Early in Geoffrey Girard’s debut novel, Cain’s Blood (September 3; Touchstone), a handful of teen boys manage to escape from a government facility. But Al, Henry, David, Dennis, and Ted are not normal boys. They are clones of the most notorious serial killers of our time. Part of an frighteningly elaborate plan to develop the clones as a military bioweapon, the teenagers have been hatched from the DNA of historical psychopaths Albert Fish, Henry Lee Lucas, David Berkowitz, Dennis Rader, and Ted Bundy. And now this pack of monsters has been set loose on the world.
Dispatched to stop the boys’ murderous rampage is Shawn Castillo, a psychologically damaged ex-soldier, obedient to a fault. With a teenage Jeffrey Dahmer clone as his unlikely companion, Castillo combs the countryside in search of the deviants. Repeatedly stumbling across gruesome torture/murder sites, he finds himself a few steps behind at each and every turn. And as addiitional details of the disturbing Cain project are eventually revealed, Castillo finds his loyalties severely tested.
Cain’s Blood is a page-turner in the best sense, its thought-provoking themes of nature vs. nurture buried in the furious action of a good beach read. If anything, Girard’s novel moves a little too fast. Writing in a third-person perspective that bounces madly around New England, Girard tears through his plot points like a speed racer, leaving several unexplored tangents on the cutting room floor. While the lack of fluff is refreshing, he’s easily got enough for two or three books here. (And indeed, a YA companion novel, Project Cain, was released simultaneously.)
The press materials for Cain’s Blood are littered with Michael Crichton comparisons, and while it’s true that both authors share a similarly grounded approach to biotechnology, Girard’s penchant for harrowing violence is a far cry from Crichton’s relatively bloodless novels. While it may wear the sheep’s clothing of a techno-thriller, Cain’s Blood has a heart that pumps pure horror.
Rating: 4 out of 5 Skulls