A secret fertility experiment goes wrong in this thriller.
In Dalrymple’s (The Sense of Reckoning, 2015, etc.) latest novel, new parents Patrick and Charlotte Ballard are grateful to Gerard Bonnay; his wife, Dr. Louise Mortensen; and their fertility company, Vivantem, for helping them conceive what seems like a normal child. But when Lizzy is age 4, she changes. One afternoon, she gets upset when she falls and cuts her lip; her mother fares far worse. She gets a searing headache, which is literally Lizzy’s fault. It is the first of many times the girl becomes upset and inflicts a small stroke on her mother. Lizzy does the same thing to a classmate at preschool. “I squeezed his head,” she says about a boy who colored in her book. Lizzy can’t help her bad behavior; it’s in her DNA. Before she was born, Bonnay and Mortensen tinkered with her chromosomes in hopes of developing a telepath. Although not telepathic, Lizzy certainly has a unique talent—causing a person’s brain to bleed. After her parents recognize Lizzy’s power, Charlotte moves with her to a remote cabin to avoid her “squeezing” anyone else’s head and to ensure no one can discover her secret. Patrick visits the cabin on weekends, and a hired housekeeper, Ruby DiMano, comes on weekdays. Unbeknown to the Ballards, Bonnay pays Ruby to spy on the family. Unbeknown to Bonnay, Mitchell Pieda, another Vivantem baby, has developed the skills to “squeeze” and to read minds. Pieda isn’t reluctant to use his dual abilities. Once he reconnects with the Vivantem team, they decide to eliminate formidable Lizzy, now in her late teens. Dalrymple has written a fast-paced, complex thriller that can keep a reader engaged and off-kilter until its foreboding conclusion. The Vivantem conspirators chillingly term Lizzy “an experiment that didn’t work out.” The anxiety of protecting a child at all costs is palpable, as is the terror of not being able to control one’s own urges, however devastating they might be. A scene with Lizzy, Patrick, and a loud cellphone caller in a train’s “quiet car” is particularly unnerving. Readers should hope the author conceives of a sequel.
A deadly game involving a dangerous girl that does have a winner: the reader.