Picks and Pans Review: Mutation

updated 02/13/1989 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 02/13/1989 AT 01:00 AM EST

by Robin Cook

Cook has a comic-book-writer's determination to maintain the suspense and narrative drive, come hell or highly unlikely situations. It does get tiresome, however, to encounter so many naive, if not thickheaded characters. Take Victor and Marsha Frank, central figures in this, Cook's ninth novel. They're a little concerned because their 10-year-old son, VJ, doesn't have many friends and doesn't want to go out for hockey. He's an intellectual prodigy, though, so they're understanding. VJ, meanwhile, has hidden a multimillion-dollar genetic engineering lab in the basement of an unused building on the grounds of his father's biotech company. He has developed a couple of world-shattering experiments. He has gotten into the cocaine business with a sinister bunch of Colombians. And he may or may not have been involved, five years earlier, in the liver-cancer deaths of his brother and nanny. Victor and Marsha are finally starting to wonder why VJ is never around to take out the garbage, but Victor has mixed feelings. The boy's extraordinary intelligence is a result of Victor's own experiment—manipulating VJ's zygote before it was implanted in the surrogate mother who gave him birth. So Victor is reluctant to face what seem fairly unavoidable facts. Cook is obviously not unaware of the Frankenstein parallel. He begins the novel with a quote from Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley—"How dare you sport thus with life"—and then there's Victor's name (the same as Dr. Frankenstein's) and the fact that characters say such things as, "Science runs amok when it shakes loose from the bonds of morality and consequence." There is even a final creator-creature confrontation that comes not a moment too soon, either for Victor and Marsha's chances of surviving or for the sake of general tediousness. Things never quite get resolved, either, which is too bad, since having good triumph over evil, cliché that it is, might have given this otherwise flimsy book a bit of substance. (Putnam, $18.95)

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