J.A. Schneider’s Embryo Series

JA_SchneiderAbout the author:

Education: B.A. French Literature, Wheaton College, Norton Massachusetts

Website: http://jaschneiderauthor.net

Thriller Subgenre: Medical/Crime Thriller

Publisher: Self-published

Future of the Series: Schneider has been adding to the series with the last novel, Razor Sharp, recently released on 10/25/2015.

Review of the latest in the series- Razor Sharp

The Simon Review

When I first saw the series Embryo, I thought that this might be a really neat medical/techno-thriller series based on the technology of genetic manipulation at the embryonic level and the possible real world consequences, and after reading the first novel of the series, Embryo, that seemed to be the direction that this was heading. Alas, that was not to be, but instead the series would be more appropriately entitled the Raney & Levine show as the series really focuses on the escapades of the two main protagonist Drs. Jill Raney and David Levine.

Jill Raney is an intern on the Obstetrics and Gynecology Unit at Madison Hospital, a fictional hospital located in New York City, and David Levine is a third year resident and is the supervisor of Jill Raney. Raney and Levine develop a personal relationship early in the first novel; not much romancing going on, and the relationship just seems to happen. Laney is a character that I had a really hard time warming up to as she oscillates back and forth from being a ‘take charge’, determined and self-confident woman to being on the verge of a nervous breakdown. Levine is OK, he just happens to be one of those kind of guys that will stay with his lady, even if she drags him into a whole lot of trouble, and believe me, she does.

This series starts out a techno/medical thriller but eventually turns into a forensic/crime thriller where Raney and Levine become the detectives and serial killers just seem to want to kill them.   In the first novel, Raney becomes suspicious on a number of unusual obstetric cases and has a hunch that the cases are related to the genetic counseling program in the hospital that does genetic research. It turns out that she is correct and in the process of making this discovery she finds a living fetus in an artificial uterus, thus the name of the series, Embryo. Of course, Raney and Levine take down the evil researcher in a dramatic ending that also happens to get caught on film. This little piece of news footage haunts Raney and Levine throughout the rest of the series.

In the second novel of the series, the serial killer is jealous of the fame that Raney and Levine has conjured up and decides to rape and attack other women to get back at them and, of course, the growing fetus aka embryo must be killed because is also responsible for Raney & Levine’s fame. In the third novel, Raney & Levine are targets because a religious zealot wants to rid the world of the ‘devil spawn’ aka embryo and, of course, Raney & Levine must be killed because of their association with the ‘devil spawn’. In the last novel of the series, the serial killer is targeting couples, but gets sidetracked to target Raney & Levine because a media extravaganza covering the one year birthday of the ‘miracle child’ aka embryo overshadows the media coverage of the serial killer’s escapades plus the serial killer’s jealous of Levine’s sharpshooting abilities which were highlighted in that gosh darn original media coverage. Naturally the child and its adopted parents, Raney & Levine, must be killed. If you think there is not a lot of imagination in each of these plots and the scenarios sound rather redundant, you would be right. Also it seems that the main purpose for the “embryo” is to make Raney and Levine targets for serial killers.

Schneider does bring up some really good issues particularly in the area of the ethical use of in vitro fertilization, embryonic genetic manipulation, and the science versus religion debate. She also brought up the concept of doctors carrying guns. With the latest incident of the killing of Boston surgeon Dr. Michael Davidson, one would think that carrying guns for doctors would be a good idea. Personally, I think it would be a really bad idea, as doctors are healers not killers. Besides if you give guns to the doctors, they may start shooting at patients who don’t pay their bills on time, and I would probably be one of the first to go.

The first novel of the series is pretty good but unfortunately the rest of series goes downhill in its wake because of redundant plots and an unlikeable protagonist. I also have a big problem with doctors acting more like cops. I have no problem with them being quasi-detectives because a lot of medical diagnosis requires a bit of detective work, but cops, I don’t think so. For those of you that like medical terminology, there is enough of that to pique your interest. For the most part the series should be read in order.

Simon’s pick:

Most Favorite Novel in the Series-Embryo-because the embryonic genetic manipulation concept seemed like a neat idea

Least Favorite Novel in the Series-Catch Me-because the series ran out of steam by the time I read this novel

What about the science? Though Joyce Schneider is not a scientist or a medical doctor, her husband is and he seems to play an important role with all the medical terminology that is mentioned in the series.

The Laney and Levine Technical Word in Review: Phocomelia-is a thankfully rare congenital defect that result primarily is the deformation of limbs in newborns. There are multiple factors that can cause phocomelia but genetic inheritance and exposure to thalidomide during embryonic development is the primary culprit for this disorder. Phocomelia is a Greek word for ‘seal limb’ and children born with this disorder has limbs that have not developed the long bones of their arms and legs which give the appearance of having flippers similar to a seal.

The genetic disorder of phocomelia is known as Roberts syndrome and is believed to be a recessive inherited trait which means that both parents must carry the mutated gene. The mutated gene is believed to be the ECOS2 gene. The ECOS2 protein that is produced by this gene is believed to have significant function in chromosome separation during cell division. The mutated gene does not produce ECOS2 and cells that are going through cell division will be unable to complete division and die. The severity of Roberts syndrome varies and the reasoning for this is unknown.

Thalidomide exposure is notoriously known for the cause of phocomelia. In the late 1950s, women used thalidomide to treat morning sickness and babies born had phocomelia with 40% of births resulting in stillborn babies. For many years it was unknown to what the mechanism on how thalidomide resulted in phocomelia, but with the recent increasing use of thalidomide for treating leprosy, cancer and autoimmune disorders, considerable research has be done on its functionality. Researchers (Lupas, et al) have found that thalidomide binds to a protein called cereblon which forms a complex with a number of other proteins. This protein complex has a significant role in the production of another protein known as fibroblast growth factor 8 which has an important role in the regulation of a number of developmental processes including the development of limbs.

Drawing of a newborn with phocomelia

Image from Wikimedia Commons

Phocomelia‘s one of the rarest obstetrical aberrations,” he said. “In fact, today’s was the first I’ve ever seen.”

Jill folded her arms around her knees.  “I remember the term.  It’s only supposed to happen in textbooks.”Embryo

Books in the Series by Order:

Most Favorite in the series: Razor Sharp with a score of 4.55

Least Favorite in the series: Embryo with a score of 3.95

Based on overall ratings from Goodreads, Library Thing, and Amazon (US & UK)

Embryo#1- Embryo- 2012

First Line:

Maria Moran’s first inkling of trouble was the coppery taste in her mouth.


Dr. Jill Raney: Intern at the OB/GYN unit at Madison Hospital

Dr. David Levine: Third year resident at Madison Hospital

Dr. William Stryker: Head of the Genetic Counseling Unit, research scientist and Chief of Obstetrics

Dr. Clifford Arnett: Vice-chairman of the Genetic Counseling Committee and researcher

Dr. Tricia Donovan: Intern and med school friend of Jill Laney

Dr. Sam MacIntyre: Second year resident

Dr. Tom Ganon: Senior physician within the OB/GYN unit and genetic researcher

Gregory Pappas: Homicide detective

Jesse: The embryo

The Setting

New York City

Maria Moran’s first inkling of trouble was the coppery taste in her mouth. It came suddenly, a rushing whoosh of something that made her gag, and when she reached to wipe her mouth, her hand came away smeared with blood.

So begins this thriller about a young intern, Jill Raney, determined to investigate tragedies and terror at a famous fertility and genetic engineering hospital. When two pregnant women die and a fetus is delivered with severe chromosomal abnormalities, Jill’s superiors – including handsome, smitten-with-her resident David Levine – insist there’s no common link.

But her suspicions deepen with the grotesque murder near the hospital of another pregnant woman – her belly drained of amniotic fluid. And when a woman miscarries in the hospital and then disappears, Jill frantically searches for her – following a terrifying path that seems to link all the victims: Is someone playing with life…and the structures of human life itself?

Carole Shelton asked what would happen if the rabbit embryo expired.

“We’ll farm another embryo,” Stryker said curtly.

“Farm another embryo?” Jill and Tricia traded chilled looks.

Looking for reviews on Embryo?  Check out:

Stories on the Run

Lilica’s Place

Have You Heard My Book Review

Book Cover Justice

Brillance Reviews

Kathy’s Book Bag

Nutty’s Reads & Reviews

Crime Fiction Lover

Mama Reader

Amazon Rating-US: 4.31 out of 5 stars based on 950 ratings

Amazon Rating-UK: 4.00 out of 5 stars based on 102 ratings

GoodReads Rating: 3.75 out of 5 stars based on 1,669 ratings

Library Thing Rating: 3.75 out of 5 stars based on 12 ratings

Total Score 3.95 (updated 11/1/18)


#2- Crosshairs- 2013

First Line:

Her dreams were always the same.


Dr. Jill Raney, Dr. David Levine, Dr. William Stryker, Dr. Clifford Arnett, Dr. Tricia Donovan, Dr. Sam MacIntyre, Dr. Tom Ganon, Gregory Pappas and Jesse

Alex Brand: Police detective

The Setting

New York City

They thought the nightmare was over. Intern Jill Raney and the man she loves, obstetrical resident David Levine, barely escaped death at the hands of a madman on the steep roof of an old part of the hospital. The awful scene, captured by overhead news choppers, became a media obsession, run horrifyingly over and over. Jill and David are now reluctant “celebrities” – and the targets of every wacko who wants to share in the attention.

Including a killer. Someone who begins venting his fury at their “fame” by his hideous assaults on women – assaults which Jill and David discover are also death threats to them, and to a 6-month-old baby who has yet to be born.

Their predator is clever. Haughty. Leaves cryptic “clues” to taunt them and the police, who are at a loss. He knows how to leave no physical evidence behind. No prints, no fibers, no eyewitnesses.

Jill and David must still return to their exhausting hospital duties, knowing that any psycho can just walk into a hospital. Friends beg David, who is a crack shot, to carry a gun, but he doesn’t. “What’s the use?” he asks. “A doctor’s back is always turned.”

Instead, Jill and David join forces to become detectives on their own, helping the police in ways that even forensics experts never imagined; working frantically to uncover an unspeakable secret that dooms their fate and that of a sweet-faced, unborn child…unless they can put an end to an obsessed killer’s twisted quest.

Looking for a reviews on Crosshairs?  Check out:

Trista Brogwardt

The Reading Cafe

Book Cover Justice

Books With Verve

Amazon Rating-US: 4.35 out of 5 stars based on 243 ratings

Amazon Rating-UK: 4.54 out of 5 stars based on 23 ratings

GoodReads Rating: 4.03 out of 5 stars based on 448 ratings

Library Thing Rating: 5.00 out of 5 stars based on 5 rating

Total Score 4.16 (updated 11/1/18)


Raney&Levine#3- Raney & Levine- 2014

First Line:

“Dead bodies ahead.”


Dr. Jill Raney, Dr. David Levine, Dr. William Stryker, Dr. Clifford Arnett, Dr. Tricia Donovan, Dr. Sam MacIntyre, Dr. Tom Ganon, Alex Brand and Jesse

Ralph Nash: Religious zealot and mental patient

Brian and Dara Walsh: Couple related to the first victim, religious zealots

The Setting

New York City

First, tension enters Jill’s & David’s relationship over what to do about newborn Jesse. They both love him, but David feels that he’d be safer adopted anonymously. Suddenly their stress turns to horror when they discover that a murderous religious zealot is after both Jesse – whom he calls “devil spawn” – and Jill & David’s hospital which he calls “the devil’s workshop which must be destroyed!” This time, the whole hospital is threatened… Jill and David join forces with the police in a terrifying race to track down a killer, and to prevent an unthinkable catastrophe.

Looking for reviews of Raney & Levine?  Check out:

Trista Borgwardt

Have You Heard My Book Review

Nutty’s Reads & Reviews

Amazon Rating-US: 4.50 out of 5 stars based on 201 ratings

Amazon Rating-UK: 4.52 out of 5 stars based on 23 ratings

GoodReads Rating: 4.19 out of 5 stars based on 324 ratings

Library Thing Rating: 4.58 out of 5 stars based on 6 ratings

Total Score 4.32 (updated 11/1/18)


#4- Catch Me- 2014        

First Line:

He weighed forty pounds, and his little skinned knees stung as he ran, terrified.


Dr. Jill Raney, Dr. David Levine, Dr. Clifford Arnett, Dr. Tricia Donovan, Dr. Sam MacIntyre, Alex Brand and Jesse

The Setting

New York City

A terrifying serial killer who just targets couples, and leaves taunting notes for the NYPD signed CATCH ME… At a loss, police request the help of doctors Jill Raney and David Levine, police friends and detectives on their own. Both have helped when cops’ hands are tied, or in ways that even police forensics never imagined.

But this killer, a sharp shooter, is always a step ahead. He wears gloves and disguises, shoots victim pairs at random with an unregistered gun, and leaves no physical evidence or eyewitnesses. He’s enraged to hear that David is also a crack shot, and intrigued with the couple’s adopted little son, Jesse, almost one year old, dubbed by the media “the miracle baby,” and already showing signs that he is as intuitive as his mother…

The killer draws closer, gripping New York City and the entire nation in horror, pulling Jill and David into the worst terror they have yet encountered.

“Copy of a note the killer left us.” He passed the sheet to Jill and David, whose shoulders touched as the scanned the giant letters. “’COPS LOSE AGAIN!’” Jill read in a soft, shaky voice. “Signed, ‘CATCH ME.’”

Looking for reviews of Catch Me?  Check out:

Trista Brogwardt

Have You Heard My Book Review

Amazon Rating-US: 4.43 out of 5 stars based on 151 ratings

Amazon Rating-UK: 4.09 out of 5 stars based on 23 ratings

GoodReads Rating: 4.15 out of 5 stars based on 362 ratings

Library Thing Rating: 4.60 out of 5 stars based on 5 ratings

Total Score 4.23 (updated 11/1/18)


Silver_Girl #5- Silver Girl- 2015     

My review of Silver Girl

First Line:

A girl stumbling off the curve.


Dr. Jill Raney, Dr. David Levine, Dr. Tricia Donovan, Dr. Sam MacIntyre, Alex Brand and Jesse

Jody Merrill: Actress of a popular TV cop comedy show

The Setting

New York City

A beautiful young TV star, Jody Merrill, dies mysteriously and police are stumped. They are even more at a loss when the grisly remains of yet another actress, Jody’s co-star, are found.

Detectives request the help of doctors Jill Raney and David Levine, police friends and detectives on their own. For Jill and David this is personal; they are heartbroken since both murdered young women were their friends. Furiously they resolve to find the killer: to skirt the law as they always do in cases of sex crimes, child abuse and murder; helping where cops’ hands are tied (“No warrant? No problem!”), or in ways that police forensics never imagined.

The killer, capable of unspeakable savagery, must commit more murders in order to hide…possibly behind the glitzy cover of Show Biz Hell. As Jody Merrill called it, “That gorgeous, sparkly bubble that closes you in, bloats your ego in some weird, alternate universe where you lose all bearings, lose yourself. Fame is unhealthy.”

And Jill noticed a star.  Twinkling and shining brightly as if elated.  She gazed up at it.

“Think that star is Jody?” she asked pointing.

David found it.  Hugged her and said, “Mm-m, could be.”

“Shine on, Silver Girl,” Jill breathed, feeling her heart ache.

Looking for reviews of Silver Girl?  Check out:

Crime Fiction Lover

Trista Borgwardt

The Reading Cafe

Have You Heard My Book Review

Amazon Rating-US: 4.52 out of 5 stars based on 74 reviews

Amazon Rating-UK: 4.83 out of 5 stars based on 6 ratings

GoodReads Rating: 4.21 out of 5 stars based on 140 ratings

Library Thing Rating: 4.29 out of 5 stars based on 7 ratings

Total Score 4.33 (updated 11/1/18)


Razor_Sharp#6- Razor Sharp- 2015

Listed #93 out of 115 on Goodreads Best Medical Thrillers Book List

Listed #114 out of 168 on Goodreads Best Science Thrillers Book List

My review of Razor Sharp

First Line:

This kill will be different.


Dr. Jill Raney, Dr. David Levine, Dr. Tricia Donovan, and Jesse

The Setting

New York City

A Jack the Ripper type killer is murdering male prostitutes, with one exception…

A young woman is found brutally attacked with a straight razor, her cruel facial mutilation the only link to three other horrific murders: a transgender woman, a transvestite, and a 17-year-old hustler. So nasty are those three born-male kills that the psychopath seems to be saying, they’re all males…

FROM HELL he scrawls, taunting the NYPD with the original Jack the Ripper’s 1888 letter to the police. This killer is cunning: wears gloves, disguises, and leaves no physical evidence. At a loss, the police ask “one small favor” from physicians Jill Raney and David Levine, friends and – until now, detectives on their own. “No warrant? No problem!” had been their mantra…until their relationship with the cops led to exhaustion and conflict.

But they share the horror that grips the country and agree to help, thus plunging into an unimaginable and terrifying maze of psycho-sexual obsession and madness.

Looking for reviews of Razor Sharp?  Check out:

The Reading Cafe

Have You Heard My Book Review

Trista Borgwardt

Amazon Rating-US: 4.66 out of 5 stars based on 50 reviews

Amazon Rating-UK: 5.00 out of 5 stars based on 7 ratings

GoodReads Rating: 4.46 out of 5 stars based on 93 ratings

Library Thing Rating: 4.67 out of 5 stars based on 3 ratings

Total Score 4.55 (updated 11/1/18)

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