Nelson’s adventure thriller is the captivating story of a dedicated young ethnobotanist lured to work for a wealthy Texas research institute by her former mentor.
Diane, a promising professor who specializes in tropical miracle drugs, finds herself languishing at a Pennsylvania university. Her older husband, Vincent, appears to have a flourishing career, yet his grant funding has been cut. Unexpectedly, the two career academics receive an invitation to a Christmas yacht party in Galveston Bay. Nelson makes it easy to understand why Diane and Vincent leave cold, dreary Pittsburgh for a warm, fantastic world filled with escaped chimpanzees, spectacular sailboats and white-pillared mansions. But their carefree vacation doesn’t last long. Vincent suspects that the director of the institute has murdered one of his former researchers. Nelson writes fluidly, drawing in readers. The novel effortlessly combines romance, drama and science. Fewer scientific anecdotes, however, would improve readability; the narrative lags until Nelson returns to her protagonists. By the time Nelson does pull back to Vincent and Diane, the couple’s marriage has come apart. After Vincent’s boat is reported missing, Diane finally begins to believe that her new employers are corrupt. Implausibly, she stays on in Texas, planning a trip to the Colombian jungle. As Diane inches closer to Colombia, the clichéd descriptions and stock situations mount. These weary the reader and render the story less believable. Finally, Diane reaches her destination, where she reunites with her mentor, Olimpia. As the setting moves into a dream world of a mountainous cloud forest, the novel assumes a rambling quality before its abrupt ending; an ending that includes too many loose ends, possibly reserved for a sequel.
An interesting yarn in need of a thorough edit and a better exploration of the main character’s motives and personae.