Book Review: ‘Contagious’ by Scott Sigler
I’m the first to admit that I’ve been woefully late to the Scott Sigler bandwagon. After first hearing his name banded about, it took me a full year to get around to reading “Infected,” which I reviewed for Brutal as Hell in 2009 here. Since then it’s taken me nearly two years to get to Contagious, the second in the series – and I’m more than a little ashamed of myself. This sequel proves Sigler to be among the truly great horror writers out there today.
Contagious takes Infected’s three-pronged storyline and merges it together. Perry Dawsey, now technically cured of the infection, has become a bloodhound for a team fighting the invasion as it spreads. Leader of the team, CIA Agent Dew Phillips, struggles to contain Dawsey and his rather extreme methods of control as CDC epidemiologist Margaret Montoya alternately fights to save the infected and develop a vaccine to ward off infection from the start. Although Contagious is a fairly lengthly novel, it moves at breakneck speed, helped along by short chapters that divide your attention between predator and prey.
Generally speaking, I approach sequels to books much like I approach movie sequels – I keep my expectations low, and give what I’m consuming a fair shake, especially if I enjoyed the first in the series. Contagious, however, had absolutely no problems hooking me in and keeping me there. For two days, every spare moment not doing thesis revisions was spent with this book. Most everything I had issues with in the first novel was thoroughly expanded here, particularly character development. Whereas I had issues with Agent Dew Phillips before, he is, quite simply, a stunning badass in Contagious and the bourgeoning friendship between him and Dawsey is the heart of the novel. Like most things in Contagious, it is a relationship that is outrageously complex, but the way it develops feels realistic and it’s a pleasure to read something that has to do with authentic friendship (rather than a precursor to romance). If anything, Contagious is an infected buddy cop novel, from the start of the relationship to its end, and everything good, bad and ugly in between.
Sigler’s true greatness as an author lies in how he crosses genres, melding science fiction and horror with no issues at all. Additionally, whereas Infected was a flat-out entertaining read, I found myself thoroughly emotionally invested in the characters this time around. Not only was I rooting for the main characters to survive, but I found myself saddened even when secondary characters started to die off. In the last hundred or so pages of the novel, I kept feeling like I was getting a handle on things, only to have the rug swept out from underneath me all over again. Yet, this never feels contrived – Sigler’s writing is original and earnest enough that I never felt emotionally manipulated, like a twist was simply there to add another level to the novel. It also helps that Sigler’s writing style, while generally very dark, is wry and amusing; a Silence of the Lambs reference even had me laughing out loud.
It’s rare for me to enjoy a second book in a series more than I enjoyed the first, but Contagious is an all-around better, and more mature, read than Infected. Like the first, it runs on pure adrenaline, only this one is on a whole different level and smarter, besides. When I finished Contagious, I had two thoughts in quick succession: one, that I had to get my hands on the final book in the trilogy as soon as I could, which is sadly not out yet; two, that I dearly hope this franchise gets optioned for films, something I have rarely (if ever) said.