This is one of the best murder thrillers to hit the bookshops in a long time.
Author photo supplied by Affirm Press.
With Eight Lives, Susan Hurley has written one of the best murder thrillers to hit the bookshops in a long time. According to Hurley, the inspiration for her novel stems from the TeGenero case in England in which a clinical trial was conducted on six human volunteers with disastrous results. Although this book is not a recreation of that event, it borrows some of the science.
Hurley has used her extensive knowledge of the pharmaceutical industry, and the research that underpins it, to recount the rise and fall of a successful and charming doctor, Dung (David) Tran. A Vietnamese immigrant who arrived in Australia via Hong Kong, Tran is sometimes referred to as the Golden Boy. He is a biomedical researcher on the cusp of a breakthrough: the invention of a drug called EIGHT that could modify the body’s own immune system to fight a range of diseases. Tran explains ‘the drug’s scientific name is SMB1412 . . . a kind of geeky name, so, because the numbers one, four, one and two sum to eight, and because eight’s an auspicious number, I call it EIGHT.’
The story of what happened to Tran is narrated in the first person by a number of people who are involved with him. They include his sister, his partner, a fellow doctor, a long-term friend, a PhD student and a business man. Each of these people play a significant part in Tran’s life and have their own point of view; they are both players and observers. Their various political and social views add spice and realism.
Many murder stories start with the demise of the victim and then involve the reader in the process of tracking the offender. What Hurley has very skilfully done is the opposite of this, taking the reader through a series of events that lead to the eventual outcome. In the opening chapter, Tran’s sister says, ‘I thought about Dung, my tall, handsome, smart brother. That day, not so smart. I crossed the road and opened our gate. That was how it started. Seven months later, Dung was dead.’ The foretelling effectively fills the reader with apprehension from the outset, as well as eagerness to find out why and how Tran dies.
Eight Lives is set in Melbourne, about 15 years ago. It features a lot of interesting detail about biomedical research, but there are also references to immigration (’Western nations have been slow to accept boat people’), animal rights (‘A million monkeys died during the development of the polio vaccine, but that vaccine has since saved many millions of human lives’), veganism (‘I’m vegan. We don’t eat honey. Bees make honey for themselves, not for humans’), exclusive men’s clubs (‘Women are tolerated at dinner but have never been admitted for lunch . . . Jews could now join, in theory, but no member of the luncheon foursome could think of any who’d been nominated’) and electronic fraud (‘algorithm-touting engineers are apparently the used-car salesmen of the venture capital world’).
This is a fast-paced novel which is hard to put aside. The writing is unpretentious and compelling and the characterisation convincing. Altogether, Eight Lives is a most satisfying read.
4.5 stars out of 5 ★★★★☆
Eight Lives by Susan Hurley
Publisher: Affirm Press
Release Date: 26 March 2019