cover image Threshold


Ben Mezrich. HarperCollins Publishers, $24 (314pp) ISBN 978-0-06-017302-9

""Do you know what we call a man with a perfect genome?"" asks the villain of Mezrich's first novel. ""We call that man God."" Yes, yet another mad scientist is on the loose, but that cliche and the sketchiness of other characters here don't obscure the author's clever handling of the issues raised by his topical theme of genetic engineering, or his impressively intricate plotting. Jeremy Ross, a brilliant fourth-year medical student, finds himself investigating the mysterious death of the U.S. secretary of defense at the behest of the deceased's daughter, Robin Kelly, Jeremy's former lover. Jeremy's search leads him to Tucsome, a classified research center in South Carolina. There, scientists have found a way to accelerate the genetic mapping of human DNA, with deadly implications. Jeremy soon learns of massive cover-ups, several murders and billions of dollars funneled into a project that threatens human life as we know it. This potboiling stew of thriller throwaways tastes of Crichton and Cook, though without the former's cool control or the latter's antic energy. Mezrich writes fast-moving prose that will hook readers, and he knows how to make science suspenseful. But an absurdly melodramatic climax featuring the hero and heroine, that mad scientist, ravenous wolves and assault by gun, test tube, baseball bat and liquid nitrogen finally marks Mezrich, who's in his mid-20s, as a writer of some talent but, as yet, of only limited craft. 100,000 first printing; $100,000 ad/promo; author tour; foreign rights sold to Japan, Spain, Holland, Germany and Bulgaria; U.K., translation, first serial, dramatic rights: Garon-Brooke. (June)