I suspect we all guiltily enjoy things we know we probably shouldn’t. Just as knowing how good Belgian chocolates are (and having reasonably ready access to them) doesn’t stop me popping out for a Mars bar every once in a while, an awareness of how much better so many other authors are doesn't stop me, every once in a while, picking up one of James Rollins' books.
Let's get one thing out of the way first of all. His stories, and "Judas Strain" is no different, are very silly indeed. They're not high literature, and they're the sort of works that, at times, you almost want to hide behind a different cover, almost to say "I'm not really reading this, and I'm certainly not enjoying it", which is a shame, because they can legitimately sit alongside some of the wilder parts of the likes of Clive Cussler (albeit without a little of Cussler's charm) in this particular canon of 'literature'. "Judas Strain" was read in the fairly relaxed environment of home, and oddly suffered for it. Past Rollins tomes have been airline fodder, highlighting where we should really locate him, and really where he comes into his own. Previous works have sped long flights past in a perfectly happy way. "Ice Hunt" in particular managing to distract me from the terrifying experience of a post Soviet 'airliner' rattling its way from Nizhny Novgorod to Kaliningrad - for this, if nothing else, I owe James Rollins quite a debt of gratitude.
In terms of plot, "Judas Strain" is effectively a fusion of Steven Seagal meets the Da Vinci Code, fused with 28 Days Later and a dash of Indiana Jones. Rollins has developed a universe reasonably well rounded with colourful characters, shadowy organisations, and monumental conspiracies. Where "Judas Strain" falls down a touch, is the central plot with its overarching threat to the globe's population is too severe and proceeds too far. Conspiracy techno thrillers such as this work best when they could, if only just, be a retelling of what has actually happened; global incidences of a zombie inducing pandemic stretch this beyond breaking point. I'm the first to argue that the strength of fiction is that disbelief is suspended and you allow yourself to be entertained, but in a really imprecise way, there seems to be a threshold that really successful works stay below, and when it's exceeded the overall impact is lessened.
I'm pleased I read "Judas Strain", I'll read more by James Rollins, and I do quite look forward to learning the fate of the emperilled heroes, but by the same token, I'm actually also quite pleased to move onto something a little more sensible next.