Sunday, January 03, 2010

Mystery Book Review: Texas Panic! by Harry Haines

Mysterious Reviews, mysteries reviewed by the Hidden Staircase Mystery Books, is publishing a new review of Texas Panic! by Harry Haines. For our blog readers, we are printing it first here in advance of its publication on our website.

Texas Panic! by Harry Haines

by
A Jim Bob Masterson Mystery

Mayhaven Publishing (Hardcover)
ISBN-10: 1-932278-60-5 (1932278605)
ISBN-13: 978-1-932278-60-6 (9781932278606)
Publication Date: October 2009
List Price: $19.95

Review: Texas panhandle veterinarian James Robert "Jim Bob" Masterson is caught up in a possible disaster involving cattle owners, feed chains, the stock market, even banks in Texas Panic, the second thriller in this series by Harry Haines.

A single case of the disease has been identified in Spokane, Washington, on Christmas Eve. The diseased cow had been brought in from Canada. Immediately all cattle purchases from Canada had been stopped. Was this a case of too little too late? It isn’t long after that a rancher in Sagebush, Texas, observes one or two of his cows showing signs of the disease. Jim Bob Masterson, an authority on diseases of cattle, is called in to test and ascertain the condition of the cows. It is, indeed, Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy, or BSE -- mad cow disease. How could this happen in the Texas panhandle? The disease has to come from an infection transferred from an infected animal or its remains. Virtually no West Texas operations bring in stock from areas where the infectious animals were found or known to exist -- and those that are brought in are subject to rigorously testing. It would seem that for all intents and purposes it would be impossible for an outbreak to occur here. Yet, here it is. When asked by the media why such a fuss was being made over a few cows dying, Jim Bob answers, “Humans or cattle, once you get it you die.”

On the home front, Jim Bob's daughter is in a contest to sing with the Metropolitan Opera. His wife of twenty-seven years and his mother-in-law want him to be at their side, showing support for his talented daughter. Although he has every intention to be supportive, the possibility of a mad cow disease outbreak is his first concern. Jim Bob has a small ranch, but one of his friends has a ranch with a total of 490,000 head of cattle, worth nearly half a million dollars, a total loss if any of the herd exhibits signs of the disease and all put down. Even if the herd doesn't show sign of the disease, but the government could order all cattle be slaughtered. The stock market has plummeted, and bankruptcy at the Texas State Bank seems just round the corner. Everyone from the cattle ranchers, to those dependent on them, including veterinarians, are concerned about their futures. Jim Bob must find the cause of the outbreak in Texas -- and soon -- before the FBI and USDA decide to kill every cow in Texas.

Texas Panic is an absorbing account of how a local incident, a "what if scenario", can have national ramifications. The potential for disaster is very realistically envisioned, the plot well paced. But the book is primarily a character study, a story about family and friends, cooperation and collaboration, fear and hope. It is especially from this perspective that makes it a truly exceptional novel.

Special thanks to guest reviewer Betty of The Betz Review for contributing her review of Texas Panic! and to Harry Haines for providing an ARC of the book for this review.

Review Copyright © 2010 — Hidden Staircase Mystery Books — All Rights Reserved

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Synopsis (from the publisher): B-S-E spells death. Cattle or human -- if you get it, you will die.

The Washington Post calls Texas veterinarian Dr. James Robert Masterson the "World's Foremost Expert" in BSE -- Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy, more commonly referred to as mad cow disease. Jim Bob, as he is known to friends and family, achieved his celebrity through a test he invented, a remarkable accomplishment considering the fact that Texas has never had a case of BSE.

Until now.

The story opens when a cow slips and goes down in a feed yard in Sagebrush, Texas, a tiny rural community sixty-five miles north of Amarillo. Bearing in mind that there are thirty-five million cattle in the Texas Panhandle, where one-third of the nation's fed beef is produced, one "downer" would hardly seem noteworthy.

But two factors escalate the seriousness of the incident. First, this is the health scare with everything -- a gruesomely exotic disease, unknown dangers, bungling bureaucrats, and a common food item found in virtually every home. And second, the sensation-hungry American press finds the story irresistible.

Jim Bob is sure they have a false alarm. BSE has to come from somewhere. Infected prions don't mutate or appear spontaneously. But "The Masterson Test" becomes suspect as the USDA struggles to confirm its diagnosis. Meanwhile the panic escalates. Cattle futures tank. Beef processing plants close. Millions of Texas cattle become worthless. Billions are at stake.

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