Six boys embark on an adventure in the Panama jungle, encountering danger, death and loss in Urban’s debut novel. Several years later, they return as men to the scene of the grisly event that has bound them together for life.
In 1596, English adventurer Sir Francis Drake is buried at sea outside Portobelo Harbor, Panama, by his crew—but not before he buried a treasure of gold coins he’d stolen from the Spanish. Four hundred years later, a group of teen boys begin an adventurous hike along the original Camino Real in the Panama Canal Zone and discover the hidden treasure. They are led by their scoutmaster, hydrologist and explorer Robert Medvedic Sr., a World War II vet who is also rumored to have worked with the CIA. The diverse group includes an inept assistant scoutmaster and his marijuana-smoking son; a socially sensitive doctor’s son who is one of the few black American civilians living in the Zone; a high school football quarterback; a smart-mouthed troublemaker; a science-loving “geek”; the son of a career military officer who likes to bully others; and Zach Colt, a likable, level-headed boy who quickly becomes the leader when tragedy befalls the group. Although one might question how easily the boys’ parents release their progeny into the hazardous Panama jungle, Urban’s fast-paced adventure carries the story forward too fast to dwell on such matters. Time and again, the boys narrowly escape mishap, but just when it appears all will be well and the group will return home safely, disaster strikes again. Urban’s descriptions of jungle predators and the events that befall the adventurers are real and intense, indicating that much research was undertaken in the author’s story prep. However, some readers may be uncomfortable with the graphic details involved in the telling of events. The adventure continues in Part Two, as the now-adult scouts return to the site of their tragic boyhood experience to claim the treasure and close a grim chapter in their lives. Again, the tale gains momentum quickly, although at times a few of the men display adolescent behaviors that remind the reader a little too much of the boys they once were.
A coming-of-age story and thrilling adventure rolled into one.