The End of October by Lawrence Wright

‘Carelessness was an underestimated threat to civilization.’

Forty-seven people die at an internment camp in Indonesia.  Dr Henry Parsons, renowned microbiologist and epidemiologist is sent there by the World Health Organization to investigate.  He quickly discovers that these people have died from an acute haemorrhagic fever.  Meanwhile, the man who drove him to the camp leaves Indonesia to undertake his pilgrimage to Mecca. He joins millions of others undertaking the Hajj pilgrimage.  He is infected.

Dr Parsons travels to Mecca, to try to convince Saudi Arabia to quarantine the pilgrims.  The infections spread, suspicion between nations leads to acts of war.  Dr Parson wants to travel home, to the USA where his family is but first travel and then communications break down.  And in the meantime, the virus spreads rapidly with a high mortality rate.

What caused this virus?  Can it be stopped?

If I had read this novel twelve months ago, I would have thought of it as a (mostly) speculative thriller.  Reading it now, seven months into the COVID-19 pandemic, it is far more discomforting.

Mr Wright has written a fast-moving thriller which occasionally slows down to incorporate history and facts about viral diseases.  I found it equally fascinating and scary.  It is a reminder that for all our apparent knowledge and sophistication, for all our medical technology, viruses still kill.  And there is a twist in the end that will have some smile knowingly.


Jennifer Cameron-Smith