THE BABEL EFFECT by Daniel Hecht


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Talky, slow-moving philosophical genetic thriller about the nature of evil.

What if you could actually get to the root of all evil and it wasn't money? This is the basic premise of Hecht's story about Ryan McCloud and his equally brilliant wife, Jess, along with their quirky associates in a New England think tank, who are hired by a wealthy industrialist to once and for all uncover the cause of violence. By studying a handful of brutal offenders, murderers, rapists, terrorists, and ex-Nazis, Ryan, Jess, and their gang of eggheads and computer nerds hope to isolate a gene, or perhaps a virus, that turns men (and sometimes women) into killing machines. Using impressive research, Hecht (Skull Session, 1998) spins a tale that slogs along, offering the interesting idea that maybe “humanity's worst excesses, throughout history, were plagues . . . ,” or “large populations can be subject to external neurological influences, large numbers of people can be made to turn dysfunctional and antisocial and ultimately violent.” The first hundred pages or so are rough going, with far too much unnecessary and annoying exposition that desperately needed the hand of a skilled editor. In fact, the story doesn't start to take off until Jess is kidnapped. Unfortunately, even then it flounders, as Ryan travels to Africa, then Europe, looking for clues as to who took his wife and for what reason. On hand are the usual suspects: the CIA, the FBI, religious fanatics, and the military-industrial complex. The solution is so obvious, however, that Ryan could have saved all those air miles and stayed home.

Somewhere deep inside this wordy morass there's a fascinating story trying to get out, since many of Hecht's ideas are certainly provocative enough to make for an exciting thriller. Too bad this isn't it.

Pub Date: Jan. 1st, 2001
ISBN: 0-609-60729-4
Page count: 384pp
Publisher: Crown
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1st, 2000


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