If you like medical thrillers with complex plots and intriguing characters, then I hope Santa left THE IMMORTALISTS by Kyle Mills in your stocking because it’s just what you were looking for.
The novel follows Dr. Richard Draman in his desperate search for a cure for progeria, a disease that causes children to age at a wildly accelerated rate. Draman’s daughter is dying from this rare genetic condition. He receives a copy of some classified work being done on this disease just before the researcher’s mysterious suicide. While the secret research offers hope for his daughter, it also soon has Draman on the run, pursued by a powerful group that knows the papers he has could change everything we know about biology.
Mills, a veteran thriller author, says he first learned about progeria years ago when he saw a documentary about children suffering from the disease.
“It was a heartbreaking show,” Mills says, “but also fascinating. Most people see aging as something that’s baked into every fiber of our being, but here were these children with a relatively minor genetic defect that could accelerate the process. It seemed to me that something so easy to speed up shouldn’t be all that hard to slow down. And if that could be achieved, the impact on our species and society as a whole would be almost unimaginable.”
With that as the seed for a good story, Mills read every credible book he could find on aging and went through several genetics and evolutionary biology texts. What he learned astounded him.
“I discovered that a lot has changed since I was in college and that the science of genetics is progressing at an ever-accelerating rate. It’s possible that there are kids alive today who will never get old.”
To carry that fascinating story idea Mills introduces a very interesting protagonist. Richard Draman is heroic and smart, but also the kind of guy who might hit you up for money in a pinch.
According to Mills, “Richard is complicated: A brilliant scientist with a childhood marred by endless run-ins with the police, an incredibly devoted father and husband, and a desperate crusader trying to save his child from a terminal disease.”
As the book opens, Draman’s daughter is dying and he blames himself for not being able to help her. When the forbidden research brings him new hope he goes after a cure with rabid single mindedness. This transformation makes the character more interesting than the run-of-the-mill thriller hero.
One of the most gripping scenes that really shows the character comes when Draman and his wife have to kidnap one of the richest and best-guarded men in the world. They have no background in this kind of operation and can barely even shoot, but they figure out how to use the skills they do have to get the job done.
Mills is uniquely qualified to write a convincing thriller. For one thing, his father was an FBI agent. Growing up with the Bureau in his natural environment gave him an innate sense of criminals and the people who chase them.
“I don’t have to think consciously about what those kinds of characters would do or say because I have an endless catalog of them in my head,” Mills says. “And when that catalog fails me, I have a lot of people I can call to set me straight.”
He also seems to have a gift for making medical technology easy to understand. He says that comes from his genuine passion for science, much like Tom Clancy’s love for military gadgetry. He does admit that it’s possible to go overboard with the details, and he has a solution to keep his novels readable.
“In THE IMMORTALISTS, I told myself that I would include all the scientific detail I wanted in the first draft and then take exactly one half of it out in the second,” Mills says. “You don’t want to find yourself writing a textbook.”
No, what he wanted to write is a taut, high speed, twisting roller-coaster ride. If that’s what you want to read, get yourself a copy of THE IMMORTALISTS… unless Santa brought you one.
Growing up in Oregon, Washington, DC, and London as a the son of an FBI agent, Kyle absorbed an enormous amount about the Bureau, giving his novels their unique authenticity. He and his wife live in Wyoming where they spend their off hours rock climbing and backcountry skiing.
To learn more about Kyle, please visit his website.