Publishing runs by fits and fads. Just as J.K. Rowling inspired a library full of novels about kid wizards and magical schools, so Dan Brownís mystical thrillers have influenced the publication of many shelves of books that have been made to look or sound like The DaVinci Code. Sometimes, as in the kidsí publishing rush, this practice has extended to rereleasing older books with updated covers and publicity.
Changing the title works, too. Michael Cordy has several books out there which dabble in the religious/thriller genre. One of them, The Miracle Strain, sat on my shelves for half a dozen years and I finally decided I wasnít going to get to it so it went to the public library. Then this book came along.
Itís the same book, originally published in 1997, well ahead of the Brown craze, but at a time when the interest hadnít been stirred up as it is now. So itís become The Messiah Code, a title which is probably not as descriptive of its contents as the original, but which is placed on a cover that is quite eye catching and which actually illustrates an image from the book.
Cordy has neatly stepped around any religious controversy by stating in an afterword that he has set the book in an alternative reality. The notion of gene mapping, on the level that Dr. Tom Carter manages to do it, was still science fiction in 1997, and even though the human genome project finally finished its first complete map in 2003, we are still some distance from doing what Carter does.
In 2002, Tom Carter was given the Nobel Prize for his work in human genetics. He had invented the genoscope, an instrument that was half computer and half microscope with which it was possible to do marvelous things - even cure some types of cancer.
Just after the ceremony, his wife is gunned down by an assassin, someone who was actually aiming for Tom. In the postmortem it is discovered that Olivia had a slow acting brain cancer which would have killed her anyway in a few years. Using his genoscope, Carter is able to determine that his daughter, Holly, has a faster acting form of the same cancer.
Pursuing all avenues for a cure, Carter starts to investigate miracles, on the off chance that they might have an actual genetic basis. In particular, he decides to try to analyze some of the reputed relics of Jesus Christ, to see what his miracle strain (hence the bookís original title) might have been. Of course, he has to steal them.
Carter has no way of knowing that this line of research has put him right back in the crosshairs of the Brotherhood, a secret cult which has been guarding a sacred eternal flame for 2,000 years, waiting for the change in colour which would herald the Second Coming. Thereís nothing in the Bible to suggest that this event means the birth of another miracle child, but this is what the Brotherhood believe. Further, the flame changed its colour in 1968, and they have been trying to find the new Messiah ever since.
They have also been proactively eliminating anyone who they feel is engaged in any sort of work that violates their understanding of the scriptures, that might prevent the messiah from doing his work.
Dr. Tom Carter has been one of their targets. By curing the incurable and learning to prolong life through scientific means he is, in their eyes, acting against the natural order of creation. He and those around him are being stalked by one of those fiendishly clever, artfully twisted killers who believe in the sanctity of their work and see no irony in dispensing death in the name of a loving God.
There is irony, however, to be found in the real identity of this killer, who she is and what forces shaped her to become the person she is. I have to note that Dan Brown could take lessons from Cordy in the creation of villains that you can actually care about.
Further irony abounds in the actual mature of the miracle strain, or messiah code, whichever you like to use as a name for the mutant gene which Carter finally discovers and learns how to use. There are a couple of plot twists at the end of the book which , though unexpected, make perfect sense once you put them in context.
I enjoyed The Messiah Code. The change in title didnít do anything to improve the book, but it will probably gain it a few more readers.