Project Cain by Geoffrey Girard
Genre: Young Adult Horror/Thriller
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers
Release Date: September 3 2013
Source: ARC from author
In a word: A creepy mystery that will keep you guessing, a main character with a totally unique voice, filled with true (?) facts about serial killers, cloning and government conspiracies, and yes, you might have nightmares…
Ted Bundy. Richard Ramirez. Jeffrey Dahmer. Jack the Ripper. These horrifyingly familiar characters and others like them are all in Project Cain. Sort of. Actually, clones of these and other serial killers are the characters in Girard’s young adult debut, a decidedly creepy story filled with a slowly unraveling mystery that will keep you turning pages as fast as you can. I sort of knew what Project Cain was about before I started reading, but the reality was much more than I expected—in a good way. Girard’s stylistic storytelling may not be for everyone, but it gives this disturbing and dread-filled tale an immediacy that grabs the reader and doesn’t let go until the end.
Jeff Jacobson is sixteen when his father gives him some bad news: he is actually a clone of the infamous serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer, and he’s part of a secret government project that clones serial killers with plans to use them as diabolical weapons. His father disappears after delivering this message, and shortly after a stranger named Castillo bursts into Jeff’s house and more or less kidnaps him, telling him that twelve of his friends from the Massey Institute are dead—and Jeff might be next.
Castillo and the reluctant Jeff embark on a nightmarish road trip to locate six boys from Massey, also serial killer clones, who are missing and presumed responsible for the killings. But how does Jeff’s dad fit into all this? And who exactly is Castillo, and can Jeff trust him? There are all sorts of questions, and the answers don’t come easily. Girard’s tale is filled with twists and turns, and a good dose of government conspiracy theory as well.
As each mystery is solved and each puzzle piece drops into place, Jeff becomes more and more uncertain about his place in the world. Did the government create him for evil? Or can he break free and live a different kind of life? If only he can live long enough to find out! After all, a bunch of his fellow clones are after him, and the government might be too.
Jeff tells his story in first person without any traditional dialog, which is unusual and takes some getting used to. But his voice is so distinctive that once you begin reading you can’t imagine it written any other way. In fact, although I’m not into them at all, I think this book would make an excellent audio book, because of this unique style. The narrative is very linear, so the reader figures everything out right along with Jeff.
One of the themes of the story is the old argument of “nature versus nurture,” and Girard gives us a lot to think about. If a child is raised in a safe and loving environment, even if he is the clone of a vicious killer, will he grow up to be a killer as well, or will “nuture” win in the end? Jeff has been raised just this way, with a father who loves him (or so he believes) and gives him every opportunity to grow up into a well-adjusted adult. So when his father leaves, Jeff is devastated and will do anything to find him. This quality made Jeff a likable character for me, even if bad blood runs in his veins.
The character of Castillo is one of the biggest mysteries, and you’re never really sure about him. On one hand he seems to want to protect Jeff, but at times his actions felt sneaky and untrustworthy. What I did enjoy was the relationship that grew between Castillo and Jeff. This book doesn’t have your typical teen romance, so if you’re looking for that, you’ll be disappointed. What it does have is an uncommon friendship between two characters who don’t know whether or not to trust each other; but because circumstances have thrown them together, they really don’t have any other choice.
Girard does something else unusual in this book. He sprinkles in facts about serial killers, government secrets and cloning whenever Jeff wants to make an important point. This sort of description could have brought the action to a screeching halt, but in my opinion it made the danger of Jeff’s situation all the more real. The author also includes photos of famous serial killers, an eerie reminder that these people were (and in some cases are) indeed real. There’s nothing more disturbing than staring into the eyes of a crazy person!
Like all good mysteries, the author throws in a few misleads and leaves the reader wondering what exactly the truth is. My heart was racing by the end of the story, both from fear and from exhaustion. Like all good stories, Project Cain will make you think, and possibly question some of what you believe in. And you might want to leave the lights on next time you go to sleep…
Many thanks to the author for supplying a review copy. And I have an interview with Geoffrey coming soon, so stay tuned!
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