13 April 2010

review: DIRTY LITTLE LIES, John Macken

This review was originally published elsewhere.

Bantam/Random House Australia, March 2007

Reuben Maitland is a respected British forensic pathologist with an invention that, in the right hands, should revolutionise crime detection and crime prevention. He believes he has found a way to use DNA to predict the physical appearance of perpetrators. But Reuben goes too far when, in an unauthorised trial, he links computer generated images built from DNA profiles with images captured by CCTV surveillance cameras on the streets of London.

His subsequent dismissal from his position as the head of the prestigious GeneCrime lab means that Reuben has to find other sources, sometimes criminal, to fund his research. Just after he is dismissed members of his former GeneCrime team begin to die, apparently murdered after extensive torture. The DNA evidence seems to point to Reuben, an unlovely character whose marriage has collapsed. He has doubts about the paternity of his own son, rubs amphetamine into his gums, and demonstrates a very blurred set of ethics.

DIRTY LITTLE LIES would have benefited from much stronger editing. It is a many-layered, multi-stranded story, but the interweaving is not tight enough. There is a considerable amount of gruesome description of what has been done to the murder victims that does little but nauseate. Laboratory procedures are described in detail but I found it difficult to visualise what was actually being done. I became confused by the vast array of characters, their relationships with each other, and by the multiplicity of cases that the GeneCrime lab is investigating.

First time author John Macken attempts to heighten tension and momentum by finishing most chapters with "suspenseful" sentences, e.g. "Someone was killing his friends. It was time to find out who." But many of these hanging chapter endings ring hollow. They don't seem to be warranted by what has happened so far, nor do they connect well with the following pages.

Nevertheless the story had potential and John Macken has obviously been able draw authentically from his own background as a research scientist. There will be many who enjoy this debut novel. Reuben Maitland's invention, Predictive Phenotyping, certainly has interesting implications.

Since I wrote this review John Macken has continued ot write:
Reuben Maitland
1. Dirty Little Lies (2007)
2. Trial By Blood (2008)
3. Breaking Point (2009)

and a standalone Control (2010) 

May 2007 review originally published on Murder & Mayhem

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