CHIMERA by Stephen Gallagher


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In the leisurely-yet-taut first half of this ultimately disappointing thriller debut, Gallagher makes something genuinely creepy and alluring out of a familiar H. G. Wells-ish opening. Something has gone wrong, you see, up at the Jenner Fertility Clinic in the Cumbrian hills circa 1987. Peter Carson, an independently wealthy London writer, on his way to visit a new girlfriend on the clinic staff, is stopped by the authorities. So is Roger Forester, who's headed to the clinic to fetch the test-tube embryo that's to be implanted in his wife's womb. And eventually it's revealed that the entire clinic staff has been knifed to death, with the clinic then burned to the ground. But: is this just a case of a psycho-murderer on the loose? Why, then, is a top government official on the scene, grabbing control away from the police? Why are some local farmer's children behaving so strangely? And why are experimental monkeys (not needed for fertility research) found in the clinic rubble? Well, as long as Gallagher is first setting up these curious clues (plus several others), there's a distinctive, atmospheric quality here--with understated tension, an emphasis on quirky characters, and a sure sense of the countryside. But all too soon the action falls into an utterly predictable pattern: writer Carson, with help from a professional research company, starts sleuthing into the Jenner clinic history; the furious Forester (who spent his life savings on the embryo lost in the fire) determines to wreak vengeance on whoever was responsible; the powers-that-be, while searching for the mysterious assassin, keep trying to hush up the whole incident. And since the secret of the Jenner Clinic and its killer turns out to be the most obvious one imaginable (a routine Frankenstein variation), there's minimal excitement as an increasingly preachy Carson winds up in a showdown with the Establishment--trying to protect the killer/creature/victim, threatening an exposÉ . . . but not bargaining on Forester's revenge mania. Finally, then: a tame recycling of the most standard sort of mad-scientist horror scenario (far less gripping than such genetic-engineering novels as Desmond Bagley's The Enemy)--but Gallagher shows a classy, textured narrative style that could do fine things indeed with a less hackneyed plot than this one.

Pub Date: Dec. 1st, 1982
Publisher: St. Martin's