Deep Water by Christine Poulson

Reviewed by Gill Davies

deep-waterI was very pleased to find a crime novel with no paedophiles or serial killers, or – for that matter – without a feisty female detective or a hard-drinking private eye. This is an unusual novel with a fresh take on the genre and an intriguing plot. The setting is the ‘new’ East Anglia of bio-tech laboratories, with young researchers doing risky and potentially highly important work for big pharma. The setting in Ely and Cambridge is vividly imagined and the contrast between the old landscape of cathedral and fenland and that of global capital is powerfully drawn.

There are three interlocking plots: the first concerns the development of a drug which can control obesity. There is a medical trial with lethal consequences and a legal battle over the patent for the drug. Suspicions arise that evidence may have been faked or concealed.

The main researcher, Will, is under pressure from his boss to get results and knows his future career hangs on his performance. The possibly mysterious death of a lawyer working to prove the legitimacy of the patent brings in a new lawyer, Daniel, who is a bridge to the second main plot. Daniel and his wife Katie have a child with Diamond-Blackfan anemia, a rare blood condition that requires regular and distressing treatment. Genetic testing to find a possible cure is being carried out by Rachel, a young researcher using the same laboratory. Her job is insecure, dependent on sporadic funding, and  when she suspects foul play she is reluctant to risk her fragile career. A third element in the narrative features acts of sabotage in the lab that may or may not be connected with the main plot.

The narrative is gripping and fast-moving with some unexpected twists and a satisfying conclusion. The interlocking plots also invite us to think about the conflicts in medical research between altruistic science on the one hand, and the ruthless search by international companies for sole rights and bigger profits on the other. Medical science can make fortunes but it can also transform individual lives.The dilemma is brought vividly to life by showing the pressure on resources for a long-term investigation and the impact this has on an individual who will benefit from it. The novel subtly reveals these moral dilemmas through the choices that individual characters have to make for their families, friends and future careers. One of the strengths of the novel is the way it develops  a group of sympathetic and clearly differentiated characters. Christine Poulson creates a sense of the intricacy of human relationships and motivations. Each of the characters has a difficult choice to make at different points in the narrative. What people do in their work, their everyday lives, and their relationships with partners and children is seen to be determined by complex motives; love and desire, but also selfishness and sometimes self-deception.

I found this novel a pleasure to read and an original topic to explore – I recommend it, especially if you want something a bit different from much contemporary English crime writing.

holly

Christine Poulson, Deep Water, (Lion Fiction, 2016).  978-1782642145, 252pp., paperback.

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