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Review: Cook’s new thriller sheds light on genetic genealogy

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“Genesis,” Putnam, by Robin Cook

The New York City Office of Chief Medical Examiner investigates about 8,500 deaths a year. Whatever thriller fans may fantasize about — mutilated corpses, forensic pathologists brandishing scalpels — can be found there. So it’s no surprise that Robin Cook has set 12 of his medical thrillers at the facility, including his latest, “Genesis.”

As the novel begins, it’s business as usual at OCME, but it all changes when Dr. Aria Nichols arrives to spend a month there as part of her training. The young woman is bright, and she possesses an encyclopedic knowledge of pathology, but her superiors and co-workers can’t stand her. That’s because she ignores rules and orders and can’t open her mouth without uttering profanities.

One day, Aria autopsies the body of a social worker who was found rotting in her apartment after an apparent drug overdose. To her surprise, Aria finds an embryo lodged in the corpse’s uterus.

Aria can’t forgive the unknown man who got the social worker pregnant and then abandoned her. She wants to find him and learn what role he played in the tragedy.

The deceased woman’s colleague and best friend, Madison Bryant, suggests that they look for him in genetic genealogy’s DNA databases. Since the DNA of the mother and her fetus are already known, identifying the father couldn’t be difficult, she says.

Aria agrees, but the next day, Madison is pushed under a subway car, and while she is in the hospital, she’s murdered.

The familiar protagonists of Cook’s OCME series, Laurie Montgomery and Jack Stapleton, appear in “Genesis,” but they are mired in family problems, so they do little to make the novel suspenseful.

Scaring his readers silly isn’t what Cook is aiming at. With his thrillers, he clearly hopes to educate the public about a major scientific topic of the day. With “Genesis,” he successfully sheds light on genetic genealogy and some privacy concerns involving its ever-expanding DNA databases.

 

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