Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Chromosome 6 - Robin Cook

   1997; 456 pages. New Author? : Yes.  Genre : Medical Thriller; Cri-Fi.  Overall Rating : 6½*/10.

    Why would someone brazenly steal a corpse from the New York City morgue?  There’s no doubt about the victim’s identity – he was a member of the Mafia, gunned down as he exited a restaurant.  And while we’re at it, just how did the perpetrators manage to whisk away the body?  Medical Examiners Jack Stapleton and Laurie Montgomery want to find out.

     Meanwhile, in a laboratory in the lush African jungles of Equatorial Guinea, molecular biologist Kevin Marshall looks out across the river to an uninhabited island and is once again dismayed to see a wisp of smoke rising into the air, from the same location that he previously noticed it.

    A huge distance separates Kevin from Laurie and Jack, but the two events are interrelated and their paths will eventually cross.

What’s To Like...
    The story’s setting switches back and forth between Africa and New York for the most part chapter-by-chapter.  The reader  is clued in early on as to the reasons for the smoke and the cadaver caper, so the fun is watching the protagonists solve these mysteries.

     I picked up Chromosome 6 because of a keen interest in chromosome manipulation and the role that plays in “jumps” in Evolution.  The book gave me some great insight in this area, and the story doesn’t get dragged down by information dumps.  I am a geography buff, but frankly, I’ve never heard of Equatorial Guinea, and I thoroughly enjoyed Robin Cook’s portrayal of it.

    The characters are, to a certain extent, stereotyped – there are ghetto-tough NYC blacks, thuggish Italian Mafioso, and flighty women.  But Kevin is a complete nerd, which made for a refreshingly different type of hero.  Chromosome 6 is apparently part of a medical thriller series featuring Jack and Laurie, but I didn’t feel like I lost anything by not knowing the backstory.

    I’ve dubbed this genre of books “Cri-Fi” (“Crichton Fiction”) because, like Jurassic Park, the science seems plausible enough to where readers and reviewers debate whether such things could actually happen.  It’s fiction, folks, but it’s a fun read.  To boot, there’s an ethical question here, also posed half a century ago by H. Beam Piper in Little Fuzzy – when is a species sentient enough to where we try to communicate with them instead of trying to kill and/or eat them?

Kewlest New Word. . .
Chock-a-block (adj.)  :  Crammed full of people or things.

    Melanie shined the light in the direction of the splash.  Two glowing slits of light reflected back from the surface of the water.  Peering at them was a large crocodile.
    “Good lord!” Candace said as she stepped back from the water.
    “It’s okay,” Kevin said.  He let go of the rope, reached down and picked up a stout stick.  He threw the stick at the croc.  With another loud splash the crocodile disappeared beneath the water.
    “Oh, great!” Candace said.  “Now we have no idea where he is.”
    “He’s gone,” Kevin said.  “They’re not dangerous unless you’re in the water or they’re very hungry.”
    “Who’s to say he’s not hungry?” Candace commented.  (pg. 124)

    Cameron’s deputy quickly relieved Jack and the others of their passports, wallets, money, and car keys.  He gave them to Siegfried, who slowly went through them.  After he looked at Jack’s passport, he raised his eyes and glowered at him.
    “I’ve been told you are a troublemaker,” Siegfried said with disdain.
    “I’d rather think of myself as a tenacious competitor,” Jack said.  (pg. 404)

 “In Africa, nothing (is) easy.”  (pg.  323)
    The first 95% of Chromosome 6 is great.  Unfortunately, as numerous Amazon reviewers have noted, it’s marred by an abysmal ending.  I’m not given to hyperbole, but this could well be the worst ending I’ve read by an established, non-self-published author.

    The problem starts with the dual settings.  It has to be a writing challenge to give them both exciting climaxes, by one or more of the protagonists, at more or less the same time.  But it can be done.  Read Steve Berry’s The Jefferson Key (reviewed here) and watch him work to have his hero, Cotton Malone, save the day (on the same day!) in both Nova Scotia and Maryland.

    Here, both endings fizzle with a thud (how’s that for a mixed metaphor?).  In Africa, our heroes inflict some significant inconvenience to the bad guys’ operation.  But they don’t put it out of commission, nor do any of the evildoers get their just desserts.  And it’s not like Robin Cook wrote himself into a corner.  Both an over-the-top resolution (“Revenge of the Doubles”) and an under-the-top resolution (“any problem can be solved by the proper application of high explosives”) suggest themselves.  Instead, our heroes slink away, deeming flight is more prudent than fight.

    The ending for the New York setting is even worse.  It happens “off-screen”, and we get a bland recounting of it in the epilogue from the good-guy police detective.  All the higher-up baddies go free, and there’s nothing to stop their nefarious enterprise from replenishing the gene-pool and replacing their genius scientist, who they were going to shoot anyway.

    It’s difficult to rate a book that did so well for so long, then implodes in the last 20 pages.  We’ll go with 6½ Stars.  Hopefully, Robin Cook was just having a bad day, ran into deadline issues, or had a page-count limit imposed upon him by the publishers. 

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