Merikay Noah: A review of AMANDA’S STORY

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Amanda's StoryThis review originally appeared in

We’re today’s stop on the Partners in Crime virtual book tour for bestselling author Dr. Brian O’Grady’s latest medical thriller, Amanda’s Story. It’s the prequel to his bestselling novel Hybrid so, for those of you who haven’t read Hybrid, no worries because it makes sense to me to read Amanda’s Story first anyway.

Biological weapons feel like the ultimate boogie man in the long list of ways mankind seeks to destroy itself as a species. Brian O’Grady has found a whopper of a biological weapon. Hang onto your seats, the ride is about to get bumpy. And one lucky reader will win a trade paperback copy of their very own!

Amanda Flynn was always a vibrant, joyful person to be around but now her life just can’t seem to get back on track. Ever since her husband and small son were killed in a plane crash, she’s been horribly depressed. Her in-laws, who have also been grieving, are very concerned that she’s taking so long to pull herself out of the depths of her grief. They couldn’t bear to lose her on top of their son and grandson. Amanda knows time is supposed to heal all wounds but she hasn’t been able to see how that can happen in her case.

While Amanda struggles to regain her footing in life in Colorado, a very different scene is playing out in distant Pakistan. There scientists have been working to perfect a biological weapon, a virus that can wreck devastation on its targets. Although they’ve been successful with a particularly virulent strain, they need an antidote or at least a way to inoculate those they want to save from this devastating plague.

“They had merged the genetic material of Ebola, a primitive RNA virus, with the more complex Herpes Simplex virus, a double-strained DNA virus, to form an entity that had all the properties of both…It was a scientific breakthrough worthy of the Nobel Prize, and a quantum leap in weapons technology. A leap that rivaled the creation of the nuclear bomb, and Ahmed sat on his rock wondering if Robert Openheimer had had similar emotions…” 

“Even if he could live with the idea of sacrificing more volunteers [to test the virus], Ahmed wondered if he could live with the thought that his work would be directly responsible for the destruction of whole civilizations.”

Unfortunately for them, and for the world, a rogue scientist steals the virus and in the process wipes out the entire isolated encampment where it was developed. The results are horrific. It’s clear from the way it rapidly spreads and completely destroys that if this virus gets loose in the populated world, it could mean the end of the human species. The arrogance and stupidity in creating such an uncontrollable biological weapon are all too clear.

As a nurse, Amanda has always been a caregiver. She decides the best way to fill her empty life and get on with living is to begin caring for others again. She wants to help people survive disasters, like she has. Those are the people she can most relate to now.

She accepts a job with the Lieber Institute, a Red Cross contractor, and is immediately assigned to go with a medical and scientific rescue team to Honduras, to help its people survive after a devastating Category 4 hurricane. The reception they receive is not at all what any of them had expected. The government and military airlift them to a remote location bordering on the jungle instead of their destination town of Tela, and leave them there under guard. WTH? To fulfill their mission of bringing aid to the people affected by the hurricane, they need to get to Tela but no one will let them or tell them why.

Something is very wrong in remote Honduras and this well-meaning, innocent Red Cross team has stumbled right into the middle of it. People in Tela are apparently behaving in some bizarre but deadly fashion and it’s not safe for anyone to go there. Because no one will tell them what’s happening or why they can’t fulfill their mission or go home if not, they are completely unprepared for what happens to them and the soldiers guarding them. Can Amanda find the strength to do what needs to be done?

“’Why did your colonel start shooting people?’

‘He got sick; everybody was getting sick. See.’ Listera rolled up his sleeve to reveal a line of blood-filled blisters up his arm. Two other soldiers followed suit and pulled up their sleeves, and another opened his shirt…

Garcia backed out of the knot of soldiers. ‘Mrs. Scott,’ he yelled.

‘Right behind you, Lieutenant,’ Bernice said. ‘I heard what he said. Does any of it make sense to you?’

‘No,’ he answered quickly. ‘What are those things on his skin?’”

I can’t tell you more about what happens without providing major spoilers, and that sucks because I’m dying to spill the beans. Of course it all ties back to the virulent virus discovered in Pakistan, because otherwise we wouldn’t have been shown that scenario, right? How it plays out though makes for an edge-of-your-seat horrific thriller that I literally couldn’t put down. It was as if my continuing to read way past double vision would somehow make everything turn out okay. Yeah, right!

There are a number of outstanding characters in Amanda’s Story, most of whom don’t show up until it has reached a point that provides too many spoilers – so I can’t tell you about them. The team leader, Dr. Bernice Scott, was a woman I strongly admired. She was also the kind of mentor Amanda most needed at the time. The rest of the team reminded me of a lot of small groups, with all the divergent personalities and gossip that come with that territory. Some of them were amazing, some found depths they didn’t know they had, and some were petty and vindictive.

“It took him [Dr. Greenburg] thirty seconds to reach his feet. ‘Bernice, I need you to hear me. Get out of here as quickly as you can. If the general can’t rescue you, then rescue yourself. At some point somebody is going to quarantine this whole area, and if you’re here when they do, you will die here. It has been an honor knowing and working with you.’ He lurched to his left as his balance momentarily failed. ‘Good thing I’m not driving,’ He tried to laugh again. ‘Amanda, I’m sorry your first trip had to be this one. Good luck.’”

I had a lot of mixed feelings about Amanda. I empathized with her loss and how it devastated her. I thought it made sense for her to use her loss as a springboard to help others in similar situations, even though I questioned whether it would become a barrier to moving on that she couldn’t envision. As the novel continued, I admired her strength and growth above all. There were moments when I despised some of her behavior but I understood it and knew my feelings reflected not wanting to look at the shadow side that is in all of us. The bottom line is that she’s a very reluctant heroine but shows a depth that makes her a character I really liked.

Brian O’Grady’s writing style makes for a smooth, flowing novel that sweeps you away. His wealth of medical knowledge is apparent but understated throughout, and greatly strengthens the story’s believability. The tension and suspense build steadily until hitting maximum overdrive, and then hold onto your hat. Amanda’s Story reminds me of Michael Crichton’s work and even Stephen King’s to some extent. I hope it and Hybrid are just the tip of what this neurosurgeon has in store for us. Thriller and medical suspense novel fans are in for a real treat! I highly recommend Amanda’s Story!


Brian O’Grady is April’s Story Plant Author of the Month, which means you can get the e-book versions of Amanda’s Story and Hybrid for a great price all month. Read more about it here

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On April 15, 2013
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