I am not sure how to characterize Contagion by Robin Cook. Certainly there is murder involved and quite a bit of mystery but it is not really a whodunit. Furthermore, there is suspense and action but Contagion is not quite a thriller either. Whatever the category, I found the novel quite entertaining. Cook achieved the pinnacle-he surprised me toward the end.
Dr. John Stapleton is the protagonist in Contagion. He is a New York City medical examiner and his life is devoted to his job. A private man, Stapleton begins to open up to Terese Hagen, who is on the fast track at an advertising agency. The two are drawn together as Stapleton investigates the sudden appearance of exotic viral deaths at a NYC hospital.
Stapleton is a compelling character. The reader emphasizes with the tragedy of his past. His present life is of interest as well. Few white doctors choose to live in Harlem.
Furthermore, the virulent cases are bringing Stapleton back to life. Hagen is not the only woman to stir his interest. The re-awakening to life continuing after the death of a loved one is uplifting.
A significant thread in the story revolves around Stapleton and two rival gangs in New York City. A hit is placed on the good doctor as he comes closer and closer to discovering the truth of the numerous deadly contagions. The interaction of the two gangs and how they solve their own dispute is both interesting as a social commentary as well as vital to the plot.
Cook’s exploration of racial interaction adds to the story. The complexity of personalities as well as repercussions from gang violence provide a juxtaposition to the other running themes in the plot. Inclusion of this sub-theme is pertinent and moves the story forward.
The storyline of Terese Hagen provides an interesting commentary on the cut-throat nature of advertising. She faces threats from within her company as well as from other organizations. The author certainly points out the conflict between genders re: promotion and advancement.
Hagen’s concern for the dangers facing Stapleton were, at times, mothering in nature. The way the two characters reluctantly opened up to each other seemed to foreshadow the future. But something lurking in the background is insidious.
Surprise Ending in Contagion
Robin Cook creates a final twist to throw the reader off kilter. The ending certainly showed just how warped people can become from life’s tragedies. However, Cook also weaves redemption into the tale.
I found Contagion interesting on many levels. The medical analyses certainly play a large part. But what made the story so fascinating and even rewarding were the actions in the many sub-plots. And of course, I always love surprises. I highly recommend Contagion to ease the stay-at-home blahs.