By Geoffrey Girard
Available now from Simon & Schuster BFYR
Geoffrey Girard's debut is two pronged. There's CAIN'S BLOOD, his adult novel, which I definitely want to read. Then there's PROJECT CAIN, the YA novel, covering the same events from a different point of view. They both focus on the hunt for six teenagers, all products of the same scientific experiment.
The Cain duo has a high-concept, ridiculous premise that's quite fun. A government project cloned serial killers to try to create a group of killers they could use. Some boys were treated normally, others were abused. Nature versus nurture put to the test. I recently heard someone say that most mad scientists in stories are actually mad engineers. Well, this is definitely a mad scientist - he's got some hypothesis. And Jeff Jacobson just discovered that he's the clone of Jeffrey Dahmer and his dad is, well, a mad scientist.
(Side note: It is hilarious that Jeff insists that unlike most teens he knows exactly what his dad does, that his dad is a scientist. Like there's only one kind of scientist.)
I was partially drawn to this novel because I'm still reeling from Derf Backderf's MY FRIEND DAHMER. The other part of me loves mad science and thrillers where two unlikely partners must join forces to save the day. Girard definitely kept the pages turning, which is exactly what this book needs. I thought some events where too glossed over. I think that's because they're expanded on in CAIN'S BLOOD. But this is a surprisingly internal read. Even the dialogue is rendered without quotes, the form implying the words are how Jeff perceives them, rather than a faithful copy of the speech.
Jeff, indeed, has much to process. At time his angst over possibly being a killer made me laugh, but that's because Jeff is a bit of a weenie. From the outside, it's easy to tell that he's not going to become a killer. Also, at first his narration is quite tiresome. Everything is SAID like "this" for emphasis. I don't think there was a page without caps, scare quotes, and italics for quite awhile. Luckily, the overdramatic grammar starts backing off to let the words carry the emotion. There are still all caps and such, but less of them.
But I did like Jeff. He's numb from the shock and all the weird things happening, but he's also determined to be helpful. He teams up with Shawn Castillo, the secret ops guy sent to find the missing six boys. He keeps digging though his own head for clues, desperate to be useful and liked, like a kicked puppy. He's sweet.
PROJECT CAIN contains several infodumps, but I didn't mind them too much because the material is fascinating, if horrifying. This is a thriller, but it leans strongly towards horror, particularly in the end. (I did appreciate Girard's discretion during certain scenes.) It's not the smoothest novel, but it's ambitious and memorable. It definitely got under my skin while I was reading it.
PROJECT CAIN will appeal to fans of Barry Lyga's I HUNT KILLERS, as well as dystopian fans tired of the future and looking for something in the here and now. I do recommend pairing it with some nonfiction such as MY FRIEND DAHMER.