Blog posts about the Rabbi Aviva Cohen Mysteries and their author Rabbi Ilene Schneider

I’m pleased to welcome J. L. Greger to my blog once again. She is celebrating the publication of her latest Sara Almquist thriller, I Saw You in Beirut.Read on as Janet explains how you can learn a little science as you read and enjoy I Saw You in Beirut.

So, can you learn science from a thriller?

Cover Photo

Cover Photo

Yes, you’ll learn a bit of science when you read I Saw You in Beirut. Sara Almquist, the heroine, and several of the supporting characters are scientists who have worked in the Middle East. But don’t panic: the science tidbits in this thriller aren’t boring. They’re perfect for Jeopardy and Trivial Pursuits.

For example, did you know?

• In 1971, the U.S. shipped seed grain treated with methyl mercury fungicide to Iraq during a drought. Peasants in the northern provinces of Iraq ate the grain because the planting season was over. When the mistake was recognized, the farmers dumped the remaining grain and polluted the streams. The net result was thousands suffered permanent neurological symptoms.

• In the early 1960s, scientists identified zinc deficiency in Iran. At that time, 2-3% of the villagers in some regions of Iran didn’t pass the physical for the army because of stunted growth. Dr. James Halstead, Sr. who was married to President’s Roosevelt’s daughter, Anna, headed the research team.

• Camels are a reservoir for a virus that causes Middle Eastern Respiratory Syndrome (MERS). About a third of the rare reported cases during the last three years have died.

Why were these science tidbits included in I Saw You in Beirut?
They advanced the plot and gave me a chance to “show not tell” readers about my characters. As you may have noticed, most thrillers are filled with muscle-bound men. I think you’ll find the smart, active characters in this thriller are a lot more believable, but granted not as sexy as Daniel Craig as James Bond.

Are all the characters stodgy scientists?
No, and who says scientists are staid? The romance between Sara and Sanders, a secretive State Department official, is non-traditional. The incident in the third chapter where a female graduate student threatens a fellow (but very annoying) male graduate student with a knife, which she was using to cut a birthday cake, really happened in my research laboratory at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. The rest of the details are changed, but I couldn’t resist including the real “knife incident.”

Don’t the facts slow the plot?
No, the whole story occurs during a forty-hour period. Yet, Sara manages to travel from Washington, D.C. to Chicago to… Wait! I don’t want to give too much of the plot away. You’ll have to read this novel to learn where she travels in the Middle East. When you finish the book, you’ll feel like you’ve really been to the exotic locations, and only Sara suffers from jet lag.

How could science enhance a plot?
In I Saw You in Beirut, a mysterious source of leaks on the Iranian nuclear industry, known only as F, sends an email from Tabriz: Help. Contact Almquist. Intelligence sources determine the message refers to Sara Almquist, a globetrotting epidemiologist, and seek her help to extract F from Iran. As Sara tries to identify F by dredging up memories about her student days at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and her work in Lebanon and the Emirates, groups ostensibly wanting to prevent F’s escape attack her repeatedly. She begins to suspect her current friendship with Sanders, a secretive State Department official, is the real reason she’s being attacked.

How can I obtain a copy?
I Saw You in Beirut is available at Amazon:

NEWS FLASH: GoodReads will give away free copies of this thriller from January 9-15, 2016.

Janet and Bug

Janet and Bug

Bio: JL Greger’s thrillers and mysteries include: Malignancy (winner of 2015 Public Safety Writers’ annual contest), Ignore the Pain, Murder: A New Way to Lose Weight, Coming Flu, and I Saw you in Beirut. Bug (shown in the picture) rules their house and is a character in all her novels. Her website is:


  1. What a fascinating blog! Thanks, Janet, how interesting that you know all these tidbits–and thanks for sharing.

  2. Ilene, thanks for hosting me. I hope your readers enter the GoodReads giveaway between Han 9-15 and get a free copy of I SAW YOU IN BEIRUT.

  3. This book sounds like it took a great deal of in-depth research to accomplish. Not an easy task, so well done, Janet. Great blog!

  4. Thanks Marilyn and Jackie. The research wasn’t a recent effort. It’s from a lifetime of being an active scientist and world traveler. I’m glad you found it interesting.

    I was just informed I SAW YOU IN BEIRUT is now available on Nook:

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