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Book Review: The Doomsday Key by James Rollins

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Was the purpose of the Domesday Book other than what is traditionally assumed by mainstream historians? And did the word “wasted” inscribed in it, as well as the peculiar red-inked markings, indicate something more sinister that could possibly rear its ugly head in our time and somehow threaten the world? And does the island of Bardsey hold a clue to saving the world? If you're a James Rollins fan, you know that the answer will almost certainly be a resounding "yes."

Rollins' newest Sigma Force action thriller opens with a handful of mysterious events: a strange and loathsome disease wipes out an English village in the spring of 1086; an archaeologist is hunted down and killed inside the Vatican for the contents of a tiny satchel; and a U.S. senator's son working on genetically engineered crops in Africa is murdered in a brutal attack on the GM project site. The link between all these compelling events? A mysterious symbol in the shape of a cross, branded into all of the victims.

Part of what makes Rollins' thrillers so enjoyable is the way in which he weaves ancient legends and symbols into myths entirely of his own making by including modern day plots and technological threats. In The Doomsday Key Rollins not only treats us to the ancient evils and myths of the English Isles, which hide the secret to the Doomsday Key, he unleashes modern day dangers of genetic crop modification and bioprospecting into the mix.

Genetically modified crops are an area that's open wide to all kinds of experimentation, much of which is not as far out as the storyline in The Doomsday Key seems to suggest. For instance, in 2001 a biotechnology company called Epicyte created a crop with the ability to reduce human fertility. This is one of the facts that Rollins sprinkles throughout his yarn. How far off are the events of Rollins' story? And what abuses have been enacted but slipped undetected? One can only speculate. Bioprospecting offers its own possibilities for danger, too: think long-buried plagues brought back to life. Though most of such research is motivated by noble motives, Rollins asks, what if the wrong people used the technology in order to advance their twisted aims?

Sigma Force Commander Gray Pierce is thrust into a dangerous hunt for clues in just such a scenario when he must fly to Rome in order to help his friend Rachel Verona. It was her uncle who arranged a meeting between himself and the archaeologist inside the Vatican, a meeting that someone wanted to prevent. Now as he lays in a Rome hospital comatose from the blast Rachel wants to discover who killed the archaeologist researching the roots of Celtic Christianity and why. Her clue? A tiny satchel she recovered while snooping the crime scene. But another woman from Gray's past makes an appearance in Rome, the treacherous assassin known as Seichan. Soon the trio are fighting in the streets of Rome, including a spectacular action sequence through the Coliseum as agents of a mysterious cabal spare nothing in order to stop them in their tracks.

Rollins orchestrates other crescendos of action as battles over the Doomsday Key between the Sigma team and Guild agents are fought in, among other exotic locales, the English peat country, where a fiery apocalypse leaves the team singed but not stirred; and the frozen Norwegian wastelands, home to the Svalbard Global Seed Vault where crusty polar bears do not take too kindly to all the ruckus. In the end, treachery forces Pierce to make a choice between the woman he loves and the future of the world's food supply.

Though in some of his thrillers action seems to predominate — 2004's Ice Hunt comes to mind here — Rollins strikes an balanced approach in his latest thriller, allowing the reader some recovery time between the rough and tumble of the action. And though, for now, this is the last Sigma Force book, The Doomsday Key leaves room for more: “A war is coming,” Pierce says. Stay tuned. Rollins has surely more up his sleeve.

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About A. Jurek

A. Jurek is one of the editors at Blogcritics. Contact me at: a.jurek@blogcritics.org
  • Sheryl

    A rollicking Rollins read: lots of action, fiction built on some current issues and historic theories, and interesting characters. Great escape type reading. I enjoyed it!