Mad Nazi scientists bent on establishing racial purity through genetic manipulation in an elaborate plan called “the Extinction Wave” and evil albino twins experimenting and making millions with transgenic creatures are the main foes Department of Military Sciences (DMS) agent Joe Ledger has to combat in the action-packed thriller The Dragon Factory. It’s Jonathan Maberry’s second novel featuring Joe Ledger, following 2009's Patient Zero in which Ledger battled laboratory-created zombies. In a related subplot, the DMS has been targeted for a shutdown by the NSA thanks to the manipulation of Vice President Bill Collins, Senator J.P. Sunderland and the aforementioned Jakoby twins, Paris and Hecate. Collins has taken over the reins of power temporarily as the President undergoes surgery, and he is using the brief window of time to try to take out the DMS. Short chapters make the action pop and keep suspense levels high, making The Dragon Factory an entertaining though sometimes over-the-top novel.
The Jakoby twins are the adult children of Cyrus Jakoby, the clone of Nazi scientist Josef Mengele. Born as conjoined twins connected by only a small piece of skin on their chests, they separated themselves at birth by twisting and pulling away from each other. As a result, they bear identical small star-like scars on their chests. They are after the MindReader computer system the DMS uses, which can infiltrate and obtain data from any other computer in the world without leaving a trace. They want it to steal data on genetic research that has been conducted by other scientists and use their knowledge to engineer transgenic animals and humans to sell to the highest bidder.
The twins are very creepy individuals, to put it mildly. The two “Star Children” like to walk arm-in-arm, drugging women they pick up and videotaping sex with them in their private jet. They often kill and cremate the women when they’re finished with them. Their father makes them call him Alpha, and one of his side goals is to find the twin’s secret island headquarters, where they have set up what they call the Dragon Factory. The twins sometimes find it necessary to go to their father for advice, such as when dealing with clients who complain that one of their transgenic creations, the Berserkers, are more violent than advertised. Another of their creations - the “stingers” - are ferocious dogs with poisonous scorpion stingers. The Jakoby have arranged hunts for millionaires to hunt genetically engineered unicorns.
Though their father and Otto Wirths, his assistant, have their own headquarters in the Arizona desert, the twins think they have their father and Otto under their control. They consider Cyrus’s headquarters his prison, his trap, but Cyrus and Otto have kept areas of their enclave hidden from the twins. They have been genetically engineering deadly viruses for a planned “Extinction Wave,” and at the start of each chapter (well, most chapters) there’s a countdown to let readers know how much time the world has left before the scheduled extinction of all races excepting Caucasians. Cyrus and Otto hope to continue the Nazi policies of racial purification, and they have transformed various diseases to be more deadly than ever before.
The planned extinctions are going into effect as we read, and certain chapters follow events around the globe as the World Health Organization (WHO) and others try to determine what’s happening and put a stop to it. Diseases like smallpox suddenly resist all medications, wiping out entire villages; Tay-Sachs, a disease most prevalent among some Jewish people but rarely fatal except among children, becomes widespread throughout Jewish communities and fatal to all age groups. Cyrus and Otto have spread some of the diseases through the water supply of various countries and by using trucks that distribute free bottled water.
The Spetsnatz, or Russian ex-military forces, have been hired by both the twins and Cyrus and Otto to serve as guards, carry out missions and locate information, like at an underground facility in Denver, Colorado. Joe Ledger and three other DMS agents also race toward the storage facility and its miles of underground tunnels where the rich store all manner of treasures. Joe and his group have to use night-vision goggles, and they see carnage as they progress downwards. It’s not only the corpses of guards they see, shot to death by the Russians; some guards and Russians have been torn limb from limb, some of the bodies decapitated. They don’t know yet about the Jakoby Twins and Cyrus and Otto. Joe and his team facing down and battling a pair of Berserkers in the dark tunnels makes for one of the most exciting earlier scenes in the book.
The Dragon Factory features crosses and double-crosses galore, and though it can be over-the-top with evil-doers acting like James Bond villains – even like Doctor Evil from Austin Powers fame, I really got into the novel and enjoyed it. Joe Ledger is a complex hero with his share of personal baggage, but he’s also a guy who can kick ass and take names. Author Jonathan Maberry excels at writing fight scenes. He’s also done a lot of research and cites various sources, so although some of the creations and evil schemes the Jakoby Twins and Cyrus and Otto dream up seem outlandish, they’re based on solid scientific theories and principles.
The Dragon Factory is a suspenseful, edge-of-your-seat thriller that will keep you reading late into the night. I highly recommend it to both fans of Patient Zero and to anyone who loves excellent thrillers.