By M A Rothman
|Value for money
|Did it do what it said on the box?
At last a good new techno-thriller, but maybe not murky enough?
I like a good techno-thriller, but since the death of Michael Crichton and with Phillip Kerr moving onto German detectives and unpleasant tales of first-person murdering pickings have been thin. I have enjoyed the works of Daniel Suarez, and the more “techno” output from Preston/Child and William Hertling, but having exhausted their catalogues I was getting a bit desperate for my latest trip. That’s when I found Darwin’s Cipher, the second novel from M A Rothman.
The basic plot is a simple one: advanced gene therapy being developed as a cancer cure is surreptitiously diverted into potential military applications, and both the medical and military uses generate very dangerous side-effects, which have to be contained or reversed. The story romps along at a good pace, the “techno” elements are well developed and fairly believable, and you come to like the competent, well-meaning central characters, turning pages enthusiastically to see if they can avert the apocalypse.
The writing is perhaps a bit weaker on the conspiracy side of the thriller. There are lots of secondary characters with varying motivation: good, bad, and those doing the wrong thing for the right reasons. However these motivations are readily revealed and rarely change, and it lacks the sheer murk of a good conspiracy. Also whereas the technical elements are either tidied up neatly or left hanging deliberately, that’s not so true of the darker plot elements, and several key aspects are left unexplained.
That said, these are minor complaints. I did enjoy this book and I’ll definitely read Rothman’s other techno-thriller(s).
In an afterword the author explains that it’s very difficult to get traditional publishers interested in such material, despite the success of Crichton, Kerr and others. That’s a shame, because it’s a genre which continues to intrigue me, and does have an audience. However it looks like we have to continue to go hunting to find the good ones, even before trying to discern the plots of the stories themselves.