Perfect People is a compelling and thought-provoking thriller from bestselling author Peter James.
John and Naomi Klaesson are grieving the death of their four-year-old son from a rare genetic disorder. They desperately want another child, but when they find out they are both carriers of a rogue gene, they realize the odds of their next child contracting the disease are high.
Then they hear about geneticist Doctor Leo Dettore. He has methods that can spare them the heartache of ever losing another child to any disease - even if his methods cost more than they can afford.
His clinic is where their nightmare begins.
They should have realized that something was wrong when they saw the list. Choices of eye colour, hair, sporting abilities. They can literally design their child. Now it's too late to turn back. Naomi is pregnant, and already something is badly wrong . . .
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About the Author
Peter James is a UK number one bestselling author, best known for writing crime and thriller novels, and the creator of the much-loved Detective Superintendent Roy Grace. Globally, his books have been translated into thirty-seven languages.
Synonymous with plot-twisting page-turners, Peter has garnered an army of loyal fans throughout his storytelling career – which also included stints writing for TV and producing films. He has won over forty awards for his work, including the WHSmith Best Crime Author of All Time Award, Crime Writers' Association Diamond Dagger and a BAFTA nomination for The Merchant of Venice starring Al Pacino and Jeremy Irons for which he was an Executive Producer. Many of Peter’s novels have been adapted for film, TV and stage.
Read an Excerpt
By Peter James
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 2011 Really Scary Books/Peter James
All rights reserved.
Late on an April afternoon, thirty nautical miles east of Cape Cod, a wind-blown young couple with luggage and worried faces are standing on the helicopter deck of a converted cruise liner, gripping the handrail.
Both of them know it is too late for doubts.
The Serendipity Rose is forty years old, her dents and cracks and rivets caked in paint like make-up on an old tart's face. As she ploughs through the freshening sea, a Panamanian flag of convenience crackling from her stern, her single yellow funnel trails a ribbon of smoke that is shredded in seconds by the wind. Making just sufficient way to keep the stabilizers working, she's not in any hurry, she's not heading towards any destination. She's just meandering around safely beyond the twelve-nautical-mile limit of the territorial waters of the United States. Safely beyond the reaches of US federal law.
John Klaesson, in a fleece-lined jacket, chinos and leather yachting shoes, is in his mid-thirties and has about him the rugged air of a mountaineer or an explorer, rather than the academic he is. Six feet tall, lean and strong with short blond hair and gentle blue eyes behind small oval glasses, he has a good-looking, serious face, with resolute Nordic features and a light Californian tan.
His wife, Naomi, concentrating to keep her balance, is huddled up in a long camel coat over a jumper, jeans and crêpe-soled black suede boots. Her fair hair is styled in a fashionable mid-length blowsy cut, the tangled strands batting over her attractive face accentuating the slight tomboy look she has about her, although her complexion is considerably paler at the moment than normal.
Yards above their heads the helicopter that has just delivered them hovers, haemorrhaging oily fumes into the mad air, dragging its shadow across the superstructure of the ship like some big empty sack. And that's how John's feeling right now; like he's been tipped out of a sack. Head bowed against the din and the maelstrom, he puts out an arm, steadies his wife, grips her slender frame beneath the softness of her camel coat, feeling close to her, desperately close and protective.
The wind is blowing so hard he has to breathe in snatched gulps, the salt misting his glasses, the fumes parching his mouth and throat already arid with nerves. Strands of Naomi's hair flail his face, hard as whipcords. The deck drops away beneath him, then a moment later is rising, pressing up on his feet like an elevator floor, heaving his stomach up against his rib cage.
Through the thrashing of the rotors above him he can hear a scuffing noise. This is the first time he's been in a helicopter and after an hour of pitching and yawing through an Atlantic depression he's not keen to repeat the experience; he's feeling the queasiness you get from a bad funfair ride that swivels your brain one way on its axis, and your internal organs another. The fumes aren't helping, either. Nor is the strong reek of paint and boat varnish, and the deck vibrating beneath his feet.
Naomi's arm curls around his waist, squeezing him through the thick lining of his leather jacket. He has a pretty good idea what's going through her mind, because it's sure as hell going through his. This uncomfortable feeling of finality. Up until now it has all been just an idea, something they could walk away from at any point. But not any more. Looking at her he thinks, I love you so much, Naomi darling. You're so brave. I think sometimes you are a lot braver than I am.
The chopper slips sideways, the roar of the engine increasing, belly light winking, then it angles steeply away and clatters across the water, climbing sharply, abandoning them. For some moments John watches it, then his eyes drop towards the foaming grey ocean hissing with seahorses, stretching far off towards an indistinct horizon.
'OK? Follow me, please.'
Ahead of them, the polite, very serious-looking Filipino in a white jumpsuit who came out to greet them and to take their bags is holding a door open.
Stepping over the lip of the companionway, they follow him inside and the door slams shut on the elements behind them. In the sudden quiet they see a chart of the ocean in a frame on the wall, feel the sudden warmth, smell the reek of paint and varnish even stronger in here. The floor thrums beneath them. Naomi squeezes John's hand. She's a lousy sailor, always has been – she gets sick on boating ponds – and today she can take nothing for it. No pills, no medication, she's going to have to tough this one out. John squeezes back, trying to comfort her, and trying to comfort himself.
Are we doing the right thing?
It's a question he has asked himself a thousand times. He's going to go on asking it for many years. All he can do is keep convincing Naomi and himself that yes, it is the right thing. That's all. Doing the right thing.
Really we are.CHAPTER 2
In the sales brochure for this floating clinic, the cabin that was to be their home for the next month had been grandly described as a stateroom. It was furnished with a king-size bed, a tiny sofa, two equally small armchairs and a round table, on which sat a bowl of fruit, crammed into a space the size of a small hotel room. High up in one corner, a television with bad interference was showing CNN news. President Obama was talking, half his words distorted by static.
There was a marbled bathroom that, although cramped, felt distinctly luxurious – or at any rate would have done, Naomi thought, if it stopped heaving around and she could stand up in it without having to hang on to something. She knelt to scoop up the contents of John's wash-bag, which were rolling round on the floor, then stood up rapidly, feeling a dizzying bout of nausea.
'Do you need a hand?' John asked.
She shook her head. Then, unbalanced by a sudden lurch, she tottered across the floor and sat down sharply on the bed, narrowly missing his computer. 'I think I have about four minutes left to unpack before I become violently seasick.'
'I'm feeling queasy, too,' John said. He glanced at a safety notice. There was a layout of the muster stations and a diagram showing how to put on a life jacket.
'Why don't you take a seasick pill?' she said. 'You're allowed.'
'If you're not allowed one, I'm not taking one. I'll suffer with you.'
'Martyr!' She turned her head, leaned forward and kissed him on the cheek, comforted by his warm, rough skin, and by the heady, musky smell of his cologne. Comforted by the sheer mental and physical strength he exuded. Watching movies, as a teenager, she'd always been attracted to strong, quietly intelligent men – the kind of father she would have liked to have had. When she had first seen John, eight years ago in a ski lift queue in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, he'd struck her as having those same qualities of good looks and inner strength.
Then she kissed him again. 'I love you, John.'
Looking into her eyes, which were sometimes green, sometimes brown, always filled with a sparkle and with an incredible trust, his heart ached, suddenly, for her. 'And I adore you, Naomi. I adore you and I admire you.'
She smiled wistfully. 'I admire you, too. Sometimes you have no idea how much.'
There was a comfortable silence between them for some moments. It had taken a long time after the death of Halley for things to be good between them again, and there had been many times during those first two really dark years when Naomi had feared their marriage was over.
He'd been a strong kid. They'd named him after the comet because John had said he was special, that kids like him came along pretty rarely, maybe once every seventy-five years – and probably not even as often as that. Neither of them had known that he was born with a time bomb inside him.
Naomi still kept his photograph in her handbag. It showed a three-year-old boy in dungarees, with floppy blond hair all tangled up, as if he had just crawled out of a tumble dryer, teasing the camera with a big grin that showed two of his front teeth missing – knocked out when he fell off a swing.
For a long time after Halley's death John had been unwilling – or unable – to grieve or to talk about it, and had simply buried himself in his work, his chess and his photography, going out for hours on end and in all weather with his camera, taking photographs of absolutely anything he saw, obsessively and aimlessly.
She had tried to get back into work. Through a friend in Los Angeles she'd been given a good temporary position in a PR office, but she'd quit after a couple of weeks, unable to concentrate. Without Halley, everything had seemed to her to be shallow and pointless.
Eventually they had both gone into therapy, which they had ended only a few months ago.
John said, 'How do you feel about —'
'Yes. Now that we are actually here.'
A tray on the dresser containing a bottle of mineral water and two glasses slid several inches across the surface then stopped.
'It suddenly seems very real. I feel nervous as hell. You?'
He stroked her hair tenderly. 'If at any point, honey, you want to stop —'
They had taken a huge bank loan to fund this, and had had to borrow another hundred and fifty thousand dollars on top of that, which Naomi's mother and older sister, Harriet, in England, had insisted on lending them. The money, four hundred thousand dollars in total, had already been paid over, and it was nonrefundable.
'We made our decision,' she said. 'We have to move on. We don't have to —'
They were interrupted by a rap on the door and a voice saying, 'Housekeeping!'
The door opened and a short, pleasant-looking Filipino maid, dressed in a white jumpsuit and plimsolls, smiled at them. 'Welcome aboard, Dr and Mrs Klaesson. I'm Leah, I'm going to be your cabin stewardess. Is there anything I can get you?'
'We're both feeling pretty queasy,' John said. 'Is there anything my wife is allowed to take?'
'Oh sure – I get you something right away.'
'There is?' he said, surprised. 'I thought there was no medication —'
The maid closed the door, then less than a minute later reappeared with two pairs of wrist bands and two tiny patches. Pulling her cuffs back, she revealed she was wearing similar bands, and then she showed them the patch behind her ear. 'You wear these and you won't get sick,' she said, and showed the correct position for them.
Whether it was psychological or they really did work, Naomi couldn't be sure, but within minutes of the maid leaving she felt a little better. At least well enough to carry on unpacking. She stood up and stared for a moment out of one of the twin portholes at the darkening ocean. Then she turned away, the sight of the waves bringing her queasiness straight back.
John turned his attention again to his laptop. They had a rule when they travelled together: Naomi unpacked and John kept out of the way. He was the world's worst packer and an even worse unpacker. Naomi stared despairingly at the contents of his suitcase strewn all around him after his search for the adaptor. Some of his clothes were on the counterpane, some were tossed over an armchair and some lay on the floor. John peered closely at his screen, oblivious to the chaos he had caused around him.
Naomi grinned, scooping up a cluster of his ties, and shook her head. There wasn't any point in getting angry.
John fiddled with his new wristbands and touched the patch that he had stuck behind his ear, not feeling any appreciable change in his nausea. Trying to ignore the motion of the ship, he focused on the chess game he was playing with a man called Gus Santiano, whom he'd met in a chess chatroom, and who lived in Brisbane, Australia.
He had been playing with this man for the past couple of years. They'd never met outside of cyberspace and John didn't even know what his opponent looked like. The Aussie played mean chess, but recently he'd been taking longer and longer between moves, prolonging a hopeless position from which there was no possible coming back, for no other reason than sheer cussedness, and John, getting bored, was starting to think about finding a new opponent. Now the man had made yet another pointless move.
'Sod you, Mr Santiano.'
John had the man in check – he was a queen, both bishops and a rook down, he didn't have a prayer – so why the hell not just resign and have done with it? He typed out an email suggesting this, then connected his cellphone to his computer to send it. But there was no carrier signal.
Too far out to sea, he realized. There was a phone by the bed that had a satellite link to the mainland, but at nine dollars a minute, according to the instruction tag, it was too expensive. Gus Santiano would just have to wait in suspense.
He closed the chess file, and opened his email inbox to start working through the dozens of messages he'd downloaded this morning but had not yet had a chance to read, feeling panicky about how he was going to send and receive mail if they were going to remain out of cellphone range for the next month. At the University of Southern California, where he was based and ran his research laboratory, he received an average of one hundred and fifty emails a day. Today's intake was closer to two hundred.
'This is amazing, darling! Do you remember reading this?'
John looked up and saw she had the brochure open. 'I was going to read it again in a minute.'
'They have only twenty private cabins for clients. That's a nice euphemism. Nice to know we're clients, not patients.' She read on. 'The ship used to take five hundred passengers, now the two main decks where the cabins were are completely taken up with computers. They have five hundred supercomputers on board! That's awesome! Why do they need so much computing power?'
'Genetics requires massive number crunching. That's part of what we're paying for. Let me see.'
She handed him the brochure. He looked at a photograph of a long, narrow bank of blue computer casings, with a solitary technician dressed in white, checking something on a monitor. Then he flicked to the start of the brochure, and stared at the photograph he recognized instantly from the scientist's website, from the interviews with him on television and from the numerous pictures of him that had appeared both in the scientific and the popular press. Then, although he knew most of it already, he scanned the scientist's biography.
Dr Leo Dettore had been a child prodigy. Graduating magna cum laude in biology from MIT at sixteen, he then did a combined PhD MD at Stanford University, followed by biotechnology postdoctoral research at USC and then the Pasteur Institute in France, before identifying and patenting a modification of a crucial enzyme that allowed efficient high-fidelity replication of genes that made the polymerase chain reaction obsolete, and, which made him a billionaire, and for which he was made a MacArthur Fellow, and offered a Nobel Prize he would not accept, upsetting the scientific community by saying he believed all prizes were tarnished by politics.
The maverick geneticist had further upset the medical establishment by being one of the first people to start patenting human genes, and was actively battling the legislation that had subsequently reversed patents on them.
Leo Dettore was among the richest scientists in the world at this moment, and arguably the most controversial. Pilloried by religious leaders across the United States and many other countries, disbarred from practising medicine in the United States after he had publicly admitted to genetic experiments on embryos that had subsequently gone to term, he was unshakeable in his beliefs.
And he was knocking on their cabin door.CHAPTER 3
Naomi opened the door to be greeted by a tall man holding a manila envelope and wearing the white jumpsuit and plimsolls that seemed to be the ship's standard uniform. Recognizing him instantly, John stood up.
He was surprised at just how imposing the geneticist was in the flesh, far taller than he had imagined, a good head higher than himself, six-foot-six at least. He recognized the voice also, the disarming but assertive Southern Californian accent, from the phone conversations they had had in recent months.
'Dr Klaesson? Mrs Klaesson? I'm Leo Dettore. Hope I'm not disturbing you folks!'
The man to whom they had handed over just about every cent they had in the world, plus one hundred and fifty thousand dollars they didn't, gave Naomi's hand a firm, unhurried shake, fixing her eyes with his own, which were a soft grey colour, sharp and alert and sparkling with warmth. She mustered a smile back, shooting a fleeting, horrified glance at the mess of clothes all around John, desperately wishing she'd had a chance to tidy up. 'No, you're not disturbing us at all. Come in,' she said.
'Just wanted to swing by and introduce myself, and give you a bunch of stuff to read.' The geneticist had to duck his head as he entered the cabin. 'Great to meet you in person at last, Dr Klaesson.'
'And you too, Dr Dettore.'
Dettore's grip was strong, taking charge of the handshake the way he clearly took charge of everything else. John felt a moment of awkwardness between them. Dettore seemed to be signalling something in his smile, as if there was some secret pact between the two men. Perhaps an implied agreement between two scientists who understood a whole lot more what this was about than Naomi possibly could.
Except that was not the way John ever intended it should be. He and Naomi had made this decision together from day one, eyes wide open, equal partners. There was nothing he would hide from her and nothing he would twist or distort that he presented to her. Period.
Lean and tanned, with distinguished Latin looks, Leo Dettore exuded confidence and charm. His teeth were perfect, he had great hair, dark and luxuriant, swept immaculately back and tinged with elegant silver streaks at the temples. And although sixty-two years old, he could easily have passed for someone a good decade younger.
Excerpted from Perfect People by Peter James. Copyright © 2011 Really Scary Books/Peter James. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Read on for excerpts from Dead Simple and Dead Man's Time,
Excerpt from Dead Simple,
Excerpt from Dead Man's Time,
Also by Peter James,
About the Author,
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Child parent relationships are always very emotive subjects, but add in a bit of Sci Fi as in Logan's Run, mix it with current affairs in the way of religious mania and you get this riveting novel. This the first book of Peter James I have read and I am very impressed by the way he has taken a tragedy from everyday life and turned out this highly recommended story. The main characters are secondary to the great storyline, they are there to provide the glue for the story and could be swapped out for a new set and still have the same impact. The Klaesson family suffers tragedy with the loss of their son to a rare genetic borne condition. Seeking to avoid this happening again they buy the services of a controversial scientist who claims he can eradicate the problem genes from their next child. I cannot describe any more as I don't want to spoil your enjoyment
Another great read from Peter James - he never disappoints me. This book deals with genetic engineering and it is inevitable that something will go wrong. The ending is unusual and not what I was expecting.Thoroughly enjoyable!
unpredictable book. a tale of genetic engineering gone wrong. grabbed me from the start and have to say the ending is unexpected yet made perfect sense.
I love this author and usually race through his books. But this one I had to force myself to finish.
I seriously think this book is awesome! I would love to read something about designer baby again! This book reminds us how scary science can be and is happening now!
I couldn't put this down. With cloning and genetic engineering in the news, this book is almost believable. Or, it could be in a few years. Our society should be careful with what it wishes for.
I can't remember why I picked this book.....just something different to read, and it was over 200 pages...I read fast so that tends to be my minimum acceptable for many books...but I did like this....
Very frightening to think that designer babies could really exist, and a very good insight as to why they shouldn't. Very well written, and edge of your seat story line. Highly recommend.
Kept me interested to the end
Good sci-fi book. Reminded me of the movie CHILDREN OF THE DAMNED.The writing was good. The charcter devolopment was great. The plot exciting. The book kept me on my toes. If a book is able to hold my attention, then I am more likely to finish theat book within a very short amount of time. I think I finished this book in less than a week . whereas it would usually take me about 1 to 2 weeks to finish a book of this length.
I enjoyed reading this book. This is the first book by author Peter James I have read. But, I am going to start reading all of his book. Could not put this down and what a surprise ending. Loved this book.
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