Sunday, 27 December 2009

Family Cookbook [Reviews: Seizure, chromosome 6]

Seizure and chromosome 6 are novels by Robin Cook M.D. Both explore a number of similar themes - in particular doctors or medical researchers who take unethical routes to develop experimental treatments.

Seizure, a stand-alone novel, is about stem cell researcher Daniel Lowell who is close to demonstrating a cure for Parkinson's. Frustrated by the rules around research ethics he forms a series of unholy alliances - his secret patient is a conservative Senator fundamentally opposed to the technology, who also has some rather odd requests about the treatment; the treatment is to be carried out overseas in a highly unethical clinic; and through his girlfriend's family, Lowell has unknowingly accepted Mafia funding. Oops.

Chromosome 6 is another in the series of novels featuring pathologist Dr. Jack Stapleton, the hero of Coma. The point of view alternates between Stapleton, investigating a mysterious Mafia killing, and transplant researcher Kevin Marshall who, like Lowell, has taken up with some strange bedfellows in order to get past the red tape: in this case a biotech company with a Jurassic Park-style operation off the coast of Equatorial Guinea. Marshall's creation goes way beyond Lowell's stem-cell therapy, with elements of both Jurassic Park and Dr. Moreau.

Rather than writing just about good or evil, Robin Cook's main characters tend to be driven by ambition - they're drawn into making increasingly Faustian pacts by their belief that they are only a few steps away from that life-saving or Nobel-winning breakthrough that will benefit humanity. They become increasingly dependent on less ethical or more evil supporting characters, and step by step find themselves further away from their own ethical origins.

Although the scenarios are preposterous, Cook is able to describe both the underlying science and the sinister medical research politics in compelling detail. So why, in both novels, does he have to include Mafia sub-plots? And why, in both novels, are the Mafia limited to being stereotyped Italians and bungling idiots? Both novels would remain readable and in my opinion be improved if this plot strand were omitted, or alternatively by bringing either original ideas or a bit of historical research to the organized crime table.

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