Latest indie book review: Murder with a French Accent

By Janet Hannah.  No star rating given for indies.  (Why?)

SUMMARY (from amazon): (fiction with science; mystery) Microbiologist Alex Kertesz has developed a commercially valuable strain of bacteria in his laboratory at the University of Jerusalem.  When a small French company acquires the rights to the organism, a working visit by Alex is part of the deal. Alex arrives in Toulouse expecting the visit to be a waste of everybody’s time. He doesn’t expect to find himself about as welcome as bubonic plague, or to have the equipment blow up in his face. But that’s not the worst of it, because beneath the placid surface at Agrogenie simmers a brew of envy, suspicion, and deceit that’s about to come to a boil.

REVIEW: Murder with a French Accent gets the science right. Protagonist Alex Kertesz has done a clever piece of genetic engineering on a strain of Bacillus bacteria causing them to produce an excellent natural pesticide for use in agriculture. As would happen in the real world, Alex did the work at a university and the university sold the rights to a private company. He then travels to the factory to help them optimize production.

While working with the company, he participates in some realistic, straightforward experiments of the sort the company might actually do. Readers who have worked in microbiology labs will recognize much of what’s described (polyacrylamide protein gels and more), and others will find it interesting.

Storywise, Murder with a French Accent doesn’t quite live up to the science content. The main problem is with a title like that, the reader is expecting two things: a murder mystery, and a French setting. The book is set in France, but outside of a few travelogue-type sections, it doesn’t have a truly French feel and could just as easily be set in another country. There is a murder in the book, but it doesn’t happen until three-quarters of the way through. Until that point, the reader isn’t sure if this book is thriller, mystery, or general fiction because it hints at all three. This disconnect between expectation and delivery may make it hard for readers to get sucked into the story.

STRENGTHS:  Good characters, including our hero and the assorted oddballs he meets at the French company. Use of an actual scientific experiment related to ideal growth conditions for the modified bacteria. Well-written scenes, including some action sequences (such as when Alex saves the company’s equipment) and social dramas (such as at the party).

WEAKNESSES:  As mentioned, the plot doesn’t declare itself with a clear conflict or goal early in the story to hook the reader. Several failings of internal plot logic threw me out of the story: why not report the industrial accident immediately (and ultimately, who or what caused it)? If the entity that stole the product is unknown, how are they soliciting customers? When Alex escapes down the mountain, why doesn’t he go straight to the police?

FCC disclaimer: A free e-copy of this book was given to me by the author for review. As always, I made no guarantee that I would read the book or post a positive review.

Unusual words: Lepidoptera, pest control, Bacillus thuringiensis, agricultural biotech, fermentation, GMO, stationary growth phase, tryptophan, polyacrylamide, insecticide, spores, recombinant protein, Leparret

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