In an affluent city perched on Ontario’s Niagara Escarpment, residents begin turning up on the pathologist’s autopsy table with what looks like epidemic mad cow disease. Zol Szabo, a public-health doctor and former chef, and Hamish Wakefield, a young infectious-diseases specialist, must trace the epidemic to its source while dodging the deadly prions that appear to have contaminated almost everything in the supermarket. Things spin out of control and more lives are threatened when a government-appointed investigator pulls rank, hijacks the investigation, and allows his inflated ego to supersede common sense.
Incidents of contamination of the food supply are featured almost weekly in the news. In Tainted, the clock is ticking to discover the source of the disease before it can spread, while navigating the political minefield of the hospital and the media.
A suspenseful and vexing medical thriller, Tainted comments on the vagaries of modern medicine, and explores the complexities of relationships between men: fathers and sons, colleagues and subordinates, gay men and their lovers.
Tainted is a medical thriller that illustrates the potential disastrous consequences of misplacing our trust in those who manufacture our food and our pharmaceuticals.
Ross Pennie is a practising physician, an infectious-disease specialist in Brantford, Ontario, and a professor at McMaster University. He first cut his teeth as a doctor volunteering in the jungles of Papau New Guinea. His previous work includes the Governor General’s award-nominated The Unforgiving Tides, a creative memoir. Pennie lives in Ancaster, Ontario.
“A taut and timely work of suspense . . . Pennie builds tension perfectly, grabbing readers from the first page and keeping them entranced, both with the story itself and with nagging worries about the safety of the food they eat. All the characters, including such secondary figures as Natasha's Indian mother, obsessed with finding her a husband, and Zol's young son, Max, are realistically portrayed, their actions and emotions well matched with both their personalities and the plot. Must reading for fans of Robin Cook and Peter Clement.”
"One of the terrifically interesting things about some crime fiction is the way it can dunk readers into intriguing professions they know very little about. So it is with Tainted, written by a Hamilton infectious disease specialist, about an investigation into the source of a fatal local outbreak of mad cow disease... Tainted has a quick-paced plot, with the requisite personal-life developments ticking alongside the science. It's in the intersecting pursuits of university research, hospital treatment and public health unit responsibilities, though, that the real interest lies for outsiders — who might reasonably hope that the professionals are working swiftly and collegially to protect us, while fearing that sometimes, distracted from the point, they might not be."
— The London Free Press
"[An] excellent debut novel . . . What works are the two likeable and convincing doctors and the scary plot. Pennie's message - that no matter how safe our world seems, it's still very fragile - is timely and true." — Globe and Mail
"As the world falls all over itself to respond to a threatened H1N1-flu pandemic, Ross Pennie's Tainted is a timely, fascinating and scary simulation of the scientific detective work involved in an outbreak investigation...[Pennie] stoutly eschews the potboiler epidemic of gratuitous sex, wild derring-do and cinematic hyperbole for stark realism. Pennie, an infectious-disease specialist at Hamilton's McMaster University, knows of what he speaks. And he makes clear that the scariest aspect of any new plague will almost certainly be the swirl of public, media and official panic that dogs and impedes efforts to cope with it." — Winnipeg Free Press