Author: Richard Preston
Publisher: Ballantine Book, Random House Publishing Group, www.ballantinebooks.com
Copyright: 1997, ISBN: 
Summary: A renegade scientist working for an arms trafficking conglomerate fashions a bioweapon and starts testing the weapon on the streets of New York.
Richard Preston’s THE HOT ZONE was reviewed here in September 1995. In that review, we traced the rationale for a book like THE HOT ZONE, detailing real events, back to Michael Creighton’s first novel, ANDROMEDA STRAIN, and go forward to the 1995 movie OUTBREAK starring Dustin Hoffman, Rene Russo, and Morgan Freeman. The AIDS epidemic was roughly ten years old at the time of THE HOT ZONE publication. Epidemics and pandemics floated to the top of the 24-hour news cycle; primarily influenza viruses and not the filovirus group (Ebola and Marburg) which was the focus of THE HOT ZONE. Preston followed up success of THE HOT ZONE (1994, history) with THE COBRA EVENT (1997, fiction), THE DEMON IN THE FREEZER (2002, history), and PANIC IN LEVEL 4 (fiction, 2009). Of the two fiction works, THE COBRA EVENT stands out as the best.
THE COBRA EVENT allows us—if we so wanted—to trace subsequent real events back to an informative and entertaining novel. Biochemical weapons of mass destruction leaped to the front of the 24-hour news cycle after September 11, 2001. The anthrax mailing—such mailings having been occurring in the U.S since at least the 1940s—plopped into the news cycle on the heels of the 9-11 terror-act. All of this is by way of pointing out the prognosticative theme of THE COBRA EVENT.
The first half of this book is truly scary. What makes it scary is the slow descent into the world of the virus and how the human body reacts to an invasion of this foreign organism. It starts innocently enough with the mystifying and novel and seemingly inexplicable death of Kate, a teenager working on an arts project. The subsequent autopsy is not for the faint of heart. In fact, the next one-hundred and eighty-five pages are not for the faint of heart. Descriptions of dissecting the internal human body are far less scintillating than a plot to kill-off the population of New York by spreading a virus. This thread of mass annihilation of a populations is one that Preston pursues in his novels with one foot in science and the other in fiction. He brings common sense to both the science and the fiction. The point he makes in each of his books, fiction and science history, is that killing off the population of the earth with a virus is virtually impossible. Even annihilating the entire population of a city is impossible.
The plot of THE COBRA EVENT was the silhouette against which all the fears of bioweapons consumed public safety officials after 9-11. More than anything else, reading this book over ten years after the height of the terror atmosphere, we get to see just how vulnerable any given population is to a bioweapon.