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Breaking Point by John Macken

01/02/2010. Contributed by Gareth D Jones

Buy Breaking Point in the USA - or Buy Breaking Point in the UK

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pub: Corgi. 512 page small enlarged paperback. Price: 6.99 (UK). ISBN: 978-0-552-15756-8.

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The blurb for 'Breaking Point' by John Macken talks about forensics scientists developing a system to identify future psychopaths from their DNA. This led me to expect something akin to Philip K Dick's 'Minority Report', especially as it was received by SFCrowsnest as usual. Before you make the same assumptions, let me point out that this book is not in any way a Science Fiction novel. It's most firmly a gritty police thriller - brutal, methodical, chilling and thrilling by turn. It's not the kind of book I would normally be reading, though in the past I was a regular viewer of CSI.

This is decidedly a British book, revolving around the Met's elite forensic unit GeneCrime and with much of the action taking place on the London Underground or amongst the capital's underworld. (American readers note: the Met is the metropolitan police, not a baseball team.) The other thing to note about the volume is that although it's a 500-page book, the typeface is large and spread out so it seemed to me to contain only half the words you would expect.

The main character is Reuben Maitland, described as a 'maverick' forensics detective. He was sacked from GeneCrme following two earlier novels. References to earlier stories are made throughout the book, but none of them are significant enough to make this book inaccessible to a newcomer. The fact that he now works semi-licitly alongside the law makes this more than a police procedural. He also has a complex personal life so that the plot is perpetually shrouded in emotional turmoil and uncertainty, too. This means that the book is not a fast-paced adventure. Clues are found one by one with plenty of time for introspection in between. The hard slog of police work and the monotony of forensics are portrayed without glamour and the scientists are described without the almost mystical aura that the media often imbue them with.

Being new to this genre, I am ill-equipped to make a comparative judgement. The book does what it intends - provides an intriguing mystery with cutting-edge science, sympathetic characters and a dark undertone of the world of the criminal and psychopath. There are rather a lot of profanities even when they didn't seem necessary. Whether this is a reflection of the genre I don't know, but it's certainly more than I am used to in my usual reading fare. Altogether a solid, absorbing read with a gritty, urban feel, don't expect 'Minority Report', but if you're after a decent thriller you won't go wrong.

Gareth D. Jones

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