Eric_W's Reviews > Plum Island

Plum Island by Nelson DeMille
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's review
Jan 31, 2009

really liked it
bookshelves: mysteries-and-thrillers

John Corey, rapidly becoming a favorite character of mine, is back again (reading chronologically backwards). I believe Plum Island was the first to feature Corey, star of Lion's Game. Plum Island is a restricted, government-owned island at the end of Long Island. Ostensibly, it is owned and operated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, but locals and others have speculated for years that the Defense Department has been conducting research on biological weapons. It has been remodeled over the years to have a Level 5 containment, the ultimate in negative pressure, completely isolated work areas for the scientists supposedly doing research on exotic animal diseases, seeking vaccines and cures. Helicopters and boats constantly patrol around and over the island to shoot deer that might swim over, in order to prevent the possibility of the “bugs” escaping back to the mainland. (How they control the birds and mosquitoes is a worry Corey voices at one of their meetings.)
Corey, recuperating from having been severely wounded, is spending time at the property of an uncle. Neighbors Tom and Judy Gordon are found on their deck, shot through the head, and the local police chief, an old friend of Corey, asks him to participate in the investigation. There are several puzzling aspects to the case. The Gordons had been top scientists working at Plum Island, and soon representatives of the FBI and CIA show up (Corey's perennial sparring partner, Ted Nash, makes his first appearance here). Corey is paired with the homicide detective in charge of the case, Beth Penrose, and Corey is his usual wise-cracking self. The Gordons had owned a spectacularly fast cigarette boat and would spend odd hours ostensibly rummaging for archaeological artifacts on Plum Island. Any activity on the island was normally forbidden, but because the Gordons were such well-respected scientists, they had been allowed to bend the rules. Even more peculiar was their purchase of one acre of otherwise useless land that had been perpetually deeded for conservation purposes so it could not be developed, and they paid much more than market value, emptying out their savings to do so. The owner, a member of the Daughters of the American Revolution ("Do you know why Daughters of the American Revolution don't have group sex? . . . Because they don't want to have to write all those thank-you notes"), was reluctant to sell land that had been in the family for centuries, but she "asked the children and they thought their [deceased:] father would approve." ("It always amazed me [muses Corey:] that the widows and children, who were entirely clueless about what to get the old boy for Christmas or Father's Day, knew exactly what the late great Pop would want after he popped off.")
Anyway, the Feds let it out that they believe the Gordons were murdered because of a transaction involving a vaccine theft gone awry, but in their heart of hearts they are sure the Gordons had stolen some kind of bizarre plague to sell to some foreign power. John rejects this notion because many of the facts just don't seem to fit the most prevalent (and convenient) theories. He starts doing a little research on the side, having been informed that his services as consultant will no longer be necessary, and comes up with a different theory that makes a lot more sense. It links all the bizarre facts together with some interesting historical events involving pirates and the local historical society and a very clever little scheme concocted by a local vintner. That reminds me of a very funny scene in the book when John is interviewing/interrogating this character while pretending to be interested in wine — he later uses a “very fine” '95 Merlot to clean off the windshield of his Jeep after a dive- bombing attack by a local seagull. He indulges in lots of vintner puns, asking if one had ever considered naming one of his wines the Grapes of Wrath. He notes that the wine labels are unusual and is informed they represent the works of Pollack and de Kooning. "Oh, the painters. Right. Pollock is the splatter guy." That goes over well.
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