Chambers, Clem - 'The First Horseman'
Not so much a crime novel, but a hilarious (unintentionally) story about a mad scientist, Professor Cardini, accompanied by his cringing sidekick, Renton (reminiscent perhaps of the story of Frankenstein). In the first chapter, Cardini is seen giving a talk about ageing, and (as a result of taking some secret magic potion he has developed, that has reduced his apparent age by about 20 years) he is able to bed a hot chick, a female journalist. The following day he murders her after she shows up at his office, Renton (apparently) chops her head off and she next turns up as a cadaver for students to dissect. And we are only on page 8.
Next, we meet Kate, a student with a master's degree in chemistry, thinking about doing a PhD in biochemistry with Cardini. She has come to his class to watch him teach undergraduates to help her decide. (Strange, because usually students pick supervisors based on their research). She watches him stun a mouse and cut it open in front of the students to show a still beating heart. (Not something that would normally happen in an undergraduate teaching class). She decides that this is not the type of work she wants to get involved in and emails Cardini to tell him. He responds by inviting her to come and talk to him the following morning, and she agrees.
Finally, we meet the last main characters, Jim and his sidekick (butler) Stafford. Jim is unimaginably rich, so rich he doesn't know how rich he is. He is so rich that Stafford insists that his master keeps a nice line in expensive fast cars, the latest being a Bugatti Veyron. He has a "god given talent to read the future of financial markets", and that's how he has made his money. He is also very good at shooting and in hand to hand combat!
Jim has been invited to see Cardini, as he's interested in giving Cardini money to experiment with mosquitoes to stop them spreading malaria. As the Veyron is ludicrously fast, he arrives early, and walks into Cardini's office to find Kate, and saves her from being bitten from a mosquito, an event that leads to an instant attraction between the two (strong man rescues helpless maiden in distress). Kate leaves and Cardini arrives and treats a bruise on Jim's face with his magic potion 'telomere eukaryotic retranscriptase' (a completely meaningless term for something scientific). He shows Jim his research, which unfortunately seems to involve quite a lot of animal abuse (again, in reality, Cardini would have been very unlikely to gain approval for any of it), ending up with the unveiling of the serum. The idea behind it is that it can extend telomeres (the ends of chromosomes) and make cells young again! (In seconds...apparently.) But it seems to take thousands of tons of human blood a year in order to make a small amount of serum, because individual rare components in the blood have to be individually extracted using arrays of atomic force microscopes. At this point, as a scientist, I was just about falling off my chair with laughter, with the improbably nature of all the 'science', and at the same time annoyed that once again, scientists are being depicted as so irresponsible.
Of course the story then moves on with the serum, and the desire for it by very rich people, as well as the less desirable science that is brewing in Cardini's laboratory (related to the title 'The First Horseman') that will affect the world, unless Jim and Kate can stop it.
The novel is fast paced (one can say that for it at least), but there is just no subtlety to this novel at all. It uses almost every known cliché for mad scientists, the science base of the story is pure fantasy, the story line is extremely predictable, and I only kept reading it to the end to see just how ridiculous it could or would get. Not one I can really recommend highly.
Michelle Peckham, England
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