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Experimental Heart: A Novel

Subject Area(s):  General Interest Titles

By Jennifer L. Rohn

© 2009 • 364 pp.
Paperback •
ISBN  978-087969876-8

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Andy O'Hara, a post-doctoral researcher in a London cancer research institute, agrees to help an attractive colleague, Gina, who is collaborating with a pharmaceutical company. She is working on a virus-based vaccine but has discovered the company is planning a clinical trial of the vaccine in Africa without preliminary animal tests. Andy gets a tip-off that Gina's corporate collaborator has a shady past, but also discovers a scientific reason why the vaccine may be doomed to failure. As this excerpt begins, Andy and his friend Christine have helped Gina set up an illicit mouse experiment in their own animal facility, a move that could end all their careers if discovered.

Read an excerpt here.


review:  “At the heart of the story, which Rohn tells a mystery that turns on a question of science...Along the way we witness the shifting, nomadic international fellowship of scientists, and especially of postdocs. Rohn aims to change the way in which the reading public thinks about scientists.”

review:  “Jennifer Rohn is famous for promoting the idea that we need more fiction with realistic scientists in leading roles, via her website, and other outlets including Nature. In an effort to practice what she preaches, she has written a couple of “lablit” novels herself, of which Experimental Heart is the debut effort.

As the “lablit” label suggests, the lab, located in an academic research centre in London, and the science conducted there (and in a small biotech company next door) play very important parts in the novel. It’s not just that the ambitions of a slightly mad scientist drive the plot, the scientific agenda also shapes the encounters of the characters, and science metaphors colour their speech and indeed the voice of the narrator...

To me, as someone who has grown up, lived, and worked in the science culture that this story is set in, the whole thing feels completely like home—sometimes even too close for comfort. The lab part aside, the lit part is also very nicely done, written fluently and convincingly, though not letting the style get in the way of the science.

I am certainly looking forward to the second novel, due out this autumn.”
      —Prose and Passion: Michael’s Blog About Science, Culture, and Everything in Between

review:  “This novel is steeped in a passion for biological research. Just as many books have appeal because of their beautifully conveyed sense of a particular geographical place, science is the country of Experimental Heart, and it is one that this author conveys authentically and lovingly. It is scientific research that is the hero or heroine of this enjoyable novel.”
      —Petrona (blog)

review:  “Scientific publishers usually work diligently to avoid any allegation of publishing fiction. Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Press, renowned for its prestigious scientific journals and books, smashes that mold with publication of its first novel...It’s a thriller whose subject is romantic self-discovery, and its milieu is the complex world of basic and applied life science research. It’s a good read, as Rohn makes her characters in the laboratory and the biotech communities come alive. I hope it’s a harbinger of more ‘lablit’ to come...Rohn’s skill in melding the scientific and literary worlds will give you a fresh perspective on life and work.”

review:  “The plot is driven by an intrigue worthy of Dan Brown, with countless twists and turns and cleverly revealed clues. But at its heart this is not primarily a book about science, or evil machinations. It is a love story. Fast-paced, but with absorbing detail and wittily observed; from the first chance encounter to the dare-devil denouement it is the uncertainties of human emotion that provide the imperative to read on.

That is not to say the setting is incidental. The science — and there is a lot of it — is dealt with engagingly yet uncompromisingly. It is not for the faint-hearted, but Rohn manages to guide us through the maze of modern scientific endeavour, providing enough detail to satisfy the pedantic biologist while not allowing the laic to feel lost. And more than that: she confides in us, initiates us in the secrets of her trade; teaches without preaching; informs without condescending.”
      —Life of a Lab Rat (blog)

review:  “The title, along with the synopsis, might suggest a Mills and Boon epic, but in reality this novel is intriguing throughout. A mixture of all the well-loved aspects of a research laboratory (including dry ice bombs and darkroom encounters) together with the intricacies of the male–female interpretation of chemistry and a smattering of intense thriller.

A light read for scientists with the time, and inclination, to read something other than the latest paper from the Biochemical Journal, a fascinating insight for those non-scientists with an inquisitive mind who love dramas such as CSI; one to avoid for those just looking for a nice romance.”
      —The Biochemist

review:  “A molecular biologist herself and the founder of the online magazine, Rohn has taken a world that is mysterious and often ignored and placed it front and center in a way that appeals to scientist and non-scientist alike. If the best writing comes from those who write what they know, Rohn has succeeded brilliantly. The science serves the story, not the other way around, and that, perhaps, is why Rohn’s work is such an engaging read. In placing the universal struggle to untangle one’s personal and professional lives in the setting of international intrigue involving pharmaceutical development, corporate greed, and biomedical ethics, Experimental Heart is that most unusual debut: a truly fresh voice.”
      —The Virginia Quarterly Review

review:  “This book is an excellent addition to the newly-identified genre known as “LabLit” and I highly recommend Experimental Heart to scientists, especially biomedical researchers, as well as to fans of mysteries and thrillers and to all those people who would like to have a more complete and nuanced experience of the world of modern biomedical research.”
      —Living the Scientific Life (blog)

review:  “[Experimental Heart] realistically and humorously portrays the inner workings of a biology research lab, relations between the scientific community and the public, and the highs and lows of research life...Rohn spins a riveting thriller — replete with scientific discovery, fraud, falsified reagents, romantic darkroom encounters, threats, and even abduction — as Andy searches for personal and scientific fulfillment.”

review:  “This is a good attempt to represent realistic science and scientists to the public in a highly readable and enjoyable form.”

review:  “Most science fiction is simply bad. Either the story is miserable or the scientific details aren't correct or both. But recently I discovered a book by Jennifer Rohn that, for me as a fan of mysteries and love stories, became a real page turner. There's a well-written, engaging plot and the science, ranging from ELISA to SCID mice, is correct (as far as I can tell, not being an expert in signal transduction).”
      —Lab Times

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