|Hallie Leland is a microbiologist disillusioned by a government sacking that cost her more than her job. The project that she had been working on had direct bearing on the development of a vaccine for a bacterium originally discovered in Afghanistan which to date had an almost 100 percent death rate. She is not best pleased when that same US government requests her help in picking up the project again.
Reluctantly, and only at the urging of the President does she agree to become part of a carefully selected group of individuals that will comprise an expedition to a cave in South America, the only known source of "moon milk" from which a vaccine may be developed.
The race is on to secure some more moon milk as troops in Afghanistan are reporting outbreaks of ACE, the acronym used for the deadly bacterium. The expedition promises to be a harrowing one as not only must the expedition negotiate the journey through the deepest cave in the world, but they must first get to its remote location without being ambushed by various drug cartels whose respect for human life is low, or federales, or not so civilized groups of native tribes.
Hallie knows little about most of the members of her expedition with two notable exceptions, scientists she has worked with on prior projects. She is reluctant to put total trust in people she scarcely knows especially since one misstep could mean a loss of life, and each member of the team has a unique skill that will be invaluable on their quest. When one of their number is killed in a freak accident just as they have begun their descent into the cave, Hallie wonders if someone among their group has sabotage in mind, and, more to the point if her thought is correct, who is this individual.
The Deep Zone is the quintessential page turning thriller. It commands your attention from page one and keeps you turning pages even though more pressing obligations may call. It does stop short of being melodramatic when one realizes that the bacterium ACE actually does exist and seventy percent of the mutated forms of the infection are resistant to drugs commonly used to treat them.
It is unclear from the author's notes whether the symptoms of the disease as described in the novel are as horrifying as in real life, but it is obvious that this is a problem as dangerous to soldiers as enemy gunfire. Also some of the devices the expedition team use in their trek though the cave actually do exist, though not quite as described by the author.
There are some occurrences in the novel that border on mystical or otherworldly. These slight dalliances allow the impossible to become possible and may, in some readers' opinions, be thought to be the answer to "I've painted myself into a corner, so the answer is magic." The fact that these excursions into otherworldliness are not a major plot device scores the author some points.
From the very nature of the story, The Deep Zone is a plot driven novel. The characters are interesting in that their jobs and skill sets are unusual, but their personalities are not well defined. Hallie and Wil, her love interest with an enigmatic background, are easy to empathize with and the soldiers in Afghanistan provide a view of the American presence in that part of the world slightly different from that reported in the media.
All in all The Deep Zone is an entertaining tale with a few underlying messages that should be remembered beyond the entertainment value.