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AMAZONIA by James Rollins

AMAZONIA

By James Rollins

Pub Date: March 26th, 2002
ISBN: 0-06-000248-4
Publisher: Morrow/HarperCollins

Workmanlike debut hardcover, a variation on King Solomon’s Mines, this time set in the Amazon, where a search party seeks a bizarre protein that can kill and cure.

Four years previously, ethno-botanist Nate Rand’s father and a team of 30 researchers disappeared while on a mission into the rain forest. Now the CIA’s Environmental Center wants to learn what fate befell the crew. They ask Nate and a team that includes an anthropologist, a shaman, and comely, auburn-haired Kelly O’Brien to find out. Adept at action scenes, Rollins keeps everything that follows sliding, swooping, and clawing at a steady, if ultimately wearying, pace. In the “eat-or-be-eaten world” of the rain forest come encounters with monstrous anacondas, dark storms of locusts, and leaping piranhas. This latter aberration, a mutation of sharks with frogs, apparently stemmed from an Amazonian tribe’s use of a Jekyll-and-Hyde protein that both creates and kills other cells. Meanwhile, back at the CIA’s Langley headquarters, Kelly’s mother discovers that this same deadly element is spreading at home, threatening even Kelly’s daughter, now fallen ill. And at the same time, in a back corner of the jungle, notorious soldier-of-fortune Louis Favre and his nasty accomplice Tshui, shrunken heads adorning her lithe, sinuous, seminude body, shadow Rand and company, setting them up for a deadly ambush at the site of a mysterious tree. Far-fetched as all this sounds, Rollins makes it by and large credible, sketching out as he does a convincing layer of myth to explain the tree’s fantastic powers. And yet there’s nary a shiver to be had. Sense of place is negligible, the armchair traveler never quite forgetting—well, the armchair.

Punchy but scare-free. Still, there are enough cliffhangers here to keep a Saturday afternoon serial running for a year.