I’ve always enjoyed Peter James series of police procedural novels set in Brighton. Peter has a close relationship with the Sussex Police, even to the extent of sponsoring a police car. He has been able to go out with them on their investigations and his books have an air of authenticity about them. His latest book, Perfect People, departs from his usual genre to focus on the topic of genetic engineering and designer babies. The book has apparently been ten years in the making, suggesting that Peter James has a deep interest in this topic. I regret to say that I found no evidence that the author’s ten years of investment in this project has paid off.
The story opens with John Naomi, a couple who lost their first child to a congenital disease cause by an unfortunate combination of genes from both of them, planning to visit Dr Leo Dettore in his off shore clinic to seek help in conceiving their next child without this unfortunate genetic make-up. Dettore’s clinic is located on a huge yacht in the Atlantic Ocean – his work is so cutting-edge that it lies outside the boundaries of what is permissible in any Western country.
Having mortgaged themselves up to the hilt and borrowed money from friends and family to pay for the treatment, John and Naomi arrive on the luxurious yacht to find that the yacht is governed by a code of such secrecy that they are not allowed to meet any other patients and apart from seeing the lowly crew who service their rooms, they live in isolation until the time comes for their appointment with Detorre. Dettore opens his consultation by running through an analysis of the couple’s genes and listing the medical conditions that any future child of their could be subject to – from bipolar mood disorder to Chrohn’s Disease, via 15 others – and even more on page 2 of the list. He gives them the opportunity to turn off any of these illnesses and more – to enhance the child’s performance in every area of his life including physical strength and intelligence. What started as an attempt to avoid an inherited genetic condition is rapidly turning into a designer baby programme.
SPOILER ALERT IN NEXT TWO PARAGRAPHS!
To cut a long story short, the couple reject most of the designer options but accept the improvements to the child’s health prospects. They return home to find out that Naomi is now pregnant with twins – not what they expected at all. When they try to get in touch with Detorre they find that he has been killed in an air accident and it is impossible to find out from his associates what happened during their medical procedures .
The children are born, a boy and a girl, but are very strange. They have the capabilities of a child prodigy but lack empathy. They are emotionally complete with each other and have no need to communicate with their parents, even to the extent of developing a complex language of their own. They dissect the family guinea pig to find out what its internal organs look like and before long are banned from the local nursery for terrifying the other children. A sub-plot sees a bizarre religious cult trying to kill John and Naomi and their off-spring for their sin of tampering with God’s will. One day the twins are kidnapped by a strange couple who take them off by private jet to an island paradise – a sort of utopia led by Dettore (he wasn’t dead after all!). Eventually John and Naomi are invited to visit them there and find a community of superior beings involved in work which will save the human race from future destruction.
It seems incredible that such a good writer of crime novels should turn his hand to this sort of low-grade science-fiction. It makes no new points about genetic engineering or designer babies, but merely uses these concepts. What we have is a book very reminiscent of John Wyndham’s 1950’s book, The Midwich Cuckoos. I just can’t believe that it was written by the creator of Detective Inspector Roy Grace of Sussex Police!
The Second World War continues to interest many people. Max Hastings new 768 page tome All Hell Let Loose currently stands at number eight in Amazon’s best sellers list and not without reason. I have to agree with The Sunday Times reviewer who wrote, “a work of staggering scope and erudition, narrated with supreme fluency and insight, it is unquestionably the best single-volume history of the war ever written”.
Rather than just narrating the historic details of the war, Max Hastings has gone back to primary sources of personal accounts and diaries to interleave among the strategic history countless stories of how the war affected individuals. I am finding it the most compelling book of the year which really does warrant the description “magisterial”.