Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Psycho killer qu’est-ce que c’est?

Cain's Blood
by Geoffrey Girard

I heard about this novel’s audacious high-concept premise several months before its publication. Marketing copy said:
“A terrifying debut novel about the evil in each of us: when clones of infamous serial killers escape from a secret government facility, it’s up to a former Army Ranger to stop them… with the help of a teenage killer clone.”
And I was basically like: You had me at ‘clones of infamous serial killers.’ I mean, with a premise like that, it was either going to be unbelievably awesome or excruciating bad. Execution would be everything. And I am officially declaring Geoffrey Girard’s debut thriller UNBELIEVABLY AWESOME. If Cain’s Blood doesn’t rocket to the top of the bestseller list in the land of Hannibal Lecter, well, there is no justice in the world of publishing. And, of course, there isn’t, so who knows.

Okay, back to the story… Honestly, beyond the blurb above, there’s nothing you really need to know. Well, I’ll mention that teenage helper is an innocent, 15-year-old clone of Jeffrey Dahmer. Oh yeah, Girard’s not playing around. This novel is a who’s who of serial murder, with appearances by Ted Bundy, David Berkowitz, Ed Gein, etc. The gang’s all here. As I stated above, execution is everything with a premise this bold. Mr. Girard starts things off provocatively by giving readers a prologue in the form of “A Brief History of Cloning” in which he writes, “Cloning humans, by the way, is still completely legal in the United States, everyone just assumes it’s not.” Uh, I certainly did. Mr. Girard has done his homework on everything from genetics to the differences between psychopaths and sociopaths:
“About one half of one percent of Americans could be diagnosed as sociopaths or psychopaths. So says the National Institute of Mental Health… There are degrees to everything. Ninety-eight percent of that two million are only sociopaths, and most sociopaths are little more than flaming assholes… Guys with no regard for the feelings and rights of others. Care only about Number One, steal for the hell of it, moody guys who screw over coworkers, start bar fights out of boredom, won’t talk to their kids…that kind of thing. True psychopaths are much, much rarer. The difference is important, and also horrible.” [I’ve condensed the quote above with ellipses.]
How is that not fascinating? When it comes to science thrillers, the science doesn’t have to be rock solid, but you have to make me believe it. Mr. Girard did a laudable job of making his outrageous premise plausible. And there was neither too much nor too little of the science. He got the balance just right.

Now, obviously a tale like this lives and dies with plotting and pace. Honestly, there wasn’t a whole
lot to the plot. Some bad dudes escaped and a good, if damaged, soldier had to round them up. But within that simple structure, Girard kept his tale lively, offered up some surprises, and kept things moving at a lightning pace. Turning pages was not only effortless, it was mandatory. I can’t imagine that any reader will be surprised to learn that this novel is full of the most lurid and graphic kind of violence. It’s definitely not for everyone. I’m not generally a fan of gratuitous violence, but I’m not even sure it was gratuitous. All I know is that I couldn’t look away.

Character development is not what drives this sort of story. The damaged soldier thing is a bit of a cliché, but Shane Castillo was a likeable enough protagonist. And Mr. Girard did a fine job with his teen Dahmer, making him sympathic and creepy all at once. There is much that is black and white in this tale, but the author also makes good fodder of the moral ambiguities inherent in the situation. Should Cain’s Blood be your next book club pick? Probably not. But I say give yourself a pass and enjoy the guilty pleasure of this very wild ride.

And one more note: Cain’s Blood is actually one half of Mr. Girard’s debut. It’s a complete novel, but he is simultaneously publishing a young adult novel called Project Cain. It tells the exact same story as this novel, but from the POV of the teen Dahmer. I haven’t read it yet, and I know it will be somewhat redundant, but I have to admit I’m curious.

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