ScienceThrillers.com book review NO TIME TO DIE
by Kira Peikoff.
(very good; top 50% of SciThri)
Publication date: August 26, 2014
Category: science thriller
Tech rating (out of 5; what does this mean?):
Summary (from the back cover):
In a Washington, D.C. research lab, a brilliant scientist is attacked by his own test subjects. At Columbia University, a talented biochemist is lured out of her apartment and never seen again. In the Justice Department’s new Bioethics Committee, agent Les Mahler sees a sinister pattern emerging…
Zoe Kincaid is a petite college student whose rare genetic makeup may hold the key to a powerful medical breakthrough. When she is kidnapped, the very thing mankind has wanted since the dawn of time threatens to unleash our final destruction.
No Time to Die by Kira Peikoff (author website) is a slick, well-paced, well-written thriller that should satisfy fans of science thrillers. This is a book that I enjoyed reading and was eager to pick up again. A classic beach read: fast, intriguing, not too demanding, and nicely wrapped up in the end.
No Time to Die balances several point of view characters. The main protagonist, but not the only one, is Zoe Kincaid. Zoe is twenty years old but as we learn in the opening chapters, she stopped aging biologically at fourteen. To Zoe, this arrested development seems a curse as she is trapped in a child’s body. To others, it looks like the Holy Grail of anti-aging research: a natural mutation in the “master regulator gene” which controls development to adulthood and then beyond into the dysfunction of old age. If the responsible genes or mutations could be identified in Zoe’s DNA, human existence might be fundamentally changed.
Zoe’s first conflict is with her parents, who are strangely resistant to finding answers to what ails her, and to letting her seek help when answers are found. In the absence of their support, and with the tacit approval of her beloved, sympathetic grandfather, she takes matters into her own hands. But forces beyond her comprehension are at work and she becomes embroiled in a battle between The Network, a group which makes scientists disappear, and sends taunting postcards to their opponents, the Justice Department’s Bioethics Committee.
No Time to Die dabbles lightly in some larger themes. Peikoff’s characters briefly comment on the profound implications of a successful therapy to stop humans from growing old, but the analysis remains superficial. Interestingly, Peikoff takes a stand about regulation of science that is contrary to the zeitgeist of a lot of popular entertainment: scientists are not always the “bad guys,” and sometimes those who impose restrictions on scientific investigation with the intention of protecting the public are not, in fact, doing what is best for the public. (Peikoff’s father was a close associate of Ayn Rand, and a staunch advocate of laissez faire.)
Peikoff confidently and competently incorporates science into this story. There is enough techno-lingo, correctly used, to thrill the SciThri fan, but not too much to turn off the non-scientist reader. As is true with all good science thrillers, the author takes liberties with scientific timelines (you can’t make knockout mice in a few weeks, or even months) and details (such as the current impossibility of altering genes in an adult human, even when a mutation is known), but this is done in the service of telling a story.
In many ways, No Time to Die deserved a four-star rating from ScienceThrillers.com but a variety of subtle issues weakened the narrative for me. To begin, I felt some confusion about the main character Zoe’s mental age. Does she have the mental maturity of a an early teen, or a young adult? This is important because it’s a legal question in the story, and also because the reader is trying to interpret her actions and motivations, which alternately appear childish and adult. Should the reader support the characters who infantilize the girl because she really cannot make her own decisions, or should the reader root for Zoe’s emancipation? Minor points: Zoe’s seizure disorder is used as a plot device for tension but is ignored in the question of what the effects of her genetic mutation might be; she is described repeatedly as being short and having the body of a child, but if she stopped aging at 14, that seems unlikely. Most of the 14-year-old girls I know are well-developed and approaching their adult height. A more believable age of developmental arrest would be 12, or even 10. The motivation of the story’s villain is not believable. This is not how sadistic psychopaths are made (if they are made at all, not just born). To avoid spoilers, I can’t describe a key plot element but I found the setup hard to swallow, especially the aspect that involves people with no ties binding them to the world around them.
On the positive side, a hero is introduced in this book who is very appealing, and his re-appearance in Peikoff’s next novel will be welcome.
No Time to Die is a worthy addition to the SciThri genre. If you’re looking for the perfect thing to keep you occupied on your next long flight, this is an excellent choice.
By the way, Ms. Peikoff, the next thing I’m going to do is look up Ulysses by Tennyson–it’s been years since I read it. Thanks for the reminder.
Unusual words: growth plates; genome sequencing; microarray; master regulator gene; knockout; epigenetics