Peter James looks to the future in Perfect People. When their four-year-old son dies from a rare genetic disorder, John and Naomi Klaesson decide to have their next child genetically engineered. Unfortunately, the maverick Dr Leo Dettore deceives John and Naomi, implanting Naomi with twins who very quickly reveal themselves to be supernaturally intelligent children. What is Dr Dettore’s plan? And who is the religious lunatic targeting Dr Dettore’s patients all around the globe?
Peter James is best known for his Brighton-set Roy Grace series of police procedural novels, but he dabbled in speculative fiction long before he created Roy Grace. Here James works within the framework of the conventional sci-fi thriller, but from the beginning it’s clear that the author intends the book to be read as a novel of ideas.
He is in particular interested in exploring what happens when genetic engineering arrives at the point where it borders upon eugenics.
While James is happy to ask hard questions, he’s not necessarily in the business of offering easy answers.
The author’s sympathies do seem to be largely with the scientists rather than the religious fundamentalists, but essentially the novel refrains from making any commentary on the morality of either side.
The story fairly gallops along, with James employing his trademark cliff-hangers to sustain tension and momentum. The broad strokes will be familiar to many horror and sci-fi fans but James does a good job of meeting our preconceptions halfway, and diverting the story into unexpected avenues.
Many of these diversions end up in blind alleys, it’s true, but James is strong on characterisation, and there’s a chilling aspect to the children’s inability to empathise with their parents, or indeed anyone else except for one another. All told, and given that the essence of the clash in Perfect People is that between radical religion and equally radical science, this is an intriguing and timely thriller.