"Plum Island" is only the second Nelson DeMille thriller that doesn't involve the military, international terrorists, or spies. It's also his second novel that takes place on his home turf of Long Island, the other being his first completely domestic mystery, "Gold Coast."
Set way out on the east end of Suffolk County, the next county over from the Gold Coast, "Plum Island" is a complete change of pace for DeMille in every way but one - it is another dynamite suspense yarn.
John Corey is an NYPD homicide detective who is recuperating in his rich uncle's ocean front vacation home.
When the Gordons, a couple who worked on Plum Island, a secret government biological research center on Long Island Sound, are murdered, the small town police chief asks Corey to consult on the case.
The killer tries to make it look like a burglary gone awry, and the media is sure that the Gordons must have been selling deadly germs to terrorists.
Corey has a problem with that. He is sure the Gordons were not that kind of people, and the clumsy staging of the murder scene is not the work of a professional assassin.
Corey's involvement in the case is resented by Detective Beth Penrose of the state police, who doesn't like a hot shot from the big city stepping all over her first murder case.
The feds aren't too crazy about him, either, and the way he insists on stepping all over their security regulations regarding Plum Island.
During his investigation, he meets the lovely, aristocratic Emma Whitestone, a Mayflower descendant and head of the local historical society. As she helps him find his way around, he is reminded that the now-tranquil Suffolk County has a blood-soaked past, and intrigue and murder are not merely modern afflictions.
From a genuinely creepy visit to Plum Island's secret laboratories to a posh party thrown for the blue bloods of Long Island's wine business and the rugged windswept coast, DeMille takes the reader on a fascinating journey of discovery.
When all is said and done, it doesn't seem like "Plum Island" should have been a 500-page story. However, thanks to engaging characters, fascinating settings and lively dialogue, the reader will not begrudge this story one minute spent buried in its pages.
For an aging Cold Warrior, whose heroes generally have similar experience, DeMille does a superb job in switching gears and creating a protagonist who is very much like those in later Joseph Wambaugh.
Corey's smart mouth and suspicion of authority lends a dry wit to "Plum Island" that DeMille 's previous work never even hinted at.
But that doesn't mean "Plum Island" just a witty British-style puzzle - all intellectual exercise and no action. The last hundred pages are furiously action-packed and feature a boat chase through a hurricane that Alistair MacLean would be proud of.
"Plum Island" is romantic, suspenseful, funny and smart. It is the perfect summer read, and thriller lovers would be plumb crazy to pass it up.