The Ponce Factor
by J.D. Crawford
Genre: Mystery, Thriller & Suspense / Medical
Print Length: 318 pages
Reviewed by Kathy L. Brown
One doctor faces the ultimate challenge: to save the world from immortality
The Ponce Factor is an engrossing page-turner—a medical thriller with high tension and even higher stakes. Author J.D. Crawford crafts a brilliant tale. The story focuses on the characters’ responsibilities and responses within their own belief systems, all the while maintaining a breakneck pace of world events.
A cataclysm has occurred, and its aftermath threatens human civilization. But the disaster is not one anyone would have ever guessed: a newly discovered antioxidant compound is so potent that it virtually halts the aging process and cures metabolic diseases (like diabetes and coronary artery disease). This may sound like a blessing, but civilization is not organized to support eight billion immortals. Dr. Medgar Landros must coordinate the US response to “The Juice.”
A private-industry (juice drinks) chemist develops the antioxidant by accident, and the small juice company ramps up production and rolls out the product. It’s food, a dietary supplement at worst, and no pharmaceutical review is required. Soon, the social media rumor mill is buzzing. Riots and looting abound worldwide until supply chains can catch up with demand. Landros futilely runs worse-case scenario models of the immediate impact on the health care system, social security, retirement funds, the workplace, agriculture, etc.
And then things go downhill. The juice’s potential feeds into a sociopathic, white supremacist pastor’s delusion of grandeur. She organizes a cult to gain control of “The Juice” for a select cadre of VIPs, herself at the head of the line. And her cult is politically savvy. They aim to entrench their elitism in law.
Landros realizes this law and this cult must be stopped. A career marine veteran, he’s up to the job of doing unthinkable things for the common good. He enlists a retired Navy seal to help him in his primary plan. He also recruits a reporter to gather evidence for an expose piece on the cult and their legislative agenda’s true goal. Landros’s daughter, Josie, is in a good position to help the reporter, from a safe distance. Or so he thinks.
The Ponce Factor is immediately engaging, with a strong voice and skillful handling of a complex narrative. Landros tells the story. His own scenes are described in first person, then he slips into an omniscient point of view to report what everyone else is doing. The method works well to keep the reader informed and dunked in the story’s flow.
Characters are well-rounded and true to life, their motivations plausible and actions believable. As Landros explains early on, “I had absolutely nothing left to lose…That’s why they underestimated me. They forgot that the most dangerous enemy is one who is fighting for something…so much bigger than himself that beside it his death is completely insignificant…That cardinal rule of warfare is…why Saigon is now called Ho Chi Minh City. And it’s why you’re reading this.”
The antagonist, Pastor Nero, is an evil delight, and Landros’s daughter, Josie, a feisty do-gooder with just the right amount of youthful zeal and poor decision making.
The worldbuilding is spot on, and the scientific explanation behind how The Juice works is understandable and convincing. Although in real life it couldn’t possibly be so easy (could it?) to develop such a product, in the story’s world, it all hangs together. The effects of social media, the behavior of governments, and the emergences of the ugliest human traits, as well as the most noble, all feel reasonable.
While not billed as science fiction, this book would appeal to fans of other speculative thrillers with a science premise, like the works of Michael Crichton. I recommend The Ponce Factor highly to anyone looking for an engaging and submersive read.
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