Perfect People: Peter James (Book Review)

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blog.wellcome.ac.uk

“All they wanted was a healthy child. What they got was the perfect nightmare… “

After the death of their four-year-old son from a rare genetic disorder, John and Naomi Klaesson learn that if they have another baby there’s a high risk the same thing will happen. Desperate to avoid going through the pain of losing another child, the couple visit a clinic located on a converted cruise ship in international waters, free from any legal restraints, run by a maverick geneticist, Dr Leo Dettore. For $400,000, they can choose all the genes of their child – literally have a designer baby. However, they don’t want half the choices on offer, they just want a healthy child. Dettore tells them that if they don’t do all they can, they will risk their child being born in a genetic “underclass” because so many parents will be enhancing theirs…

On returning home to LA, their first shock is that instead of being pregnant with the son they wanted, Naomi finds she is having twins. When John, drunk, admits to a journalist they are having a designer baby it gets into the press and they start to be hunted by a group of religious fanatics who are violently against tampering with nature or God’s will…. They flee to the UK to get away, and John takes up a research post in Sussex. The kids are born a boy and girl, and very soon he and Naomi realise they are not just bright, they are unnervingly intelligent – even at a few years old already smarter than their parents in many ways. The teacher asks them to take them out of school as they frighten other children. One morning, John finds they have killed and postmortemed their pet guinea pigs, and they don’t understand why he is angry at them. So far as they were concerned, they were doing research…. (from Peterjames.com)

I completed this book in 2 nights while on holiday, in Taipei recently. I have been reading Peter James for a few years, since I rented ‘Alchemist’ from an old rental store in the neighbourhood. I was in a medical-crime-thriller-mystery phase then and the ‘Alchemist’ seemed like a good one. Since then I have read almost all of Peter James’ books and he is superb at thrillers.

Peter James started with standalone novels like ‘Alchemist’, ‘Sweetheart’, ‘Denial’, then recently he moved onto a popular series of books featuring Superintendant Roy Grace. Although many of Peters fans prefer the Grace novels, I prefer the standalone ones. Each book brings with it, its own flavour and flair and there is always a heavy sense of ethics, supernatural behaviours and science involved. His storylines are always fresh and the characters are multi-faceted, which is a refreshing change from a lot of other mystery crime writers out there today.

I was initially attracted to this book because of the cover – it reminds me of ‘The Shining’. Thanks to that show and watching it at a young age, I am spooked when I see twins. So I picked it up at the bookstore and seeing that it is another standalone novel, I bought it.

It is seriously one of the most thought-provoking thrillers I’ve read in a long time. My first thought was that this book should be made into a movie. The book is, as usual, a good example of how skilled Peter James is as a writer and within the first few chapters I was completely absorbed. While reading the book in the hotel room in Taipei, I stop every few pages and think of the questions and ethics that surround the story. This book raises a number of both moral and ethical questions about the role science should play within our lives.

The story itself picks up pace as major events happen in the first quarter of the book. I shocked myself at just how badly I had to keep reading this. Each time I think things are settling, something else shocks me and once again I feel that I just can’t put it down. It is scary too, not so much in the blood and gore sense, but in the implications of genetic engineering of the human species to a level far beyond what the conventional sense might ever achieve. As you think further into the possibilities of what this book suggests, you shock yourself by realising that this fiction could so easily become fact.  I think that’s the most frightening thing about this book, its plausibility.

I can say with certainty that Peter James has managed this and so much more – Perfect People is an amazingly tight thriller that grabs you and I had to keep reminding myself that although based on scientific fact, this was a work of fiction. Or is it?

According to the blurb, this book has been 10 years in the planning. When the idea first came to Peter James about writing a book about designer babies, it was just that – an idea. “A decade ago, a leading genetics scientist really did tell me that parents in the near future would be able to choose the level of empathy their child could experience.” That makes reading this book all the scarier – we may just be looking at our future.

Would you want a ‘perfect’ child? And should you? If you live in a society that prides itself on perfection, with no room for error, would you? If everyone of your friends could choose the color of the eyes, hair, sporting abilities, interests of their child, level of empathy, sympathy, would you choose for your child too?

I, for one, would. My husband, wouldn’t. So you can see the depth of discussions we had surrounding this book alone.

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2 comments

  1. I’m not usually into such stories but sounds like a book I would like to read!

    1. Yes it is really good – if you like, can borrow from me.

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