Book Review: Uncaged challenges readers with what-ifs

by Avery Avrakotos, Education and Policy Coordinator

I have to admit it—I’ve never read a thriller before.  When I head into bookstores, my eyes always home in on the newest nonfiction releases. So when I picked up Paul McKellips’ 2011 release Uncaged: A Thriller, I was dubious of how long this book would last on my nightstand.

My instinct was right. It didn’t last long—McKellips’ captivating story had me flipping the page every chance I got.

In the beginning of the novel, rapid shifts in scenery—from Morocco to Arizona to Japan—keep the reader engrossed. Dozens of characters from researchers to animal rights activists to government employees are introduced, but it is two members of the military who come into the foreground as the plot unfolds.

Commander “Camp” Campbell, a trauma surgeon, and Lieutenant Colonel Leslie Raines, an infectious disease expert, are likeable, engaging characters who find themselves called to duty when bioterrorism puts the United States in peril. The situation they find themselves in is made more complicated by a one-year moratorium on animal research, which had been declared in the United States following acts of violent animal rights activism.

McKellips, who is also the executive vice president of the Foundation for Biomedical Research, paints a clear picture of the vulnerability and importance of animal research—especially for medical advancement.

At first blush, the plot seemed far from plausible to me—something that could only happen in books or movies—but McKellips makes it abundantly clear how just a few events—some connected, some not—have the power to alter our national perspective and change our public policy.

In a recent interview McKellips shared his goal for his writing. He said, “I want to find things that are coming out of the news that are relevant, that are current, that we’ve uncovered, and then weave them into a fictional story that the reader says ‘Woah, this is more than just feasible, it’s plausible.’”

Uncaged: A Thriller clearly meets that goal.

Through a portrait of both deliberate actions and coincidence, McKellips delivers a most powerful message: No matter how vital, animal research remains vulnerable and anything can happen. For animal care and use professionals, this is a message that is known all too well.