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Living Proof Hardcover – February 28, 2012
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Andrew Gross Reviews Living Proof
At what stage does human life actually begin? Where does "right" reside when state-run religion and medical science collide? In the clashing rocks of faith and human desire, will it be courage or blind devotion to duty that prevails, and can love chart a course between them?
These are a few of the bold themes raised in Kira Peikoff's thought-provoking new thriller, Living Proof, set in the all-too-foreseeable future where the government controls all pregnancies and fertilizations in the ideological battleground between state-enforced values and scientific advancement. Dr. Arianna Drake runs a Manhattan fertilization clinic, but she also harbors a dangerous secret: she suffers from an advancing case of multiple sclerosis, and in conjunction with a brilliant researcher, once a colleague of her scientist parents, Arianna has set up a clandestine, underground lab using outlawed stem cells to find a cure to her disease. But if the state discovers her, she and her coconspirators will be imprisoned for life and her potentially lifesaving research shut down.
Trent Rowe is an agent for the state's Department of Embryo Preservation: devout, ambitious, and, at the same time, searching for true meaning in his religiously dominated life. His fervent Catholic upbringing made him a willing soldier in the war against sacrificing embryos, cloning, and "baby killing." Trent's fanatical boss, Gideon Dopp, suspects Arianna's operation and gives Trent the assignment of getting close to her and exposing her illegal activities. Activities that, if successful, could heal vast numbers of people stricken with her disease.
What takes place is virtually a tug-of-war between devotion and conscience for Trent's unsettled soul—the combatants being his Jauvert-like boss, who hunts Arianna with single-minded zeal; the intense pushing of Trent's religiously driven family for advancement in his career; Trent's growing attraction to Arianna, which threaten his convictions; and his slowly evolving belief that what she and her colleagues are doing is, in truth, not evil at all, but in fact creating a greater good. Arianna's increasing trust in Trent puts her at odds with her lab-mates who are risking everything, worried that any slip in security could cost them their lives.
Peikoff may be a first-time novelist, but she is totally adept at keeping things moving and never polemical, and always balancing the personal, human drama with the science of stem-cell technology and the clock-ticking machinations of the state. Arianna and Trent's delicately evolving love story becomes the battleground of the novel's moral conflict, as Trent faces the Antigone-like choice of either betraying the state and the moral code that has raised him, or the person he has grown to love. Peikoff shows a sophisticated touch in balancing the science and the countdown to potential disaster with the drama of rising human feelings that is the true engine of the book.
If, like me, you like your thrillers deeply human and always rising in consequence and what's at stake, Living Proof is one for you: page-turning, intellectually stimulating, emotionally satisfying. In this battle between courage and blind duty, it's worth finding out which wins out in the end.
Taut, energetic, and imaginative... A remarkable debut! (Lisa Unger, New York Times bestselling author of Fragile)
Kira Peikoff's imagination is a wonder to behold and an amazing place to visit. You have to check this one out. (Steve Berry, New York Times bestselling author of The Jefferson Key)
A terrific read--tightly woven and tense as a coiled snake. (Michael Palmer, New York Times bestselling author of A Heartbeat Away)
Living Proof is a rare book. A thriller that keeps you turning pages. A novel of suspense fraught with danger… Kira Peikoff belongs to a very small cadre of writers to watch… I cannot wait to see what she writes next! (M. J. Rose, international bestselling author of The Hypnotist)
Makes you think, makes you sweat, leaves you happy--everything a good book should. (Lee Child, New York Times bestselling author of the Jack Reacher novels)
A compelling and thought-provoking thriller…this frighteningly plausible novel will keep you turning the pages all night long. A stunning debut. (Douglas Preston, New York Times bestselling author of Impact)
Peikoff's unsettling, timely debut presents an uncomfortably plausible near-future, in which the destruction of all human embryos has been outlawed in the name of saving the lives of unborn children. … This engaging effort marks her as an author to watch. (Publishers Weekly)
[Peikoff] has taken serious cultural debates from our present-day society and blended them into a tale that's not very fantastical, since we're not far off from bringing this extremely frightening story to life….[Peikoff] will find legions of fans that will admire her 'moxie' and look forward to her second novel. For anyone interested in a writer who cuts to the chase over a highly difficult subject, this is the book for you. (Suspense Magazine)
Living Proof is a well-written thriller that deals with issues of great relevance in today's world: When exactly does an embryo become a human being? Whose life is of most value? To her great credit, Peikoff creates believable, well-rounded characters who represent both sides of a tough moral question. (Mystery Scene Magazine)
The two protagonists are dealing with life and death and even love at a time when religious fanatics are allowed to carry guns into fertility clinics, and scientists are under microscopes. Living Proof is a startling, perceptive debut that examines repercussions for the future if emotion is allowed to trump knowledge. (Award-winning reviewer Lesa Holstine)
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Arianna projects “Total self-reliance . . . Physical, emotional, intellectual . . . ,” along with the romantic relationship she desires. To achieve this one has to develop one’s primary value: "What man worships . . . is indicative of his very essence, for reverence is man's deepest form of love, one which holds the key to his soul." In this sense, Arianna worships living. What do her enemies worship?
A timely novel projecting an all too possible near future as political correctness, social justice floating abstractions, bureaucratic science, and the nanny government expand. Can Arianna develop a plan to fight back – to challenge the hearts and minds of the public influencing her world?
Arianna possesses the ethics and understanding worthy of an Ayn Rand character. In Rand’s novel, “We The Living,” Kira’s last hope is to flee from her culture. Arianna still has hope of changing it in spite of the odds. We better wish her luck . . . and we had better join her and pitch in for success!
This passage holds the key to the entire novel, and how to understand the characters. The first half of the novel mainly focuses on the one character who changes fundamentally in this respect, as he tries to solve the mystery of what the other main character worships and simultaneously begins to undergo a profound change in his own deepest values. At first, I wanted the book to focus more on the other character earlier on, but came to appreciate what the author was doing.
Unfortunately, when the crucial moment comes it is not entirely convincing. She just talks rather abstractly about life and faith for a couple of paragraphs, and he says, "Everything you say makes perfect sense," and he's completely convinced and that's that. It's all too obvious that the author was not raised to be and has never been religious and has no idea what that's like. Not that this kind of fiction should be naturalistic, but for such a critical plot point to be convincing it at least needs to be somewhat realistic.
But after that the book gets back on track and picks up more and more until it reaches its excellent climax and conclusion. On the whole, a very good first novel. I'll be looking forward to her next.
"Living Proof" tells a tale taken from today's headlines, and creates a science fiction universe of heroes, villians, moral dilemas, and romantic love. It is science fiction as it ought to be: never predicatable, always captivating, realistically fantastic.
At the end of the novel there was a tightness in my throat, a wetness in my eyes, and a racing heart in my chest. It left me with both a feeling of wonder at what is possible, and trembling anger at those who seek to destroy the wonderfully possible.
If you wish to read a novel by an author who respects and worships the only true holy spirit, the creative human mind; if you wish to read a novel that demonstrates the absurdity of the unreal, and the evil and hatred of those who worship the unreal; if you wish to visit a universe where everything is risked for the sake of one's highest love, then read "Living Proof", you will not be disappointed.
Congratulations, Kira, you have created a novel that is "Living Proof" that the creative mind can triumph in an irrational world.
My favorite part of the book was the main characters view of life. She insisted on living her life to the fullest - continuing to bike, learning the piano, starting a new relationship - despite the fact that she was diagnosed with a terminal disease. She was a hero living her life while she was in the very throes fighting for it.
The book is set in a police state future when abortion and stem cell research have been outlawed, and pregnant women are continuously monitored by KGB-like Department of Embryo and Fetal Protection agents. If a DEFP agent decides that a pregnant woman has failed to follow state-mandated guidelines, she can be charged with a felony crime, up to and including murder. The main character is a doctor running a fertility clinic, and she is also continuously monitored and harassed by these agents, since a fertility clinic necessarily must deal with human embryos.
Most readers will probably learn a lot about the medical science behind stem cell research from reading the book. I did. But don't think for a moment that the book is any kind of dry or technical reading. It's not; it's very exciting and suspenseful. And that is the books greatest virtue: it explores very heavy scientific, moral, political issues, but is a completely entertaining, fast paced, page-turning thriller every step of the way.