Friday Night Book Club: Read an excerpt from Genesis, an unforgettable medical thriller by bestselling author Robin Cook
More about the book!
The Friday Night Book Club: Exclusive excerpts from Pan Macmillan every weekend!
Staying in this evening? Get comfortable with a glass of wine and this extract from Genesis by bestselling author Robin Cook.
In Genesis, Cook takes on the ripped-from-the-headlines topic of using DNA tracking to catch a killer …
About the book
When the body of 29-year-old social worker Gloria Montoya, seven weeks pregnant with her first child, shows up on New York City chief medical examiner Laurie Montgomery’s autopsy table, she’s baffled to find no apparent cause of death.
With no clues to go on, Laurie enlists the help of Dr Tricia Albanese, a forensic pathology resident with a background in genetic science, to help her trace the identity of the unborn baby’s father using DNA from the mother and child.
But when Tricia is found dead in her apartment in a manner strikingly similar to Gloria’s death, Laurie realises she might have two linked homicides on her hands … and now it’s up to her – with the help of her husband, forensic pathologist Jack Stapleton – to continue the tracking work Tricia had begun before a killer can strike again.
‘Robin Cook virtually invented the medical thriller in the 1970s with Coma.’ – Guardian
‘Gripping … Terrifying.’ – New York Times
Read the excerpt:
Laurie Montgomery-Stapleton’s eyes popped open much earlier than usual and without Jack Stapleton repeatedly nudging her shoulder. She couldn’t remember the last time she’d spontaneously awakened at such an hour. But her mind was churning because it was going to be an exceptionally busy day. So busy, in fact, that she was going to have to talk Jack, who was still blissfully sleeping next to her, into standing in her stead for at least one of her obligations, and that was not going to be an easy task. A week previous she’d agreed to go into John Junior’s school and meet with his fourth-grade teacher, Miss Rossi, and possibly the school psychologist about JJ’s supposedly recent disruptive behaviour. Apparently there had been some aggressive incidents on the playground during recess and other impulse-control episodes. Knowing Jack’s impatience with such issues and his tendency to be less than diplomatic, Laurie hadn’t even broached the subject with him, preferring to handle it herself as she was certain there was nothing wrong with JJ. Now Jack was going to have to deal with the situation on his own because Laurie had newly arisen, pressing work-related obligations down at City Hall that conflicted.
By lifting her head and gazing out of the two large, north-facing sixth-floor bedroom windows, Laurie could tell that the sun had just peeked over the eastern horizon. Although there were closable window treatments and even blackout shades, neither she nor Jack bothered to use them. Several blocks away on the top of a significantly taller building, she could see an old water tower. At the moment it was totally awash with early-morning sunlight, giving the illusion that it was made of gold.
Next Laurie’s eyes turned to glance at the digital clock. It was even earlier than she’d suspected – just a smidgen past 5: 50 – yet she was totally awake. Laurie had never in her life been a morning person and always struggled to wake up and get out from under the warm covers. It had been particularly true since she’d married Jack, because Jack insisted they keep the bedroom cool, almost cold from Laurie’s perspective. But the real reason Laurie had trouble getting up in the morning was that she was a night owl beyond any doubt. On occasion she’d been known to sleep through an alarm only feet away. When she’d been younger, she’d loved to read fiction far into the night, with a predilection for late-eighteenth-century and early-twentieth-century novels. That began to change once she had become a doctor and needed to keep up with the ever-expanding professional literature. These days, she was obsessed with reading not only the current forensic articles but also all the material she was expected to be familiar with as the chief medical examiner of the City of New York. As the first woman to hold the title and thus a pioneer of sorts, she felt particular responsibility to be the absolute best she could be. To that end she’d had to learn how to read spreadsheets and budgets and all the appropriate reports coming out of the New York City Council, from its various committees, and from the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. She still sometimes found herself shocked at the sheer volume of documents that landed in her in-box.
Despite Laurie’s commitment to doing her job well, the jury was still out in terms of how she personally felt about having accepted the position. Only now did she have a true idea of the extent of the political aspects of the job. It had been her general understanding that the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner, known as OCME, had fought and gained its independence after its founding in 1918, so that it could speak unencumbered for the dead. Although that was mostly true, she was learning the hard way that the mayor, who had appointed her, and the City Council, which held the purse strings, could exert considerable power, which she had to struggle to resist. It was especially hard since the OCME’s $75,000,000 yearly budget was a tempting target in a city continually starving for funds for other worthwhile obligations. On top of that, the morgue itself, where all the autopsies were actually done, was in need of a multimillion-dollar replacement. At one time it had been state of the art, but that was no longer the case.
Apart from the political headaches of the job, Laurie found that she missed the intellectual stimulation of being personally immersed in the actual forensics, with the responsibility of determining the cause and manner of death. Objectively she recognised that it was best for her to let the nearly forty highly qualified medical examiners handle all the cases – otherwise, as her predecessor, Dr Bingham, had learned the hard way, every district attorney, police higher-up, fire chief, city bigwig, and mayor would want the chief to do any case they were interested in simply because she was the Top Dog. But for Laurie, it was a sacrifice to take a step back and settle for frequent, unofficial morning rounds down in the morgue, looking over people’s shoulders and asking questions. The closest she came to being intimately involved was Thursday morning, when she regularly assisted one of the forensic pathology fellows on an autopsy. In partnership with New York University Medical School’s Department of Pathology, the OCME trained a handful of fellows to become board eligible forensic pathologists.
With a sense of excitement and no small amount of trepidation, Laurie threw back the covers and stood up. She shivered as her warm feet made contact with the ice-cold floor. Hastily she wiggled her toes into the slippers she dutifully kept at the bedside and pulled on her robe. She always kept both handy in case she had to get up during the night. Jack had not moved a muscle. He was on his back with his arms outside of the blankets, his hands clasped over his chest, and his mouth slightly ajar, the picture of contented repose. Knowing him as well as she did, Laurie had to smile. Jack was not the calm person he appeared at the moment, but rather someone whose mind never stopped and who had little patience for what he called red tape, meaning rules and regulations he didn’t agree with. He didn’t abide fools, or mediocrity, and he was never one to hide his feelings. From where Laurie was standing, she could see the scar on his forehead and his chipped left front tooth, both remnants of his determination to do what he thought was right despite putting himself at risk and getting pummelled for it. Although she loved him, she knew he was a handful, especially now that she was technically his boss. Although Jack was by far the most productive medical examiner on the entire staff, he was also the one who required the most corralling. Laurie knew, because she’d been rather similar in her day.
Closing the door silently behind her, Laurie tiptoed into Emma’s room, which was considerably darker than the master bedroom, thanks to the shades being drawn. Like Jack, Emma was fast asleep on her back, and appeared angelic in the half-light as only a four-year-old girl can look. Laurie had to restrain herself from reaching out and giving the child a hug. After the initial scare and distress evoked by a diagnosis of autism more than a year ago, Emma had been doing surprisingly well in response to thirty hours of behavioural therapy, five hours of speech therapy, and three hours of physical therapy weekly. It was a complicated, intensive schedule that had all been arranged and monitored by Laurie’s mother, Dorothy, who had turned out to be a lifesaver. After she’d initially caused difficulty between Laurie and Jack by camping out in their home after Emma’s diagnosis, Dorothy had truly stepped up to the plate to take on Emma’s situation as her life’s work, shunning all her previous philanthropic commitments. After corroborating the diagnosis with several acknowledged specialists, Dorothy had researched all the best therapists in the city, interviewed them, hired them, coordinated their schedules, and monitored them. And the effort proved worthwhile. After several months there were some positive signs. Emma’s inclination for repetitive movements appeared to lessen, and she began to lose interest in her compulsion to align her stuffed animals. Perhaps most promising, she showed increased ability to interact with JJ with even a few appropriate words. There was still a long way to go, but Laurie and Jack both were optimistic that Emma might prove to be in the group of children diagnosed with autism that do make considerable headway in achieving typical developmental milestones.
Being even quieter than she’d been when she’d entered, Laurie left Emma’s room, closing the door without the slightest sound. Emma was generally a good sleeper and usually didn’t wake up until after seven, but she could be a bear if disturbed, and sometimes it didn’t take much. On cat’s feet Laurie continued down the hall to JJ’s room. Like Emma, JJ was fast asleep in the room’s semidarkness, but unlike Emma, he looked as if he’d been running a marathon in his bed. His covers and sheets were hopelessly twisted around his nine and-a-half-year-old body, but with his legs and feet out in the cold. Laurie couldn’t help but smile. Even in sleep the boy was a ball of action, although at that particular moment he was totally still. With out fear of waking him, as he was the opposite of Emma in that regard, Laurie extricated the knot of covers and then spread them back over him, including his legs and feet.
Satisfied with what she had accomplished, Laurie turned with the intent of heading downstairs to the kitchen to get some breakfast. The plan was to use this bonus time in her day to go over the material she’d laboriously prepared the night before and would be presenting during her command appearance that morning at a recently scheduled meeting of the City Council’s Committee on Health. It was this meeting and her long-term anathema to speaking in front of groups that had awakened her so early. But she didn’t get far, and an involuntary yelp escaped her lips as she collided with Jack, who had come into JJ’s bedroom behind her and was about to tap her on the shoulder. Even Jack jumped at Laurie’s apparent shock.
‘My God!’ Laurie managed in a forced whisper. ‘You scared the hell out of me.’
‘I can say the same.’ Jack pressed an open palm against his chest in the stereotypical sign of distress. In contrast to Laurie, his feet were bare, and he wore only pyjama bottoms to ward against the chill. ‘Was something wrong with JJ?’ He looked around Laurie at the sleeping child.
‘No, he’s fine. I just covered him up.’
‘What are you doing up out of bed?’ he questioned with obvious concern. ‘I can’t remember the last time I saw you up and about before six. Are you all right?’
‘I’m fine. I’m just a little worried about this morning’s City Council Committee meeting,’ she said. ‘I want to go over the material I was working on last night. I told you about it.’
‘Yeah, I remember,’ Jack said with a dismissive wave of his hand. ‘That’s so much to do about nothing. You shouldn’t waste your time and emotion on a little mix-up just because a handful of politicians are up in arms.’
‘I don’t see it that way, not when the City Council has oversight over the OCME budget,’ Laurie said. ‘Keeping them happy is one of my main responsibilities, especially when we’re in dire need of a new Forensic Pathology building and a new autopsy suite.’
‘But the little body switcheroo was an understandable mistake. No one was hurt, and it was easy to rectify.’
‘It’s easy for you to say no one was hurt. I heard both families were pretty damn upset and at least one of them is thinking of suing. Dealing with death is hard enough without having to experience the emotional shock of confronting the wrong body in an open casket wake.’
The origin of the problem was the near-simultaneous arrival at the OCME of two cadavers with the same first and last name, Henry Norton. Even though they received unique accession numbers, the night mortuary tech just checked the name and not the number when the first body was released, meaning both bodies ended up at the wrong funeral homes. To make matters worse, the mistake wasn’t discovered until the family arrived for the first funeral service.
‘I truly don’t know how you find the patience for this kind of crap,’ he said with a shake of his head.
‘So what are you going to say to the committee?’
‘I’m going to tell them that I personally apologised to both families, which I did. And then I’ll explain the changes in protocol I’ve made in how bodies are released to make sure it doesn’t happen again. I’ve also asked IT to update the case-management system to call attention to similar-named decedents.’
‘Well, it sounds like you’ve got the situation well under control.’
‘Unfortunately, the problem spread. The funeral home where the mix-up was first discovered is on Staten Island. The director added to his complaint that it takes too long for him to get bodies now that we’ve closed the Staten Island morgue and do the autopsies here in Manhattan.’