Ballantine, 1997, 467 pages, C$8.99 mmpb, ISBN 0-345-42231-7
I love thrillers. I read dozens of ’em per year. Naturally, I now demand more that the simple obvious plots to get me interested. The days when I could get excited about a simple governmental conspiracy are long past, unfortunately; now, if it doesn’t involve at least the mafia, the Girl Scouts and the flat-earth society, I don’t even bother reading past page 100.
I jest, and yet I find some plots, character and situation too clichéd to be tolerable. I demand to be surprised by the author, even at the expense of realism if appropriate. If I can predict the course of a novel when I’m not even halfway through, it means someone’s not doing his job, and even though I could be wrong, I don’t think it’s me.
So, whenever The Genesis Code opens up with an Italian priest going gonzo after hearing a confession from a highly-rated doctor, it doesn’t even take the DNA helix on the cover to figure out where this is going. Whenever the said doctor exhibits an interest in genetics and religious artifacts, it only confirms suspicions. By the time a link is uncovered between deceased women and a cute kid comes in, it’s a lot like being hit in the head repeatedly by clue-by-fours.
Unfortunately, exhibiting all the gosh-wowedness of a first-time novelist, “John Case” (it’s a pseudonym) keeps hammering it up until the last sentence, which laboriously demonstrate what we’d been expecting for a while. In terms of surprises and originality, The Genesis Code rates as a solid, tedious dud. I’ve seen the idea explained more interestingly in several science-fiction short stories. Often.
The flaws don’t stop there; the plot is constructed in such a way that one major character really only comes into the novel in the last third, feeling somewhat like an intruder. Many scenes drag on for far too long. The bad guys are unkillable. There’s a cute kid.
But despite everything, The Genesis Code remains a modest success, mostly because it does what it does in a reasonably efficient fashion. The pacing moves quickly past its lulls and the writing style is all very readable. The characters are adequately defined. I was quite taken with the description of an order of elite, unstoppable Catholic assassins even though that particular concept, again, isn’t totally new.
And in the end, it’s the old things well-described that make up most of The Genesis Code‘s definitive interest. We’re told that “John Case” is a pseudonym for an investigative journalist (though, from the laudatory passage on tabloid newspapers -see P.348 and P.362-, we can safely guess that he’s not exactly working at the Washington Post.) and his professionnalism shows in the amount of well-presented details that bolster the credibility of the novel’s mechanics. The protagonist is a security consultant, and his action do reflect this mindset, as does his investigative methodology. The more scientific/technical details also seem credible.
Even though you might guess the end fifty pages in and see many passages as being needlessly long, there’s seldom a reason to stop reading. Granted, this doesn’t make The Genesis Code a remarkable thriller, but at the very least it won’t you make curse the (short) time you’ll spend reading it. And, who knows, maybe you won’t be jaded enough to guess the ending after a few pages.