An Osama bin Laden-type character plots a terrorist strike in the U.S. A Saudi Arabian potentate seeking medical treatment at Mayo Clinic arrives at Rochester International Airport, and a deadly green toxin is smuggled into the city during a customs check. The terrorists' target is a target-rich environment: The Minnesota State Fair.
But the real villains of David Lebedoff's new book, "Buzz," are the mosquitoes. In his thriller, which was released earlier this summer, the insect becomes the ultimate instrument of terror, the carriers of a toxic liquid whose bite brings on horrible death.
If terrorism is the technique of creating fear by striking from a place you least expect, what happens when that threat is everywhere, particularly in mosquito-infested Minnesota? At least with shark attacks, you could get out of the water. But what do you do when the threat comes from all around?
For Lebedoff, a Minneapolis writer whose books include biography and nonfiction novels, "Buzz" was a strike in a new direction. Others had noted that his previous nonfiction works had the pacing and style of thrillers, so Lebedoff thought, why not write a real thriller?
"It was written for entertainment," Lebedoff said in a phone interview. "We all like to read thrillers, especially in the summer. I was aware of the fact that when (the subject includes) terrorists, there were ramifications as well."
Yet it's the setting and context that will intrigue most area readers. The terrorists learn to weaponize the insects while working in a remote area of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. The story reaches its climax at the state fair, where the terrorists seek to create the greatest carnage and panic.
Mayo Clinic and the Kahler Grand Hotel in Rochester, complete with descriptions of the city's skyway and subways, also figure prominently in the book. The killer mosquitoes swarm and kill at an Army fort and a large outdoor rally, terrifying a nation and causing the stock market to collapse.
Lebedoff said he has never been a patient at the clinic, but some of his family members and friends have been, and he has visited Rochester a number of times. He also has several friends who are doctors on staff at Mayo.
"I think the more actual detail you have in a book, the more credible the book is," Lebedoff said. "The more the accurate descriptions of the places, the more the reader accepts the premise of the story as well."
The selection of mosquitoes as his agent of doom stemmed from the insect's ubiquity in Minnesota. Having never written a thriller before, he was aware that the most successful thrillers were those rooted in reality. Jaws became an overnight sensation because it tapped into the real-life fears of shark attacks. And that got him thinking about mosquitoes.
"They are everywhere, and we hate them," Lebedoff said. "We hate their buzz. We hate their noises. I can't think of anything more irritating than the noise of a mosquito."
But while most thrillers are viewed as escapist literature, Buzz offers a story that hits close to home, dealing with everyday fears and anxieties in the age of terror. And when the action takes place in your own back yard, it adds an extra vividness that might not seem far-fetched to some.
Yet Lebedoff notes that the book's plot doesn't turn on terror by Islamist extremists, but on greed and revenge. The man who sets the terror in motion is not a jihad-inspired fanatic but a billionaire stock market manipulator on the run from the law. And his accomplice is not a terrorist in the traditional sense, but a sleek Arab businessman who hopes for a big pay day.
The book also has the feel of a detective story, as the main protagonist, Dr. Mary Campion, races against time to thwart the planned attack.
Lebedoff said he doesn't know whether he will write another thriller. He'll wait to see how this one does. But he enjoyed writing it.
"I loved writing it more than another other book I've written, partly because — you're going to find this hard to belief — but when I started it, I didn't know what was going to happen. There are a lot of twists and turns in the plot," he said.