A Conspiracy of Genes
Mark de Castrique
Bella Rosa Books (2008)
Reviewed by Maggie Desmond-O’Brien (14) for Reader Views (10/09)
Gene Adamson’s life is turned upside-down in the space of a few hours in this page-turning mystery: First, the father of his beautiful history project partner Jeanne is brutally shot and killed right in front of his eyes. If that wasn’t bad enough, now Jeanne is on the run, a wanted fugitive who just might hold the key to the conspiracy in her grasp. And then there’s also the small matter of the little girl in the hospital who will pay with her life if Gene doesn’t figure out who’s on his side.
And then there was the author’s annoying habit of trailing off…into ellipses…and even ending chapters with them…
While the presentation (cover, etc.) of this novel was great, de Castrique’s non-traditional grammatical style got on my nerves. A lot. And I could have done without the melodrama. Gene’s narrative voice is at best annoyingly nostalgic and at worst so grating that it gives you a headache, trying to keep the innumerable plot twists straight while sorting through the long, rambling passages about his regrets and failures. In my experience, the remorseful first person narrative only works when there’s actually something to feel remorseful about—and the author seems to only be using this point of view to ratchet up the suspense and readability instead of telling the story.
That said, it was immensely readable, and provided a measure of instant gratification and adrenaline that almost made up for the poor writing. And it is clear that de Castrique really feels for the children of the hospital that so much of the story centers around. I know I would have enjoyed it more if more of the story had been about them and less about Gene and Jeanne. And as one last count in its favor, the ending is truly inspired and very much unexpected. Despite everything that came before, I was actually left hanging, though I’m not certain if I would brave more ellipses and pointless buildup for the sequel.
I think the most serious problem with this book was its identity crisis—always toeing the line between hi-lo fiction and comic book style sci-fi without really bringing anything fresh or interesting to either of them. Reading this book was less of a “this is so bad” and more of a “why do I care?” And then the endless good-guy-bad-guy switcheroos—that kind of plot twist really only works once; or twice, if you’re Scott Westerfeld (and even it’s pushing the envelope). After that you just get too confused and too lost to pay attention to the story arc anymore—and de Castrique definitely switches sides more than once or twice.
In the end, I can’t say that reading “A Conspiracy of Genes” by Mark de Castrique was a waste of time, as it’s certainly a lot of fun and suspense; but I can’t say that it was time well spent, either. Perhaps fans of hi-lo mystery genre would enjoy it more, but I didn’t.