Lori Andrews’ Dr. Alexandra Blake Series

Lori_AndrewsAbout the author:

Education:

B.A. – Psychology, Yale College
J.D. – Yale University

Website: http://www.loriandrews.com/home.html

Thriller Sub-genre: Forensic/Medical Thriller

Publisher: St Martin’s Press

Future of the series: The last book in this series was written in 2008 and it seems that Lori Andrews has moved onto more lawyer-like projects including a project on internet privacy.  If I was a betting person, I would say not to expect another Alexander Blake novel, but I may be wrong.

The Simon Review

For the most part, the majority of the characters that play the main role in forensic thrillers are physical anthropologist or medical specialist, so it was very refreshing to see a geneticist as the main protagonist of the series. Unfortunately, Lori Andrews did a tremendous disservice to geneticist, especially women geneticist, by writing this series. Lori Andrews is a lawyer and from what I understand a very good lawyer, whose expertise is in the legal and ethical practices of science and technology, so she is up to date on the latest scientific findings especially those that have a tremendous impact on society. Though she may get consultation from numerous scientists, she is not involved in the day to day activities of what it is like to be a scientist and unfortunately it shows.

The heroine of the series is Dr. Alexandra Blake who has a MD/PhD from Columbia University and specializes in genetics. At the beginning of the series Dr. Blake leaves her faculty position at UC Berkley to take up a fellowship with the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology (AFIP).  (The AFIP was actually disbanded in 2011 and the forensic part of the AFIP has now become the Armed Forces Medical Examiner System.)  Dr. Blake’s two year fellowship involved doing research on the influenza virus that caused the influenza pandemic of 1918 also known as the Spanish Flu. Her main reasoning behind taking this position was to gain access to samples taken from an Intuit woman that had died from the Spanish Flu whose body had been partially preserved in the freezing temperatures of the Arctic. During her tenure there, she is inadvertently drawn into the forensic cases against her will and turns out that she likes the sleuthing that comes with the territory.  Well I have a big problem with all of this.  First of all no researcher in their right mind would leave a position at UC Berkley to take a temporary position with the federal government unless they had been denied tenure or involved in some scandalous affair.  Secondly, Blake had no staff, no technician, no postdocs, no assistant researcher, nothing. She’s Wonder Women who can do it all. Not only could she run very expensive equipment as if they were slot machines but she was also an expert in things that were outside her area of expertise like proteomics (see technical word below).

I also have big issues with Andrews’ portrayal of Dr. Blake, which depicts her as a gorgeous blond, blue-eyed nymphomaniac who has a thing for musicians and artists and her relationship with men come and go with the flick of a light switch. She refers to one of her boyfriends as the ‘Energizer Bunny’, now GIVE ME A BREAK! Women scientist have enough troubles getting taken seriously in the world of science without having them be depicted in popular fiction as a sex symbol. I find it interesting that Andrews’ made the lawyer in the series, Barbara Findlay, an African-American woman, who is quite attractive, a single mom of a disabled child and totally has her act together. Why couldn’t Findlay be the geneticist, it would have been a better choice? I do have to give Andrews credit for at least toning down Blake’s nymphomania in the last novel.

With the exception of Barbara Findlay, the other characters in the series were either bland or totally annoying. The head of the AFIP is Colonel James ‘Jack’ Wiatt, a typical military hard-ass, who of course makes Blake’s life difficult. Blake ends up working with Major Dan Wilson, the primary forensic investigator, who really should be an interesting character but unfortunately has no personality whatsoever. Then there is Captain Grant Pringle, the head of the Military Design and Testing Unit, who is a testosterone driven, body building, sexist male, who is supposed to be the comic relief for the series but instead is just really annoying.

Lori Andrews may be a fantastic lawyer and perhaps a good writer, but this series falls flat. The characters are not interesting, the science borders on the realm of science fiction, and the story-lines are a bit over the top. If you are still interested in reading the series, each novel could be read as a standalone.

Simon’s pick:

Most Favorite Novel in the Series-Immunity, because Dr. Blake is less of a nymphomaniac than the other books in the series

Least Favorite Novel in the SeriesSequence, because Dr. Blake is more of a nymphomaniac than the other books in the series

What about the science?

For the most part, the science is reasonably correct, except for the way Andrews’ portrays it. For example, in the novel Immunity, a monoclonal antibody vaccine is involved in killing countless people, the science behind that is basically science fiction. There is, however, what is known as monoclonal antibody therapy which is very different than a vaccine and I believe is what Andrews is thinking about. Antibody production is the result of a vaccine inoculation but not the actual component of a vaccine.

The Alexandra Blake Technical Word in Review: Proteomics– is the study of the proteome which is defined as the entire array of proteins that is produced by a single cell type under a certain set of conditions. Our genes are the informational storehouse that ultimately leads to the production of proteins, which are the functional molecules that is the basis of all life. Studying the genetic code of a life form is complicated but studying the array of proteins that are generated is considerably more complicated mainly in the fact that there is considerably more different type of proteins produced than there are genes. The reasoning for this is that a lot happens after DNA encodes amino acids into protein. Once produced, proteins can be modified in numerous ways so that one gene can lead to multiple protein ‘types’. Additionally, to add more complexity into the mixture, each of these protein types have different functionality and different chemistries, so that studying them as a whole is very complicated.

The field of proteomics is fairly new and newer technologies are being developed to aid in this field of study. There is a wide array of technologies out there to study proteomics and each has their own level of sophistication, which is why I am annoyed with Andrews referring to Blake’s use of proteomics as if one person could be an expert in such a wide and sophisticated field.


Since immune responses were often responses to proteins in the trigger item, she used the latest in proteomics to generate three-dimensional versions of the protein molecules in the various substances from the burrito.Immunity


Books in the Series by Order:

Most Favorite in the series: The Silent Assassin with a score of 3.50

Least Favorite in the series: Sequence with a score of 3.28

Based on overall ratings from Goodreads, Barnes and Nobles, Library Thing, and Amazon (US & UK)

Sequence#1- Sequence- 2006

Listed #147 out of 168 on Goodreads Best Science Thriller Book List

First Line:

The click of the key card eased his late-night entrance into the Wilmont Suite at the Au Contraire Resort in San Diego.


Characters

Dr. Alexandra Blake: An MD/PhD that specializes in genetics

Lieutenant Barbara Findlay: AFIPs resident lawyer

Major Dan Wilson: The head of the Forensics Division at AFIP

Colonel James ‘Jack’ Wiatt: The head of AFIP

Captain Grant Pringle: Oversees the Military Design and Testing Unit at AFIP

Luke Matthews: Blake’s on again and off again boyfriend

Lana Findlay: Barbara Findlay’s deaf daughter

Congressmen David Thorne: One of Blake’s boyfriends


The Setting

Washington, D.C.


Dr. Alexandra Blake’s new job puts her at the forefront of her industry. As a geneticist at the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology in Washington, D.C., Alex is charged with finding a vaccine against bioterrorism. But the institute’s new director, bitter over losing a bid to head the FBI, decides to refocus the institute toward crime solving. Soon Alex is forced to put her research on hold and cover forensics on a gruesome series of murders.

Across the country, women near military bases are turning up dead, their corpses covered in strange tattoos. The more Alex studies the case, the more disturbing questions she has about the killer’s motives. And when a new headline-making murder strikes particularly close to home, suddenly everyone around Alex–her boss, the Feds, even her congressman boyfriend–becomes suspect. Now it’s up to her to succeed where forensics fail, and Alex will risk everything to trace the enemy…or die trying.


Alex had almost decoded the whole genome of the flu virus.  Like an old family quilt, the picture on the screen had a few tatters where the DNA had degraded and its sequence was missing.


Looking for reviews for Sequence? Check out:

Reviewing the evidence

Kirkus Review

Science Thrillers


Amazon Rating-US: 3.21 out of 5 stars based on 14 ratings

Amazon Rating-UK: 4.00 out of 5 stars based on 1 ratings

GoodReads Rating: 3.30 out of 5 stars based on 162 ratings

Barnes & Nobel Rating: not reviewed

Library Thing Rating: 3.06 out of 5 stars based on 17 ratings

Total Score 3.28    (updated 4/8/16)

 

DNA2

 

Young woman walking down driveway towards garage, night, rear view#2- Silent Assassin- 2007

Listed #96 out of 120 on Goodreads Forensic Fiction Book List

Listed #168 out of 168 on Goodreads Best Science Thriller Book List

First Line:

Luke knelt on the hand-loomed rug next to the bed and started zipping his guitar into its traveling case.


Characters

Dr. Alexandra Blake, Lieutenant Barbara Findlay, Major Dan Wilson, Colonel James ‘Jack’ Wiatt, Captain Grant Pringle, Luke Matthews, and Lana Findlay

Dr. Troy Nguyen: Psychiatrist from NIH

President Bradley Cotter: President of the United States

Vice President Tommy Shane: Vice President of the United States

Abby Shane: wife to Tommy Shane

Michael Carlisle: Former Vietnam veteran that was stationed with Blake’s father. Another love interest for Blake.


The Setting

Washington, D.C.


When a John Doe with a bayonet wound in his chest is discovered in a Washington, D.C. alley, geneticist Dr. Alexandra Blake of the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology is pulled away from her bioterrorism work to aid in the investigation. Just a little digging reveals a corpse that’s not at all that of the homeless robbery victim it was set up to resemble—and Alex and her colleagues find themselves wrapped up in a complicated mystery of high-stakes international financial intrigue.

The homicide investigation is just heating up when a political firestorm erupts over the AFIP’s possession of human skulls brought back from Vietnam thirty years earlier by American servicemen. Alex is handed the delicate task of managing the restoration and return of these grisly souvenirs. Even the President of the United States has become involved, with the actual exchange scheduled to take place at a White House ceremony. Alex knows it’s an important job—her father was a soldier killed in Vietnam, so she of all people is sensitive to the issues surrounding the war—but to her it still seems like an outsized uproar over something that happened long ago. But the skulls take on much more urgent significance when she uncovers evidence of a much bigger crime, and suddenly Alex discovers she’s a target and the White House itself is under fire.


Looking for reviews for Silent Assassin? Check out:

Kirkus Review

Reviewing the Evidence


Amazon Rating-US: 3.55 out of 5 stars based on 11 ratings

Amazon Rating-UK: 4.00 out of 5 stars based on 1 ratings

GoodReads Rating: 3.57 out of 5 stars based on 125 ratings

Barnes & Nobel Rating: not reviewed

Library Thing Rating: 3.13 out of 5 stars based on 12 ratings

Total Score 3.54    (updated 4/13/17)

 

virus

 

Close-up of test tubes on a test tube rack#3-Immunity- 2008

Characters

Dr. Alexandra Blake, Lieutenant Barbara Findlay, Major Dan Wilson, Colonel James ‘Jack’ Wiatt, Captain Grant Pringle, Luke Matthews, and Lana Findlay

Dr. Andover Teague: Expert in the disease Inflatus Magnus (not a real disease in reality)

DEA Agent Castro Galloway: Another love interest of Blake

Martin Kincaid: Head of Homeland Security


The Setting

Washington, D.C.


One bizarre death is just that—a death. Two? Could be a coincidence. But in Lori Andrews’  latest thriller, geneticist Dr. Alexandra Blake discovers something much more dangerous than a killer—an epidemic.

Taking a break from decoding the genetic sequence of a tropical disease, Alex takes on an investigation into the gruesome and unexplained death of a DEA agent on a mob stakeout in New Mexico. Within hours, she uncovers similar deaths throughout the Southwest. Is it a naturally occurring epidemic or has a lethal bioweapon been released in the United States?

With the nation’s attention focused on a provocative presidential race, Alex’s attempts to warn Homeland Security fail. Only with the help of a rogue DEA agent and a cutting-edge supercomputer will she and the rest of her team at the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology stand a chance of putting an end to the devastation before public hysteria rages out of control.

From Alex’s lab to the closed rooms of a killer’s mind, Immunity maps the perfect sequence for an infectious, edge-of-your-seat thriller.


She couldn’t believe that he was just 18.  He had a sophistication about immunity that many top researchers would envy.


Looking for reviews for Immunity? Check out:

Kirkus Review


Amazon Rating-US: 3.63 out of 5 stars based on 8 ratings

Amazon Rating-UK: not rated

GoodReads Rating: 3.34 out of 5 stars based on 96 ratings

Barnes & Nobel Rating: 4.00 out of 5 stars based on 3 ratings

Library Thing Rating: 3.00 out of 5 stars based on 4 ratings

Total Score 3.37   (updated 4/8/16)

 

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