The Judas Strain

Author: James Rollins
Publisher: Orion Books
Published: 2007

I have a few James Rollins novels, but The Judas Strain was the first Sigma Force novel that I have read – I think it is the 4th in the series. Not that reading them in order seemed to matter. There is some backstory to the characters, but not being familiar with it, does not detract from the story at all.

This tale starts in the past, with Marco Polo returning to Venice after many years at the court of Kublai Khan. On route, a plague decimates his fleet. The story then skips ahead to present day, where some scientists from the University of Sydney are investigating the beaching of eighty dolphins along the coast of Java. After diving, Dr. Susan Tunis notices red blotches on her skin.

Meanwhile in Washington, Sigma Force Commander, Gray Pierce is enjoying a barbecue with friends and family at his parents home. As the evening draws to a close, and assassin from a shadowy organisation known as the Guild, known as Seichan, crashes her motorcycle on the front lawn. She has a bullet wound in her back, and is carrying a small stone pyramid.

Despite being enemies, Seichan enlists Pierces and Monsignor Vigor Verona – the prefect of the Achivio Segretto Vaticano (the Vatican’s Secret Archives) – and man well versed in the esoteric, to help crack the code enscribed on the pyramid in a forgotten language known as Angelic Text.

Another Sigma Force operative, Monk Kokkalis and Dr. Lisa Cummings are on Christmas Island helping to control a biological outbreak which has swept the island. That is, until pirates seize the Mistress of the Seas, the vessel they are working from.

As you can see there are several story threads at the beginning of the novel, which spiral and twist in different directions – with thrills and danger at each turn. I particularly liked the ‘killer’ crabs and the sequence at the Haga Sophia in Istanbul.

Along the way, each of the characters plays their part in the story, whether it be solving clues to ancient puzzles, or fighting of rampaging hordes of cannibals. As the story moves along – and at quite a brisk pace, I might add – the strands come together for an exciting climax.

If I have one small quibble with the book, it is the depiction of the Australian characters at the beginning, which are broad outdated stereotypes. Nobody has used the word ‘bonzer’ (actually it should be ‘bonza’) since 1974. Most Australian’s would say ‘arse’ rather than ‘ass’ – and hardly anybody drinks Foster’s. As I said a small quibble, and would not detract from most people’s enjoyment of the book – but I found it rather jarring. Thankfully it is only a short passage at the start.

From the blurb:

Buried deep within a jungle, ancient ruins conceal a deadly secret…

Buried in a tomb in Venice, a great explorer hides a truth that could shatter history…

Buried in our genetic code, a mystery like no other…

But nothing stays buried forever… and it will be up to Sigma Force, a covert team of elite scientists, to face what will be unearthed: a plague beyond any cure, a scourge that turns all of nature against mankind.

From the high seas of the Indian ocean to the dark jungles of Southeast Asia, from the canals of Venice to the crypts of ancient kings, the Sigma Force team must piece together a mystery that, unless solved, will end all life on our planet. But this challenge may prove too large for Sigma Force alone. With a worldwide pandemic looming, Painter Crowe and Commander Gray Pierce turn to their deadliest adversaries for help, teaming up with a diabolical foe who thwarted them in the past.

But can the enemy be trusted even now? Or will they prove to be another Judas?

Combining stunning historical revelations, breathtaking action and mysteries on a grand scale, James Rollins delivers adventure in its purest form.

All in all, The Judas Strain is an enjoyable romp, and I guess I am saying nothing new here, but Rollins is clearly the successor to Clive Cussler’s empire as the number one action adventure writer. Needless to say, I will track down a few more Sigma Force adventures to see what wild and frantic shenanigans Rollins can throw my way.

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  1. I’ve never read one of these books, but been eager to ever since I read Rollins’ novelization of Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. I liked his writing, and I liked the way that he fleshed out some of the weaker parts of the film’s already weak script. Also, I read an interview with him around that time in which he made his passion for pulps very clear, and he sounded like a writer on my wavelength. But this is the first review I’ve read of a Sigma Force novel, and you make it sound good!

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