What makes a man? Is it his home, his upbringing? Or is it his biology, written from birth in his DNA? Do we really have a choice as to who we are, or is it boiled down to chemicals and synapses firing in our brain? Are we responsible for our own souls, or is there no such thing after all? In this sophisticated murder mystery, Michael Ransom gives air for these questions and more.
Here we meet special agent Lucas Madden, member of the FBI’s special BAU (Behavioral Analysis Unit). While studying to be a doctor, he discovered a link between violence and genetics, leading to what he called “the ripper gene”, which is involved in dopamine production in the brain. Now as a criminal profiler, he uses this discovery to help him predict criminal behavior. And he’ll need every lead he can get as he encounters a serial killer who stabs women and leaves them with an apple and bloody letters on their forehead.
But the genius of this book is that it takes a complicated scientific idea (protein manufacturing and mRNA coding) and explains it clearly, all without insulting the intelligence of the audience or making it too boring to read through. The result is a story that makes the reader feel smarter than when they started, without too much effort on their part.
But don’t despair, adventure seekers: this is no philosophical debate or some dry scientific report. There is enough action to keep the blood pumping, and a mystery that you won’t unravel until the final words on the last page. Chases, near-misses with a devious serial killer, and an ending that will have you on the edge of your seat make this book a smart, well-rounded mystery adventure.
Perhaps the most intriguing aspect about this book is the moral/religious questions that it holds. Once we begin down the path of identifying what DNA does to a person’s behavior, we are left with the question I posed before: “Are we responsible for our own souls?” As Agent Madden struggles to find the killer, he is faced with his own questions of faith as he uses his formula to predict the killer’s behavior.
After all, if a person’s behavior can be predicted based on their DNA, is anything they do really their own choice? Is free will just an illusion, something we have to believe in so that we can survive day to day? Because you can’t control what your DNA is, anymore than you can control whom you are related to. So how can we control ourselves if our DNA says that we are prone to certain dangerous behaviors?
Do we even have a choice? Ransom’s genius in handling this complex conflict is by not letting it take center stage the whole book, and not taking sides—not even Madden’s—as to who is “right” or “wrong”. Both sides are allowed to look good, and while the ending perhaps favors one side a bit, the reader is left feeling educated and able to make a reasonable choice for themselves. If you love arguing and Criminal Minds, The Ripper Gene (Tor/Forge) is definitely for you!
Mary Hankins is a recent graduate of Lipscomb University. She is putting her Bachelor’s of Fine Arts degree to use in the Nashville community theatre scene. Loves God, her family and friends, and Phantom of the Opera—in that order.
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