When the Black Death swept through Europe and Asia in the 14th century, it created one of the most devastating pandemics in human history, killing more than a quarter of the world’s population.
And if you thought this deadliest form of plague could never surface again, head off to Italy with Canadian doctor Daniel Kalla for a chilling, thrilling novel that serves up a fascinating history lesson alongside a heart-thumping page-turner.
Author of suspense novels like Pandemic, Rage Therapy and Blood Lies, Kalla is a practising hospital emergency doctor in Vancouver and it is this insider knowledge that adds terrifying power to his new medical-based thriller.
A mesmerising meld of Contagion and The Da Vinci Code, We All Fall Down imagines an outbreak of the pneumonic plague which spreads from one patient in a hospital in Genoa with such lightning speed that it is soon a global threat affecting people and their governments.
The result is a fast-paced, tension-packed hunt not just to halt the disease but to discover whether the source of the pandemic was accidental... or a deliberate act of bioterrorism.
Dr Alana Vaughn, an infectious diseases expert with NATO, is urgently summoned to Genoa by Dr Nico Oliva, a former lover, to examine a critically ill patient in the city hospital’s Infectious Diseases Department.
Local woman Vittoria Fornero, who was working on the site of an old Benedictine monastery where age-old bones were discovered in the crypt, is dying from what looks to be a recurrence of pneumonic plague, better known as the Black Death.
When a nurse from the hospital dies shortly afterwards as well, the medics’ worst nightmare starts to happen. The sickness is spreading quickly and soon the outbreak becomes a global pandemic. Markets crash and governments fall as quickly as the citizens they govern.
Alana suspects bioterrorism, but her World Health Organisation counterpart, Byron Menke from Canada, disagrees. In their desperate hunt to track down Patient Zero – the first person to be infected – they stumble across an 800-year-old monastery and a medieval journal written by barber-surgeon Rafael Pasqua that might hold the secret to the present-day outbreak.
With the lethal disease still spreading fast and no end in sight, it’s a race against time to uncover the truth before millions die.
Kalla is on top form in this exciting, high-octane adventure which is made all the more compelling through the riveting medical detail and the sheer plausibility of the consequent social and political scenarios played out in the searing plot line.
This is an author who knows how to keep his readers on the edge of their seats as Alana and Byron desperately try to track down the source of the plague and stop it spreading wider and wider.
Richly detailed, thought-provoking, and with a narrative that alternates between the 14th and 21st centuries, this is a white-knuckle ride tailor made for history and thriller fans.
(Simon & Schuster, paperback, £8.99)