Thursday, March 26, 2020


A reader wrote me and stated that the COVID-19 outbreak was a Communist Chinese plot to destroy Western economies. He had no proof, but he is not alone in thinking that China or someone else intentionally spread the COVID-19.

I have my doubts about this conspiracy theory and others like it, as they are the stuff of fanciful thrillers. Of course, many thrillers are based on reality and some thrillers have predicted future events. For example, in Tom Clancy’s 1994 thriller “Debt of Honor,” a modern-day Kamikaze suicide pilot crashed his plane into the Capital Building, anticipating the horrific 9/11 terrorist attack on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon in 2001.

In the thriller, a group of Japanese businessmen take over the Japanese government and go to war with America once again. Perhaps not wishing to offend the Japanese, the producers of the film version of “Debt of Honor” changed the bad guys into Nazis.  

In Ed McBain’s 2001 novel “Money, Money, Money,” he had the bad guys use counterfeit money to finance a terrorist plot akin to the 9/11 plot. When McBain’s Middle Eastern character arrived at an American airport he was deeply offended at being profiled as a terrorist — even though he was one.

McBain’s fine crime novel was published just two days before the 9/11 attack. Ed McBain, aka Evan Hunter, said he was on a book promotion tour in Chicago when he heard the news of the 9/11 attack, and he noted the eerie similarity between his novel and the real unfolding events.

Dean Koontz predicted the COVID-19 outbreak in his 1981 thriller “The Eyes of Darkness.” The novel was about a Chinese military lab that created a new virus as a biological weapon. The lab just happened to be located in Wuhan, China, the place where the COVID-19 outbreak began. Mr. Koontz called the weaponized virus the Wuhan-400.

And there is Ian Fleming.  

“Fleming was able to peer beyond the Cold War limitations of mere spy fiction and to anticipate the emerging milieu of the Colombian cartels, Osama bin Laden and, indeed the Russian Mafia, as well as the nightmarish idea that some such fanatical freelance megalomaniac would eventually collar some weapons-grade plutonium,” Christopher Hitchens wrote in his introduction to a series of reissued Ian Fleming novels.

In 1966, a Strategic Air Command B-52 bomber carrying four hydrogen bombs collided with a tanker while mid-air refueling over the Mediterranean Sea off the coast of Spain. The tanker’s fuel exploded and killed all four airmen and the B-52 was torn apart, killed three of the bomber’s seven-man crew. 

The tragedy was compounded by the loss of the hydrogen bombs. There were fears that a foreign power or criminals had found the missing deadly bombs. Many news organizations took note that the mysterious event was much like Fleming’s 1961 thriller “Thunderball.”

In “Thunderball,” the ninth thriller in the Bond series, the mad-as-a-hatter criminal mastermind Ernst Stavro Blofeld, leader of the international criminal organization SPECTRE — the Special Executive for Terrorism, Revenge and Extortion — bribed a NATO pilot to crash a bomber with its two nuclear weapons into the sea off the Bahamas. SPECTRE then recovered the weapons and used them to blackmail the Western nations.

The Western nations responded with Operation Thunderball, led by James Bond in the field, and SPECTRE’s plan was thwarted.

Thankfully, in real life, the B-52’s bombs were recovered near a Spanish fishing village.  

Ian Fleming also wrote about the spread of a deadly virus as a form of biological warfare in his 1963 thriller, “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.” In the 11th novel in the James Bond series, 007 is hot on the trial of Blofeld, in hiding after his plot in “Thunderball” failed.

The world’s most wanted man was in the Swiss Alps disguised as the director of a nonprofit medical clinic that treated young women for severe allergies. Blofeld planned to use the unsuspecting women to return home carrying lab-created viruses to destroy Western agricultural.     

Both “Thunderball” and “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service” were made into successful films that were fairly faithful to the novels.

I suspect that the COVID-19 outbreak was not a diabolical plot. But several sources suspect that the origin of the outbreak was China’s “wet markets,” where local businesses cage and slaughter bats, racoons and other exotic animals that some Chinese fancy as delicacies. Many of these animals carry viruses that can be transferred to humans and some experts contend that bats are the source of COVID-19.   

The Communist Chinese government has been accused of initially withholding information and of failing to close the wet markets and their borders, allowing the virus to spread worldwide. Many believe that China’s actions constitute criminal negligence.

Now that is the stuff of thrillers.

• Paul Davis’ On Crime column covers true crime, crime fiction, mysteries and thrillers. 

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