Skip to content

Plague by Graham Masterton #BookReview

Oceans are infested, beaches turn black, cities reek with poisonous pollution. The entire eastern seaboard of the United States has been sealed off – all those attempting to flee the contaminated zones will be shot!

As men, women and children murder and loot in a world gone mad, one man and his daughters struggle to survive. The bond of love between them strengthens and grows as they fight desperately to keep their fragile hold on hope – and life.

Father and daughter – caught in a terrifying world ravaged by an unknown, virulent, super-plague. Will an antidote be found… in time?

Plague by Graham Masterton book cover

Title: Plague | Author: Graham Masterton | Publisher: Head of Zeus | Pub. Date: 9 July 2020 (originally published 1977) | Pages: 320 | ASIN:
B089C5T912 | Genre: Thriller | Language: English | Starred Review: No | Source: Publisher

Page break indicator for Sci-Fi & Scary

Plague Review

‘Plague’ is a bio-thriller from 1977 that has been opportunistically republished to cash in on the COVID-19 pandemic. Unfortunately, that’s not the most offensive thing about it. It’s fun in a 70s disaster movie kind of a way, and even does a reasonable job of predicting some of the challenges society has faced in 2020, but it’s also plagued (geddit?) by pretty appalling sexism and racism. Sadly that’s often a risk with older horror novels and thrillers and to be honest I don’t always call it out, but I will in this case because it overwhelmed the book’s better qualities for me.

The book is set in Miami and New York and details an outbreak of plague (think proper medieval shizzle) that spreads up the east coast. The action is split, chapter by chapter, between the two locations. The Miami chapters focus on Dr Donald Petrie (who bizarrely is referred to as Dr Petrie throughout the book) as he identifies the virus and struggles with local officials to get the right action taken to prevent its spread. The New York parts detail the lives of a mix of characters in an upscale apartment building as they learn of the outbreak and nervously watch it creep up the coast towards them. There’s a nice disaster movie cast: an ageing, faded Hollywood star, a union leader, a brilliant but troubled scientist and so on.

Splitting the story across the two locations actually works really well, although the fact that all of the New Work neighbours end up having a direct connection to the plague stretched credibility a bit. It keeps things interesting though, and the plot rattles along nicely as events in Miami become more and more horrific and Petrie is forced to take drastic action to save himself and his girlfriend and daughter. He faces the classic hero’s dilemma of having to chose between his loved ones and the greater good. It’s hackneyed, but effective in this setting. 

The problem with the book is that it feels like the answer to the question: “Siri, show me a book written by a white guy in the 70s”. With one exception (a dutiful, self sacrificing nurse), the black characters are looters, rapists or just a faceless mob. There’s also a sub-plot about a right wing group spreading the idea that the plague is caused by the poor hygiene of black and Hispanic Americans. It’s uncomfortably unclear where the author actually stands on this point, and like much of the book it feels cyclical and unpleasant. 

Just as problematic is the treatment of female characters. Dr Petrie has a shrewish ex-wife, a girlfriend young enough to be his daughter and a busty secretary who flirts with him incessantly.At one point one of the most important women in the book defies her boyfriend and is immediately (and quite explicitly) gang-raped by a group of Hell’s Angels who turn up out of nowhere. It’s repellent and has even less place in 2020 than a publisher cashing in on the pandemic. 

If (and for me it was too big an if), you can ignore all that, this is a gripping, if silly read. There’s a definite appeal to reading books that somehow chime with out current reality, it’s just that whilst this one does an okay job on the medical emergency front, it is so tone deaf everywhere else.

Footnote: Isn’t the new cover horribly bland? I’ve the original UK paperback cover below which is much better. The Kindle edition’s text was obviously scanned from an old paper copy and has some OCR howlers (for example “Plow” instead of “How”). Note that the copy I read came from Netgalley, so these may have been sorted in the final version.

Plague by Graham Masterton paperback cover

You can find this book at many retailers via clicking on the appropriate link on Goodreads (Buying direct from retailers is a good way to support indie authors); however, in the spirit of supporting literacy programs, we would like to point out that you may be able to purchase this book through BetterWorldBooks.

Content Warning:

Rape, torture

Published inThriller Book ReviewsUnstarred Reviews
©Sci-Fi & Scary 2019
%d bloggers like this: