Book Review: Project Cain by Geoffrey Girard

Project Cain by Geoffrey Girard

Project Cain, by Geoffrey Girard is digestible horror, compartmentalized and managed in such a way that young readers can enjoy.  It reads like an encyclopedia of serial killers full of photographs, stats, and methods, establishing for the reader a sensing of foreboding as well as providing a vocabulary with which the reader can use to experience the horror that Jeff encounters.  Jeff, like the other six boys with whom he attended school at the Massey Institute, is a clone.

Jeff was created by the U. S. government as a potential weapon.  The fact that he is an exact replica of Jeffrey Dahmer makes him dangerous, potentially murderous and certifiable.  The fact that he volunteers to work with Castillo, a government contracted agent, to hunt down the six clones who escaped the Massey Institute makes him redeemable—a potential serial killer you can root for.  Following a massacre at the Massey Institute, his father, the scientist who started it all, abandons Jeff, leaving him with little money and access to his secret room, a place where he chronicled and stored his experiments.

Using his father’s notes from the Project Cain experiments, Castillo and Jeff chase the six serial killer clones across America while Jeff grapples with his DNA, contemplating whether or not nature will win out over nurture.  Gradually, through genetic memory, Jeff comes face to face with those Jeffrey Dahmer had killed.  The ‘visions’ are likely drudged up by his subconscious as he feels more and more shameful about his existence.

“I opened my eyes, and between the railing posts the boy’s face emerged in the darkness beneath me…Konerak’d been only fourteen when killed by Dahmer.  That he and his family had come to Milwaukee from Laos to escape the Communists.  That, after Konerak’s death, his family had removed all of his pictures from his house because they could not bear the pain of seeing his face.”

His mission not only becomes about self-discovery, but also the public’s love/hate relationship with violence and death.

“The Milwaukee Monster is what the press called Jeffrey Dahmer for a while, but it never really stuck. “DAHMER” was enough.  You don’t need a nickname to make it any worse than it already is.  Folk just say his name and everyone knows exactly what you mean.  The MONSTER part is implied.”

Girard spends the majority of the book retelling the history of serial killers rather than develop plot, characterization, and suspense.  There is practically no dialogue to lift the reader from Jeff’s thoughts.  Nearly every word spoken is summarized and paraphrased by Jeff.  His internal conflict is grazed without being allowed to hemorrhage.  His fear of becoming a serial killer is not balanced with an exploration into the value of human life.  He is a listless character, hoping to reconnect with his father and avoid his genetic fate.  His quest to track down the other clones who escaped the clutches of DSTI (the government sect. responsible for the experiments) feels like a slender vein keeping everything together.  The plot takes its time until the final few chapters in which the main character is still acted upon rather than participate in the action.

Overall, the concept was great, but the execution was somber.  The fact that this story has a companion book, written in Castillo’s point of view for an adult audience, indicates that something went very wrong between the development of this book and its publication.  If you enjoy a good history lesson in serial killers with a bit of adventure thrown in, this book is for you.

Erica Spriggs