Review of The Moses Virus by Jack Hyland
Reviewed By Joan Baum, PhD.
The Moses Virus
By Jack Hyland
Published by Taylor Trade, 2014, p.p. 256
Jack Hyland’s certainly on to a hot global topic – biological warfare – and, considering the recent Passover holiday, a timely cultural one as well, since the plot of his debut novel references the Biblical Exodus’s ten plagues, which were visited on Egypt until Pharaoh let Moses lead his people out of bondage. As one of the book’s characters remarks, “You could say Moses was the first leader to use plagues as weapons against his enemy.” Indeed, the title of Hyland’s book, The Moses Virus (Taylor Trade Publishing), updates the Biblical myth in an imaginative way that has contemporary resonance: the real-life reconstruction several years ago by scientists at the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) in Atlanta of the 1918 Spanish Influenza virus that killed more than 50 million people worldwide. The CDC is preserving the reconstructed virus in a refrigerated state, but what if the wrong people somehow got hold of it?
And so was born Hyland’s fanciful narrative that turns on a proposed bio-terrorist attack executed by a brilliant, power-crazed CEO who wants to secure control over his company, the largest genetically modified seed-making enterprise in the world. To name him as the evil source is no spoiler, however, because The Moses Virus is not a “Who Dunnit.” It’s not even a “Why Dunnit,” since the baddie, Dr. Hermann Bailitz, chairman and president of Belagi, a multi-million dollar agri-industrial empire, is identified early on as a fanatic who would blackmail third world countries into controlling their populations, by killing off most of their people and food supplies and then holding back the antidote. “Man can live without computers...but all men must eat to survive.” What the novel is, is a “How Dunnit,” with all manner of chase scenes and a growing number of armed thugs who threaten the good-guy protagonist. He’s Dr. Tom Stewart, a distinguished theoretical forensic archeologist and a trustee of the American Academy in Rome. No way he won’t prevail – save the day, win his ladylove and continue his successful academic career, some of which resembles that of the author. Hyland, a long time highly successful investment banker, is Chairman Emeritus of the American Academy in Rome and board co-chairman of Teachers College at Columbia University, as well as trustee of the College Art Association and Clark Art Institute. It’s obvious that he’s fascinated by history, science, medicine, art and architecture, all of which figure prominently and impressively in his adventure tale.
Hyland not only invokes the putative Exodus (ascribed by doubting historians to about 2000-1440-BC) but Church history, ancient and modern, with particular emphasis on the years directly preceding the Nazi juggernaut. It seems that under the supervision of a wily cardinal, the Vatican hid the Egyptian virus in a secret underground passage in the Roman Forum as a kind of defensive negotiating chip with Germany, once it became clear that Hitler would not stand by his nonintervention pact. As explained by the good Father O’Boyle, who meets an untimely end, “We never intended to release the virus, just to use it to demonstrate its power to kill German soldiers.”
When the story begins, this secret passageway will be accidentally discovered by a renowned archaeologist and his graduate assistant who are working on excavating a buried room, leading to Nero’s Golden Palace. Tom, in Rome researching a new book, is nearby witnessing their work. Their strange and sudden death, however, followed by the immediate arrival of a Hazmat team, makes it clear that the reported cause of death – a cave in – is hardly true. More deaths follow, these hardly accidental. And so “The hunt is on.” Will Tom and his allies locate the sealed up canisters in time to destroy the virus before Bailitz gets it?
The strength of The Moses Virus is its historical and medical lore, some of the latter fascinating, such as why younger people are at greater risk in pandemics. Hyland, obviously passionate about the cities and countryside he’s traveled to, is eager to give them loving attention, their history, their present-day condition, and plans by private and public entities to maintain and enhance them.#