B.S. Biochemical Sciences -Harvard University, Boston, Massachusetts
M.D./Ph.D.-Medicine/Immunology-Washington University, St. Louis, Missouri
Publisher: Self-published through ScienceThrillers Media
Thriller Sub-genre: Medical
The Simon Review
We have all heard of the human experimentation done in the concentration camps of Nazi Germany, but many may not know that Japan had its own human experimental camp known as Unit 731 located in Pingfang, China during World War II. From 1937-1945, over 3000 Chinese men, women, and children were subjected to brutal experimentation that included vivisection on the victims and removal of organs while the subjects were still alive. Diseases such as syphilis, bubonic plague, cholera, and other diseases were tested on victims to design a potential biological weapon. Relations between Japan and China since World War II have been tense with both sides still feeling animosity towards the other. Japanese and Chinese hostilities and the history of Unit 731 are the backdrop of Amy Rogers’ newest thriller, The Han Agent.
The main character of The Han Agent is Amika Nakamura, a Japanese-American virologist, who happens to have a keen interest in the most deadly form of the influenza virus. Unfortunately, Nakamura is a flawed character in that she behaves more like an adolescent than a serious young researcher at a highly esteemed university. She feels that she is above any rules and behaves accordingly which eventually gets her kicked out of UC Berkley and banned from medical research in the US. Fortunately for her, with the help from her brother, she is hired by a company in Japan known as Koga Pharmaceuticals. It doesn’t take her too long before she makes her next foolish mistake by developing a physical relationship with the head honcho at Koga, Hiroshi Naito. Nakamura’s hubris turns out to be her downfall as a more sinister plot takes advantage of this flaw in her character to exploit her extraordinary abilities as a virologist. Eventually she sees the light but the damage has already been done, so it is up to her to make it right even if the final outcome is death. Since Nakamura is an anti-hero, it is difficult to warm up to this character, but she does show how a rogue state could take advantage of a scientist’s vulnerabilities and use their talents for their own means.
There are numerous thrillers that look at the possibility of using a deadly virus as a bioweapon, but most focus on radical groups such as ISIS or religiously zealot groups as being the harbingers of doom. Additionally, bioweapons are difficult to control and could infect anybody. The Han Agent has a different take, by focusing on what seems to be a normally rational group of people except for their long deep seated hate for their enemies and specifically targeting them with a bioweapon. The Japanese are normally a very peaceful culture except when it comes to their feelings for the Chinese. Though most Japanese citizens wouldn’t want to see all Chinese wiped off the face the Earth, unfortunately there are some that would. So why not create a designer virus that targets the Chinese? It is terrifying enough to know that a group of zealots could cause Armageddon with any bioweapon, but these fringe groups are rather obvious and methods can be used to monitor them and keep them in check. But when a group of individuals with influence and wealth decide to target a group of people that are to their disliking, they could find the means to obtain such technology. Jews could target Arabs or vice versa. White Supremacist could target blacks. Genocide would take on a whole new dimension.
With historical references and reflections on new technology, Amy Rogers’ The Han Agent is both an educational and exciting novel. Rogers is considering continuing this as a series with the next book in the series entitled The Han Vector that will primarily feature Captain Michael Lindstrom who makes a brief appearance in The Han Agent as a member of the global influenza team at the CDC.
What about the science? Amy Rogers has both a MD as well as a PhD in immunology, which makes her very qualified in all aspects of the science in her novel. But don’t let that intimidate you; she is also very good in presenting the science in way that anybody can understand and in a non-patronizing way.
As for the technology of a designer virus, the possibilities are very real. With the advent of a new technology known as CRISPR, viruses are already being designed to target cancer cells. It wouldn’t take much to design a virus to be used as a bioweapon.
The Amika Nakamura Technical Word in Review: Hemagglutinin– are a group of glycoproteins that are found on the surface of the influenza virus. These proteins allow the virus to attach to the surface of cells by attaching to sialic acid, a sugar group that is attached to proteins located on the surface of the host cells. Attachment to the cell stimulates the cell to encapsulate the virus inside a vesicle and bring it into the interior of the cell. The cell will then attempt to digest the virus by lowering the pH inside the vesicle. Unfortunately for the cell, lowering the pH causes a change in the structure of hemagglutinin which moves the surface of the virus so that it merges with the surface of the vesicle which then releases the virus into the cell.
There are 18 different varieties of hemagglutinin and when you see the designation H1N1 virus, the H1 refers to hemagglutinin type 1. Type 1, 2, and 3 are found in human influenza virus. The influenza virus that caused the deadly Spanish flu pandemic of 1918 is designated as H1N1. H5N1 is the bird flu that has been known to infect a number of humans. There are concerns by world health organizations that mutations in H5N1 could allow the virus to more easily infect humans and result in the next great pandemic.
Influenza, on the other hand, was an implacable foe. Fighting it was her life’s calling. Her genius was revealed not on a grand political stage, but on the stage of a microscope. She was a scientist, a virologist. For the first time since she’d left California, it was time to do what she did best.
Immersed in thoughts of hemagglutinin and neuraminidase, she was entirely unprepared when the first reporter called the next morning.– The Han Agent
Books in the Series by Order:
The logs were piled in rows four deep.
Amika Nakamura: Young ambitious virologist that takes a job with Kago Pharmaceuticals after being fired from UC- Berkley
Shuu Nakamura: Amika’s younger brother that also works for Kago
Hiroshi Naito: CEO of Kago Pharmaceuticals and love interest of Amika
Michael Lindstrom: Military member of the global influenza team at the CDC
California, Japan, and Alaska
In the 1930s, Japanese scientists committed heinous crimes in their quest for the ultimate biological weapon.
The war ended. Their mission did not.
Eighty years later, Japanese-American scientist Amika Nakamura won’t let rules stand between her and scientific glory. When the ambitious young virologist defies a ban on the genetic manipulation of influenza, she’s expelled from the university. Desperate to save her career, she accepts a position with a pharmaceutical company in Tokyo. Soon after, a visit to a disputed island entangles her in a high-profile geopolitical struggle between Japan and China. Applying her singular expertise with bird flu in a risky experiment may be the only way out. Little does she know that Japanese ultranationalists and a legacy of unpunished war crimes lurk in the shadows, manipulating people, politics, and science.
But DNA doesn’t lie. Amika uncovers a shocking truth: a deadly virus is about to put the “gene” in genocide.
Dear Brother, we’re close now. The data we’ve been seeking for seventy years is finally ours. Father didn’t have a chance; he was born too soon. So much had to be learned, about microbiology, and DNA, and genetics. But with the passage of time and now the skill of a brilliant young scientist, we’ve done it. Field tests of the Han agent have begun!
Looking for a review of The Han Agent? Check out:
Amazon Rating-US: 4.36 out of 5 stars based on 23 ratings
Amazon Rating-UK: not reviewed
GoodReads Rating: 3.89 out of 5 stars based on 36 ratings
Library Rating: 4.00 out of 5 stars based on 1 rating
Total Score 4.07 (updated 9/25/18)
#2-The Han Vector- (Expected Release Date 2018)