ANTHRAX ISLAND (2021) ****½
by D.L. Marshall
This paperback edition published by Canelo, 2021, 342pp
© D.L. Marshall, 2021
Blurb: FACT: In 1942, in growing desperation at the progress of the war and fearing invasion by the Nazis, the UK government approved biological weapons tests on British soil. Their aim: to perfect an anthrax weapon destined for Germany. They succeeded. FACT: Though the attack was never launched, the testing ground, Gruinard Island, was left lethally contaminated. It became known as Anthrax Island. Now government scientists have returned to the island. They become stranded by an equipment failure and so John Tyler is flown in to fix the problem. He quickly discovers there’s more than research going on. When one of the scientists is found impossibly murdered inside a sealed room, Tyler realises he’s trapped with a killer…
Comment: The debut novel of D.L. Marshall mixes the ingredients of an Alistair MacLean adventure with a locked-room mystery, a James Bond spy caper and the group paranoia of John Carpenter’s The Thing (to which the author adds an overt nod on page 83 ). All great influences and all blend together to create a highly enjoyable page-turning thriller. Marshall’s story is told from a first-person perspective by the hero, mercenary spy John Tyler, who is transported onto the titular island under the guise of a technician to repair a faulty protective door unit. The group of scientists working on the island are testing for remnant samples of experiments undertaken secretly during WWII. The death of Tyler’s supposed predecessor is followed by others and the group quickly become distrustful of Tyler and each other, whilst the discovery of a new strain of the deadly anthrax attracts international interest. Marshall takes us through many twists and turns in his mazy plot and the tension builds as the paranoia amongst the group increases. Marshall’s prose style is fluid and engaging. Tyler as a character feels real and human and has depth along with a personal motivation which unfolds throughout the story. Writing the novel in the first-person Marshall succeeds in elevating the “whodunnit” elements of the plot allowing the reader to unravel the mystery along with the protagonist. Marshall keeps a trick or two up his sleeve right up to the story’s protracted denouement, which veers off into more traditional action movie tropes in the final chapters. That said, this remains a hugely impressive and thoroughly enjoyable read that promises great things for the intended series.