephen Miller wanted to take a different stance to other novels of this type is hard to say but things are essentially emotionally barren and with certain events at the end of the book, you end up not caring one way or the other. What could have been, entertaining isn’t perhaps the right word to use, a staunch novel showing both points of view and showing the futility and deadliest effects of virus terrorism is just down-right dreary because you don’t even have the energy to root for either side. Frankly, I’m amazed that the editors didn’t query the novel’s writing style rather than publish as is.
This book could have been so much better than what I’ve read here.
(pub: Delacorte Press/Random House. 319 page hardback. Price: $26.00 (US), $28.95 (CAN). ISBN: 978-0-345-52847-6)