Premise: A deadly bacterial strain is introduced into a military hospital in Afghanistan, and it is from there that it makes its way back to the United States. Common antibiotics aren’t working on this mutation, and the only hope comes from a “moonmilk” from the deepest cave in Mexico that has the ability to fight off the most powerful of pathogens. And the person who discovered the moonmilk must go back in to get more samples, even though she was fired from her position for unexplainable reasons.
Hallie Leland is an expert diver, caver, and microbiologist, and she is just the person for the job to find the one thing that can potentially save the lives of millions. Hallie has been added to an elite team of hand-picked people with very specific specializations of diving, caving, and cultural experience to go deep into the cave to obtain more of the moonmilk while doctors in the U.S. fight off the quickly spreading infection with available means. The doctors themselves risk exposure to the infection, while their last hope goes on an incredibly dangerous recovery mission.
With the burden for salvation solely on Hallie’s shoulders to obtain the moonmilk and bring it back to synthesize a cure for the deadly ACE bacteria, the real source of the outbreak comes to light with players working every angle to achieve their own goals. Some shady dealings with foreign governments and private corporations reveal the real threats to the country and the world.
Themes: Trust becomes a problem as those who Hallie could depend on before lose their credibility, while others regain trust that was broken when she was let go from her previous position. Trusting the government to make wise decisions and to handle this outbreak effectively becomes essential for this team going on the moonmilk recovery mission.
One major theme in The Deep Zone centers around the governmental and private response of a major epidemic. Turnaround times for vaccines and treatments must be factored against the time it takes for such an epidemic to spread. And individual officials working for their own benefit threaten the fabric of the governments they work for.
Romance develops, especially toward the end, as Hallie begins to care about a member of her team. The imminent danger helps to fuel the feelings that are growing, with the chance of loss of the other person at any moment.
Pros: James M. Tabor obviously knows his stuff and has taken the time to do proper research into many facets of the story, especially when it comes to certain details. Different types of gear for diving, climbing, weapons, medical technology, and caving are all over The Deep Zone. The terminology is accurate for all these aspects, making sure not to dumb down anything for the reader’s sake. The action is pretty solid for most of the story and you get a real sense of danger, becoming especially perilous for any and all characters at key points throughout the story.
Cons: There are simply way too many descriptions in The Deep Zone. We get details into the types of military gear being used, the types of climbing gear, even the types of medical gear. The author might know a lot about the subject and have done his research, but I just stopped caring about these things halfway through the book. And the romance between the protagonist and a not quite main character seemed forced. I got the sense she didn’t care for him at first and at some point that seemed to change inexplicably. There is some deus ex machina stuff going on at the end that isn’t quite explained very well. The book could have probably been cut down another one hundred pages and had a better clip than it does without losing much in the way of its tone.
Recommendations: The Deep Zone is a serious adventure novel that includes political and military intrigue suitable for anyone looking for a lengthy intelligent read. The characters are fine, if not somewhat taking on characterizations of various personality traits. The most consistent part of the book are where the author takes the time to share the details of his knowledge and research of every aspect of the story, some of which makes the book drag at times. The Deep Zone has a serious tone that is consistent throughout, with language and terminology that lends to a more mature and intelligent audience. With all that said, The Deep Zone has a lot of everything, including some decent action, adventure, political intrigue, and even a little romance thrown in. It would have been even better if it were a shorter book.