Book Excerpt: The Ripper Gene by Michael Ransom

  

Excerpt from book:

He who himself begins to loathe,

grows sick in flesh and spirit both.

— Theodore Roethke

 

PROLOGUE

Halloween, 1983.

Crossroads, Mississippi.

 Every Halloween the ladies from Crossroads Baptist took us to different church members’ houses for trick-or-treating, so no razor blades, rat poison, or liquid Drano would end up in our candy. My mother was always one of the chaperones, and that night she rode in the front seat of Mrs. Callahan’s station wagon with us.

The car rolled steadily beneath the swaying fingers of Spanish moss as we left the swamps. Glowing faces floated in the back seat around me as we bounced over the rutted, gravel road. A ghost, a cowboy, a ballerina, a ghoul. One kid even wore a devil mask beside me.

I wore a knight’s costume, replete with a wooden sword and a breastplate of armor made from an aluminum trashcan. The lid served as my shield.

Mara, my twelve year-old girlfriend, sat beside me. She was dressed like a princess, a silver tiara glinting atop her raven black hair in the moonlight. We’d stolen a kiss in the bathroom of the church basement earlier, during the apple-bobbing contest. There, in the darkness of the back seat, I could still taste the cinnamon from her glossed lips. The memory of kissing her, somehow finding her mouth with my own in that dark and forbidden bathroom, had sent pulsating waves of excitement through my young torso for the entire night.

We continued along the gravel roads not speaking, just stealing glances in the moonlight. No man-made lights or lampposts punctuated the pine-choked countryside surrounding us. Out the windows a million stars spread away from the Milky Way like a white paint explosion across a midnight-blue canvas.

Just as Mara leaned towards me to finally speak, the car slammed to a halt, screeching in the gravel and sliding a good twenty feet on the road. All the kids toppled to the floorboard and after a moment’s silence, Mrs. Callahan’s voice whispered in the dark. “Oh, my God. What’s that?”

I poked my head above the back seat just as my mother replied, the thick curls of her black hair spilling over the seat and filling my view. “Oh, just some young boys horsing around up there. Wait. Is that blood, Marjorie? Drive on up.”

Mrs. Callahan shifted into drive, but didn’t take her foot off the brake. “Probably just a Halloween prank, Mrs. Madden. We best go on around.” Mrs. Callahan’s eyes were so intensely focused ahead that I craned my neck away from my mother’s hair to follow her gaze.

Two teen-age boys, both in white T-shirts and jeans, stood illuminated on the road ahead. One of them turned toward us, shielding a hand in front of his eyes, the front of his T-shirt stained a deep red. A moment later the other boy staggered and fell sideways into the shallow ditch along the far side of the road.

“Margie, I think they’re really hurt,” my mother said. “Maybe they were in a car wreck.”

Mrs. Callahan’s eyes narrowed and her voice fell to a growl. “Ain’t no cars around here, Mrs. Madden. Why don’t we just go to the next house and call an ambulance?”

I inhaled the air behind my mother’s hair. She used Prell, and her hair smelled just like the green liquid in the bottle. She faced Mrs. Callahan, but caught sight of me out of the corner of her eye and cupped my chin in her hand as she spoke. “It wouldn’t be Christian, Margie. Drive on up, and I’ll roll down the window and ask them what happened. Go on.”

Mrs. Callahan eyed my mother as if to speak, but instead released the brake and we rolled forward in the night slowly, approaching the boys. The one boy still lied face down in the ditch, unmoving. The other one stumbled at the edge of the road, moving in circles back and forth as though tracing the symbol for infinity.  

My mother rolled down her window.

The boy who was still standing was crying. His blond hair hung in front of his face, and he whined. “Help us, please. There’s another boy on the other side of the hill. He ain’t moving, either. We had an accident. We were riding motorcycles.”

My mother unlocked and opened her door. “Margie. You stay with the children–” she began, but Mrs. Callahan’s hand shot across the seat and clutched my mother by the sleeve of her white sweater.  

“Mrs. Madden. Really. I don’t know.”

My mother leaned back inside and smiled. But it wasn’t the genuine kind, rather the kind she always used whenever she was about to end a conversation. I knew it, and Mrs. Callahan knew it, too.  

“Margie, these boys are hurt,” she said, “and I’m a nurse. It’s the only thing I can do. Ya’ll go on up to Nellie’s. Call 911 and the ambulance. Then call Jonathan and let him know I’m all right. Leave the children at Nellie’s for the time being. When the police get there, bring them here. We’ll be waiting right here on the side of the road. Hopefully that poor boy in the woods isn’t hurt too bad.”

“Mama,” I said.

“Hush. Go on up with Mrs. Callahan and I’ll help these boys, then I’ll see you and daddy up at the house. I love you, Lucas.”

The memory always goes fuzzy then. The next thing I remember is my mother’s face receding into the dark woods as Mrs. Callahan drives away. I press my face against the glass of the window, a tear trickling for some reason over my cheek as the one bloodied boy holds my mother’s wrist and leads her into the overgrown grass and small trees. My mother looks back at me one last time, smiling the way only women can, the one that’s sad and frightened and turned in the wrong direction but is supposed to reassure you that everything will be fine.

It’s the last time I’ll ever see my mother’s face.

They disappear into the woods.

And just before our station wagon crests the hill, I see the other mortally wounded boy suddenly stand up in the ditch, not looking at all as sick and hurt as he’d appeared before. He looks furtively about to make sure no one is watching, then runs into the woods, sneaking behind my mother and her bloodied companion.

I wrestle and thrash in the car, begging Mrs. Callahan to stop, until she finally screams at the top of her voice, swearing at me with a stream of profanities that stun us all into silence, screaming at me to be quiet because I’m scaring the other children. She drives faster and I can still hear the sounds of children crying all around me as the dark forest envelopes the empty gravel road behind us, separating me farther and farther from my mother, forever.

About The Ripper Gene:

A neuroscientist-turned-FBI-profiler discovers a genetic signature that produces psychopaths in The Ripper Gene, a thrilling debut novel from Michael Ransom.

Dr. Lucas Madden is a neuroscientist-turned-FBI profiler who first gained global recognition for cloning the ripper gene and showing its dysfunction in the brains of psychopaths. Later, as an FBI profiler, Madden achieved further notoriety by sequencing the DNA of the world’s most notorious serial killers and proposing a controversial “damnation algorithm” that could predict serial killer behavior using DNA alone.
Now, a new murderer-the Snow White Killer-is terrorizing women in the Mississippi Delta. When Mara Bliss, Madden’s former fiancée, is kidnapped, he must track down a killer who is always two steps ahead of him. Only by entering the killer’s mind will Madden ultimately understand the twisted and terrifying rationale behind the murders-and have a chance at ending the psychopath’s reign of terror.

About the Author:  

MICHAEL RANSOM is a molecular pharmacologist and a recognized expert in the fields of toxicogenomics and pharmacogenetics. He is widely published in scientific journals and has edited multiple textbooks in biomedical research. He is currently a pharmaceutical executive and an adjunct professor in the Department of Pharmacology at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine. Raised in rural Mississippi, he now makes his home in northern New Jersey. The Ripper Gene is his first novel.

 The Ripper Gene [Forge Books / Macmillan] is available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Books-A-Million and in brick-and-mortar bookstores across North America.

 Follow Michael Ransom on Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads and at http://www.michaelransombooks.com/

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If Jack Had by Steven Rappaport (Goodreads Author) (3.5 stars)

I received a free ARC copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for my honest review.

The writing of this book was like a whirlwind swirling faster and faster to the ending. I loved the characters and the journey on the way to the ending, but I didn’t love the ending.

That would not stop me from recommending this book. There are lots of books that shine until the ending for me. This one was well writing and very polished (obviously edited, but in a good way).

I didn’t like that there were only 9 chapters, but that is a personal preference and not a reflection on the book being bad for being laid out that way. I’m used to rediculously short chapters where not much happens from chapter heading to chapter heading. This book took a different approach and really couldn’t have been broken down anymore than it was. So when I say I didn’t like that, it is really just me saying it struck me as off because I’m used to a story being more chopped up. I suppose the author could have separated out the past and the present more, but it flowed nicely so it makes sense that it be exactly as it is.

That is the joy of reading lots of different books. You can be pulled from your comfort zone and analyze that although it isn’t the norm, it is perfect as it is.

I loved the dual life and the cheeky attitude of the main character. That may not work for some people, but I felt like I was in on the joke and it was enjoyable. The premise behind a man being able to kill by day and be a loving family man at night is disturbing. Because it is disturbing it added that extra bit of taboo of following the journey of how that could be possible.

I was out of my element. Don’t get me wrong I saw and loved True Lies with Swartzenagger and Jamie Lee Curtis. However, the knowledge of that movie didn’t prepare me for the absolute ease that Jack had for this dual life. It’s like being allowed in on how the other half (the criminal mind) could potentially live.

Jack was cold and calculating, but also funny and somewhat awkward. The scary part about that is it made his character feel more like he could be anyone. I get that we can’t look at someone and know what they have done, but I like to pretend my gut knows more than my eyes.

If we could look at anyone and see what they had done with their lives I venture to say we all may shutter when looking at everyone, including ourselves in the mirror.

Well done on being physiologically stimulating and disturbing. The only bad part was the ending where it was kind of a twist, but also somewhat cliche and felt rushed. I’m not sure why it didn’t feel like a fitting ending, but it just fell flat for me. I don’t want to spoil the ending in a review, but I want to caution that was my only major misgiving with this very well written story of how to be a monster in plain sight.

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Hausfrau by Jill Alexander Essbaum (4 stars)

I received an ARC of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. Below is my impression of the book, which is meant to be interpreted as only my opinion and does not reflect that of the author or the publisher or NetGalley.

I have minor gripes about this book that I can’t really be too passionate about because the superb writing took the wind out of my sails. That is exactly how I want a book to make me feel. I want a book to leave me feeling changed, for better or worse, after reading it. I don’t expect this to occur with every book I read because statistically speaking there are so many books to read and we all have different tastes so they all cannot impact each of us in the same way. This was one that moved me.

One of my minor gripes is that I didn’t like that not all of the foreign words were translated. It was a hinderance to try and translate or define a word so that I could keep reading. Even with that minor annoyance, somewhat like a mosquito waiting to strike, I was so drawn into the story and the characters that I was able to ignore it, mostly. (Ah hat tipping to the author).

Another gripe I had was not enjoying that the main character was in a number of affairs. I have run the gamut on many different relationship models (single, married, divorced, monogamous, poly, straight, gay, bi). Of all of the various ways that we can relate to one another my least favorite is when someone cheats. I have done it myself to others and no one wins. It may be fun or a distraction for awhile, but all in all it pretty much sucks. It ends up feeling like less than a relationship when in other circumstances it may have bloomed and been a wonderful relationship.

Cheating is selfish and hurtful. It says I won’t give you a choice who I sleep with, I’ll just do it and not tell you. It really hurts when you are the one who didn’t know until much too late. I’ve also been the transgressor. It’s weird but some relationships I have had in the past didn’t result in the desire to see other people. Others I couldn’t stop thinking about it. When I was married I felt I had to kill that part inside me that made me yearn for the comfort of others. I did basically put myself in lock down by isolating myself from everyone to only focus on me and my husband. I have to tell you, this is not healthy and its a sign the relationship is not safe.

Eventually, once I was head over heels invested in finding out what in the world would become of the hot mess of a main character, nothing mattered but reading the story. I shared my personal history because I wanted it to be known I could identify with the subject matter. The writing captures the madness, excitement, fear, pain and loneliness that comes from cheating on someone.

I didn’t like how powerless the main character seemed and it made me sad for her. Which means job well done author. Your 2D character was 3D and bleeding before me as I read this all too common tragedy. I don’t know the hours, days, weeks, months or years of sweat and tears that went into this book, but I could feel the effort and intelligence of the author as I read. It is hard to take the raw messy side of life and not sugar coat it to make it easier to swallow. I called the subject “all too common” but even so that makes it harder.

The emotions and events around a textbook case are hard to be made convincing. This book does a whole lot of show and little tell. That is a hard concept when writing to understand and master. Don’t tell me you are sad, paint a picture with words that makes me feel your sadness. This author nailed that on the head. I was helpless from the beginning as I was roped into this emotional roller coaster.

There were parts that interwove in an odd way where the past slipped into the present and slipped back into the past. I knew it was happening, but I would have liked a little more separation between the flow of the story. However, the author made a style choice to let it ebb and flow and not be rigidly conformed to many more short chapters just to split the time out into expected interruptions. Although I wouldn’t be so bold as to do this in my own writing and it tested my boundaries as a reader, I eventually fell into the rhythm and figured out sometimes you don’t need a chapter heading to tell you something different is about to occur. This served to give the story somewhat of an unbalanced feel which all in all was a good choice. A story like this is meant to make you feel unbalanced so that you can emotionally follow the journey. This reminded me of the style of writing in The Weight of Water by Anita Shreve.

The ending was almost too subtle, but at the same time it rang true with the story. Little bits throughout the book led up to the unwritten truth of what happened. I would be a bad reviewer if I explained these subtle hints and told you out and out the ending. That is a journey you must choose to follow and I wholeheartedly recommend giving this book a try.

I can say this, the way that Ira Levin built up to the understanding and horror at the end of Stepford Wives can be seen echoed in this book. If you have read Stepford Wives you will understand what I mean and will be intrigued to compare the foreshadowing in this book. Well, I at least I hope that you are, after all what fun is there in recommending a book without knowing it might spark your interest.

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Old Girls in Low Cotton by Helen Childress (4 stars)

The only thing keeping me from giving this book 5 stars is the abrupt ending. I loved this book and would highly recommend it to anyone who loves books with spunky characters who have strong southern influences. That may sound a little too specific, but I count myself in the group of people who enjoy exactly that. Throw in small town mentality (which may sound like an insult but it is not meant as such) and I am in book heaven. Continue reading

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September 6, 2014 · 7:56 pm

Truck Stop by John Penney (5 Stars)

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Spectacular writing! I suspected the killer, but was so swept up in the excellent flow of writing that I didn’t guess the ending. It’s so clear now and I should have saw it coming but I thankfully didn’t. I love being surprised by not seeing what’s coming. Most writers leave too many hints as to what they are setting up. But this story did a fantastic bait and switch and I loved it.
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The Island of Dr Moreau by H. G. Wells (4 stars)

This reads very much like an H.P. Lovecraft tale. Although that isn’t really fair because H. G. Wells wrote this way before H.P. Lovecraft. (1890’s vs 1930’s). So it appears Lovecraft had a muse for his style. Imagine that! If you already knew that bare with me, this is new ground for me. I was completely unprepared for what this story was about because I remember watching the black and white movie years ago, although the contents of the movie that I remember are COMPLETELY incorrect. I remembered people who had been shrunk. Now I wonder what movie that is that I thought this book was about because it seriously was not the right movie. I had to use my dictionary regularly in order to read this and somewhat that made me sad because more current books are mostly free of words I would have to look up. That can mean a lot of things, but I worry it means we are not as smart now as those who read books for fun in the past. It wasn’t unreadable to the point of I had to define many words on every page (I would really have to worry about my own intelligence if I did) but I did have to define words at least every couple of pages. I really enjoyed this story, but I also was on the edge of my seat hoping it didn’t turn into an all out beastiality nightmare. Don’t get me wrong it was pretty intense, but thankfully it didn’t degrade to that. This story seems just out of the realm of the possible and yet at the same time, ever so slightly, like it might be possible. That is what gave it a real edge for horror. My mind kept thinking “Oh my god, what in the hell would I do if I was in the place of the narrator?” I would have to take a break from reading to digest what was happening in the story. Read something else, come back, and still I would be aghast at the predicament unfolding before me. I am very pleased to say that although the ending was not altogether a happy one, it was not one that made me want to throw my phone in disbelief. It was well done from beginning to end and I heartily recommend it!

https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/483942768

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A Dirty Job by Christopher Moore (5 stars)

This was my first Christopher Moore book and it felt just like reading Neil Gaiman and/or Terry Pratchett. And how does that feel? Well, it takes a subject that is both fanciful and dark and makes you laugh out loud at the absurdities that are thrown in for fun. I don’t mean to say that Mr. Moore doesn’t have his own style, but it is very similar to Gaiman and Pratchett and flawlessly so.

There are a great many things I liked about this book and every one of them would spoil the magic of the story if I told you about it. If you like Mythos (I’m not sure what else to call legends about gods) and dark humor don’t pass this one up!

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