The Ripper Gene | Michael Ransom | 2015 | Forge | 303p | Review copy | Buy the book
FBI profiler Lucas Madden is also a neuroscientist who has worked out the code behind serial murder. Having studied the DNA of many of the world’s most infamous killers, Madden has created a process, the Damnation Algorithm, that can identify the ‘ripper gene’. A few drops of blood will not only be able to tell the FBI if a person has the propensity to kill over and over again, but it will also tell them what kind of serial killer they are after. They can now be categorised, their character defined and their calling card explained. But nobody has more need to understand the mind of a serial killer than Lucas Madden. When he was a young boy, he watched his mother walk into woods to help two boys involved in an accident. Her kindness killed her. It was a trap.
All these years later, Lucas has a killer to catch. Young women are being murdered, their bodies staged, slashed, and with letters written in blood on their foreheads. In one hand the killer leaves an apple, a razor blade forced inside. When his former girlfriend Mara is abducted and found, lucky to escape with her life, she refuses to believe that Lucas isn’t her killer. It soon becomes clear that the murderer has Lucas in his sights. From that moment on, Lucas’s obsession with catching this man is complete.
The Ripper Gene is a fast, dramatic read from beginning to end. It’s surprising to learn that this is a debut novel. It’s confident, focused and packed with tension. It also approaches the familiar serial killer subject from an unusual perspective, putting science to work to intensify the cat and mouse chase of the hunt.
The novel succeeds for a number of reasons, not least because it’s very well-written and tightly plotted, but chief among these is the character of Lucas Madden. With no doubt at all, Madden has a terrible past that has affected his whole life, not only the murder of his mother but also subsequent mistakes he’s made in his career. But, very refreshingly, these horrors are placed in the past and, although they do have repercussions for the novel, there is a strong sense that Madden has been able to move on. His drive for vengeance against his mother’s killer is as fierce as ever but he can now channel it.
There is a great feel for place in The Ripper Gene. I loved the descriptions of the Mississippi Delta and New Orleans, the grand antebellum houses, their remoteness, and their people. Madden is assisted in the case by Agent Roslyn Woodson, a woman from out of town, and through her eyes we get a fresh view of this (to me) exotic world. This is an environment where everyone knows everyone and Madden is made to re-evaluate his feelings about some of the people closest to him. It’s a fascinating depiction of what happens when a serial killer destroys a small community, presented from the point of view of those who are trying to hold it together.
The Ripper Gene is wonderfully done, an enjoyable mix of science and suspense. The story is excellent, a page turner while also proving to be thoroughly revealing about this place and the people in it. It also presents a horrifying and at times frightening portrait of a mass murderer from his DNA outwards. There is a sense that this novel is setting the scene for a whole new series to feature Madden (and hopefully Woodson as well). This may, though, be wishful thinking because after reading this I am impatient for more.