Wednesday, October 2, 2019

Book Review: Mother Knows Best

By Jami Deise

As a teenage soap fan, my favorite story lines always involved unknown children suddenly appearing, questionable paternity, baby switches, and other complications of the standard “husband plus wife equals baby” equation. In domestic thrillers, parenthood is a key factor as mysteries about a child in danger have become a standard trope in this genre. And as baby-making has moved out of the bedroom and into the laboratory over the past few decades, all kinds of storyline complications are possible. Fiction writer and bioethicist Kira Peikoff combines these elements in her latest medical thriller, Mother Knows Best. When a baby is illegally created using the DNA of three parents, what happens when the child begins to question her identity?

Ten-year-old Abby feels smothered and trapped by her mother’s panic attacks and secrecy. She has no idea that eleven years ago, Claire—desperate to avoid creating another child with her dead son’s fatal genetic illness—broke legal and ethical medical rules to create her, with the help of fertility doctor Robert Nash and Nash’s assistant and lover, Jillian. Even Claire’s husband didn’t know the truth about Abby’s conception. Now Abby has no idea that her innocent queries may have tipped off the one person who’ll do anything to get to her.

The story is told from multiple viewpoints and during different timelines, but Peikoff’s straightforward prose makes it easy to follow the twists of the plot. The story is based on very real scientific and ethical questions in fertility and genetic disease, and readers with some knowledge about mitochondrial DNA will recognize its plausibility very early on. For those who are not familiar, Peikoff’s voice is so accessible that even those who got Cs in high school biology won’t have any issue understanding the science.

Although the structure of the book makes the plotting somewhat predictable, Peikoff throws a curve ball at the end that I did not see coming (along with one that I did). The novel is a very quick read, and although the villain is a bit one-dimensional, that does not take away from the enjoyment of the story.

Mother Knows Best is Peikoff’s fourth medical/ethical thriller, and I was surprised I hadn’t heard of her before its publication. Her plotting, scientific and medical knowledge, and careful detail remind me of Robin Cook (while her characterization surpasses his). I look forward to making my way through her back list in anticipation of more books to come. With health care costs surmounting, scientific breakthroughs commonplace, and conservative lawmakers in charge of many states, Peikoff has plenty of material to work with.

Thanks to Meryl Moss Media for the book in exchange for an honest review.

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