‘Perfect People’ is a stand-alone story by popular crime writer, Peter James, in which the political is made, and remains, intensely personal.

What’s it about?

Having lost their four year old son to a rare genetic disease, John and Naomi Klaesson seek out controversial geneticist Leo Dettore in an attempt to ensure their next child is born healthy, without the terrible disease they both carry in their genes.

As they talk to him about their options, John and Naomi are initially certain that they don’t want a “designer” baby, just a healthy one, but as the incredible list of options continues, they can’t resist making one or two tweaks.

As Naomi’s pregnancy progresses, the couple realise that Dr Dettore has not been completely honest with them. What agenda was he following? What, exactly, is Naomi carrying?

Their desperate search for answers seems destined to fail when Dr Dettore is killed and a religious cult claim responsibility. What’s more, the cult is determined to punish all wrongdoers and destroy the children they claim are “the devil’s spawn”. Can Naomi and John protect their family? Will they want to? What, exactly, was Dr Dettore up to?

What’s it like?

Emotional. Exaggerated (hopefully!) Dramatic.

The first part of the book involves a lot of discussion around the rights, wrongs and possibilities of genetic manipulation of embryos to create “designer” babies. Dr Dettore is convincingly passionate about his cause, and he does raise some interesting points, but Naomi and John are determined to keep their child as ordinary as possible, little realising that this particular horse will definitely be leaving the stable, with or without their informed consent…

Creepy children

It’s surely no secret, given the cover art, that Naomi and John end up having two children, rather than the one they ordered. The children are wonderfully creepy in ways that John is unable to believe, even when his rational mind knows of no other possible explanation.

As their mother, Naomi suffers the brunt of the children’s strangeness, and is not afraid to give voice to her unhappiness. I liked this aspect of the story and the way her personal distaste sometimes contrasts with John’s bursts of scientific excitement.

John himself is both scientifically bright and personally a bit dim. When he realises that Dr Dettore can’t be making any money from his designer babies sideline, he wonders almost idly why the doctor really does it, but never seems worried until the first hiccup with Naomi’s pregnancy. Given that altruism was always an unlikely answer, I think John should have been more concerned about Dr Dettore’s motives, but he is definitely a person who looks for the silver lining, and this trait does help him to have an easier relationship with his children.

But the worst is yet to come, when the children disappear…

Final thoughts

I found the talky part interesting and also liked Naomi’s realistic (maybe I mean pessimistic!) attitude towards her challenging children, but the ending left me a little frustrated. It seemed a tad moralistic, and while there is an effective personal ending to the story, the scientific vision Dr Dettore initially outlines remains a theory.

The religious cult were a bit of a distraction, but James creates them as genuine individuals rather than simply lunatics, which does make them much more compelling as a threat and as a concern. How can we as a society ensure individuals are not radicalised at vulnerable points in their life? Although I liked the way James creates a creepy atmosphere at times, his greatest strength is in the convincing emotional natures of his characters.

If you are prepared to suspend disbelief on a few matters, this is an entertaining tale that will certainly leave you thinking about the directions genetic research could take us in.

‘Perfect People,
Peter James,
2012, Pan Books, paperback