Thursday, June 29, 2017


THE FORBIDDEN GENE by Genesis Cotterell (Hayes, 2016)

Reviewed by Carolyn McKenzie

Curtis McCoy, now a fully fledged private investigator, is called on to solve a murder. But when it turns out the murdered woman is just one on a list to be terminated, things start to get serious. What’s more - there's a bounty on each woman’s head. 

But when a Human is accused of murdering his beautiful Ryxin wife, Curtis McCoy is called on to find the real killer. Curtis, half-blood Ryxin, and his assistant, Janux Lennan, also a half-blood, set out on a dangerous journey to uncover the truth. 

The Forbidden Gene opens with a crime scene that is both normal and futuristic. Normal in that the victim is a woman: she has been stabbed and her estranged husband is the prime suspect. But futuristic because, before they even enter the house the police have flashed their I-Finder at the house and know instantly who the occupants are. Once inside, they scan a microchip in the victim’s neck and immediately learn everything about her. And so we are drawn into the dangerous world of a half-blood Ryxin-human woman whose microchip describes her security status as ‘high risk’.

Private investigator Curtis McCoy is engaged by the victim’s son to prove his father’s innocence. As McCoy, himself a half-blood, moves into the case with his half-blood trainee-assistant Janux Lennan, it becomes evident that although the victim’s husband certainly had motive – rage at her having left him – it is highly probable that there is something much more sinister behind the death.

For the benefit of readers who haven’t already met Curtis and Janux in Murder on Muritai, Book One of the Ryxin Trilogy, Cotterell recaps the perils of life on the otherwise idyllic island. The descendants of the original Ryxin settlers who came to Earth from their own endangered planet in 1905 should all be at least half-bloods or neutral by now. However, a group of rebels have refused to mate with Humans and these people are intent on building up sufficient numbers of pure-blooded Ryxins so that they can gain supremacy over the Humans. At the same time the rebels have realised that some Ryxin women have inherited a gene which gives them special powers: these women must be eliminated.

In Murder on Muritai, Curtis was newly qualified as an investigator, and still feeling his way to a certain extent. In The Forbidden Gene he is much more focussed. Furthermore, when his mind wanders onto another case that he’s interested in, Janux is there to keep him on track and more or less sober. Cotterell has therefore ramped up the pace in this second book, largely thanks to Janux’s role as Curtis’s dedicated assistant.

At the same time, as this is a slightly bizarre murder mystery in that the victim is part alien, Cotterell has entwined it with some disturbing issues which would once have seemed pure sci-fi but are now closer to reality: ethnic cleansing, selective breeding programmes, gene manipulation, microchip surveillance. Then there is the question of what we Humans have lost by becoming ever more urban and sophisticated: telepathic communication and levitation are just two of the powers that Ryxins have retained and which give them an edge over Humans.

The Forbidden Gene cruises along at the murder mystery level, but I found it really niggling away at my subconscious on a deeper, ethical level. As an ‘alien’ – a New Zealander living in Italy: a non-European – I have had my fingerprints registered by the police for the last 20 years, as a prerequisite of living legally in Europe. Ten years from now when I’ll have to update my status, I’m wondering if it will be via microchip rather than fingerprints. With this in mind, and knowing how many of Cotterell’s readers will abhor the idea of even carrying an identity card, I feel Cotterell has dealt very aptly once again with some of our world’s troubling ethical dilemmas.

The Forbidden Gene ends with Curtis still fretting over another case that involves him personally: solving it will see his already complicated relationship with Janux stretched to the limits, and I look forward to seeing how Cotterell with deal with this in Book Three.

Carolyn McKenzie is a freelance proofreader, copy editor, and Italian-English translator. She also offers holiday accommodation for writers and others in Thames, New Zealand and Ventimiglia Alta, Italy. 

This review was first published in FlaxFlower reviews, which focuses on in-depth reviews of New Zealand books of all kinds, and is reprinted here with the kind permission of Bronwyn Elsmore and Carolyn McKenzie. 

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