Peter James is better known as the author of the highly successful Brighton-based police procedurals featuring Detective Roy Grace. Upon reading the opening, it was soon evident that Perfect People is not a crime novel per se, but a topical international techno-thriller, and a remarkable one to boot. Film-maker James started his writing career penning thrillers and horror fiction before he hit his stride as a best-selling crime writer, and he expands his horizons further with this cautionary tale of genetics and madness.
Opening in the US, we see Californians Dr John Klaesson and wife Naomi getting over the loss of their four year-old child to a rare genetic condition, and planning another child. They fear the odds of the rare condition reappearing as both parents are carriers of the faulty gene. They turn to the mysterious geneticist Dr Leo Dettore who offers a gene-screening process to prevent the unthinkable happening again. Due to the complexity of laws and ethics that make genetic manipulation a mine-field, the doctor performs his ‘technique’ on a ship in international waters.
Dettore’s method also offers an added dimension – the ability to add ‘design’ to their offspring, and we’re not talking just about sex and hair colour here. There are many moral and ethical dilemmas to overcome, not just for the Klaesson’s but also the reader. The debate on the rights and wrongs of ‘designer babies’ provides an interesting dimension to this thriller, and one that attracts the attention of a millennial religious cult. Dettore meets his untimely demise when his helicopter explodes, turning the sky blood red. With Naomi pregnant, John realises that their own lives are at risk, so the Klaesson’s flee America and head to Great Britain.
With clipped chapters, the pace ratchets up when the couple discover at the scan that they are expecting twins, a boy and a girl – but once the children arrive, then Klaesson’s problems really begin, because these two babies are not what their parents expected. With unearthly intelligence, the Klaesson children are ‘more than human’, and soon the dangers that John and Naomi had been dodging are far closer to home. A surreal journey of ethics, science, and religion – and as far away from the dark alleyways of Roy Grace’s Brighton as one could get, but a blindingly hot read set at the edges of our reality and indicative that Peter James can carve a thriller as tortuous as the DNA Double-Helix – In a word, remarkable.