Lyme Disease Book Review

by lmatthews on November 7, 2011

plum island animal disease center research lyme disease conspiracy

Plum Island - the focus for the new novel The Lyme Conspiracy.

A number of books have been published this year that center on a Lyme disease conspiracy story or give a fictional account of patients’ struggles with Lyme. Although it might not at first seem a likely candidate for page-turning fiction, this infectious disease has considerable potential to encompass secret government testing, crime thrillers, personal tragedy, bioterrorism, and even insurance company fraud and medical malpractice.

Perhaps it’s not surprising then that many authors looking for a way to spark controversy with their new novel turn to Lyme disease and all those captive readers angry at their treatment by a variety of organizations. Do the conspiracy theories hold up to scrutiny though, or are these fictitious accounts of government wrongdoing and ethical dilemmas actually bad for Lyme disease patients?

The Lyme Conspiracy

The Lyme Conspiracy was published in April this year and has enjoyed success with the premise that Lyme disease is responsible for over three-hundred diseases in the US, including Multiple Sclerosis, Fibromyalgia, Muscular Dystrophy, Alzheimer’s disease, and chronic fatigue syndrome. Despite the lack of real-life evidence, the writer, Joseph Bradley goes on to implicate the US government for letting loose the bacteria causing the myriad conditions. The problem with such books is that the very real descriptions of life with Lyme disease can convince many readers that the other aspects of the story are also real, creating a seeming conspiracy where there was none previously. Many books have featured Lyme disease as a device to criticize government health policy in recent years, with varying success as works of fiction.

Plum Island Research Secrets

Bradley’s book, The Lyme Conspiracy features a character, Ben whose job it is to keep US military secrets, well, secret. In this case, his mission is to prevent the public becoming aware of the experiments being done on Plum Island, an animal research facility that actually exists in real life. The research center is further embroiled in the story as Connecticut police investigate the murder of a scientist previously employed by the top-secret government facility. The detective in charge of the case, Taylor Marshall, joins forces with an investigative reporter to find out what is going on at the research laboratory and why scientists in Long Island are being killed.

Lyme Disease Patients’ Stories

lyme conspiracy bradley joseph bookFans of the thriller writer, Joseph Bradley, will no doubt adore the new book with its fast paced action and criminal content but a literary classic in the making it is not. Those with Lyme disease are likely to find some solace in the descriptions of suffering in the book as the author himself has experienced the condition. Those who know nothing about Lyme disease, or who have no personal experience of it affecting themselves, family, or friends will probably come away from having read this book with a greater appreciation of the suffering and pain that the condition can cause, in and of itself as well as through the often protracted process of diagnosis, recognition, and treatment many Lyme disease patients go through. The twist at the end of the book seems to be a crowd-pleaser judging by other reviews and Bradley has certainly cultivated some die-hard fans with his novels so far. However, the way in which fact and fiction are interwoven in this novel, and the skill with which Bradley accomplishes this, might cause some to develop misconceptions about Lyme disease and treat the work as non-fiction.

Political Intentions of Lyme Disease Author

Bradley himself is recovering from Lyme disease after more than two years of treatment and has said in newspaper interviews that he is 90% better. The author is a former police officer and a criminologist, putting him in an excellent position to concoct characters with all the right flaws and tics (pun intended) for a compelling read. Whether the same scientific restraint required for his work on criminology can be said to have been applied to the research for this book is unclear but it is apparent that Bradley and his family have suffered by a late diagnosis of Lyme disease. The author has said that he wanted to write a book about Lyme disease “that was somewhat exciting and not like a fact-filled textbook.” Bradley’s intention was to both educate and entertain his readership but is it really the job of an author and former police officer to educate the public on a public health issue like Lyme disease? Patient testimonials at the end of the novel lend further credence to the Lyme disease conspiracy, but there are also plenty of patients diagnosed and treated with Lyme disease antibiotics quickly and efficiently who will likely not understand the controversy at the heart of this novel.

Over the Edge


Another novel published slightly after The Lyme Conspiracy is Brandilyn Collins’ book Over the Edge. Again, based on the author’s own experiences with Lyme disease, this novel approaches the medical debate about the existence of Chronic Lyme disease through a variety of characters, including tick-borne disease specialist Dr. Brock McNeil who denies that such a condition exists. When one angry Lyme disease sufferer deliberately infects McNeil’s wife with Lyme disease to prove the doctor wrong he demands a public statement admitting the existence of Chronic Lyme disease and threatens to infect the couple’s daughter if his demand is not met.

Denial of Chronic Lyme Disease

Instead of coming to his family’s aid, McNeil denies his wife’s condition making him an instant target for all those railing against the established medical community’s denial of chronic Lyme disease. Patients who have had their own struggles achieving a diagnosis of Lyme disease or chronic Lyme disease, as McNeil’s wife Janessa does in this book, will find a sympathetic writer in Collins. She paints a terrifying picture of life with Lyme disease, familiar to many readers, and the pitfalls of misdiagnosis, ineffective treatments, and poor support for sufferers of the illness.

Glowing Reviews for Brandilyn Collins

Over the Edge is definitely a page-turner, very tautly written, and would be an interesting introduction to the Lyme disease conspiracy for many readers. Unlike Bradley’s novel it remains focused on the medical aspects of Lyme disease, rather than the furore surrounding the origins of the infectious disease. Reviewers have expressed their delight with the novel, and even the president of IGeneX, a laboratory that carries out Lyme disease tests for patients has praised the book. It is unfortunate that Collins’ has no medical background to call on, however, and although she is excellent at describing the marginalization of many patients with Lyme disease, or misdiagnoses they suspect are really Lyme, she does stray into some vague spiritual abyss at times which could frustrate some readers.

Author’s Own Lyme Disease Experience

Over the Edge Brandilyn CollinsThe day-to-day tedium of chronic illness and its lengthy diagnosis and assessment come through in this novel but the use of a thriller device in the madman with the infectious agent threatening this family makes the story tick along nicely. The book is certainly effective in communicating the struggles, both physical and mental, experienced by Lyme disease sufferers and the difficulties faced by Janessa’s character in simply remembering words will ring true to many with symptoms of neuroborreliosis.

A Responsibility to Readers?

These two novels were both written by authors who have suffered from Lyme disease, which gives readers a certain degree of confidence in the insight into the patient experience of the condition. However, the necessity of creating a good story when writing fiction may not be particularly helpful in the fight to raise awareness of Lyme disease without inducing hysteria. Fictional conspiracies quickly leak off the page and into the mind and a good writer can often induce us to believe things that, were they presented as dry fact would seem utterly nonsensical. Just as there are elements of truth in many a novel, there are in the The Lyme Conspiracy and Over the Edge, the difficulty is working out what to believe.

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