A neatly tied, portentous thriller about a mission to find the remains of American soldiers—a mission that uncovers a lot more than their mortal souls.
Photojournalist Molly Drake gets a chance to do some serious work—instead of the standard “photo feature about ski country plutocrats”—when a job comes up with the New York Times Magazine to cover a dig in Cambodia to find remains of a US pilot shot down years ago. Molly’s got some emotional baggage, but it isn’t as heavy as her new $10,000 digital camera ($10,000 for a piece of magic will seem a bargain when it comes to what the camera reveals) though the baggage will provide some fancy needlework by story’s end. Long (Year Zero, 2002, etc.) keeps the tone somber and the style laconic, a tactic that works well with the nature of the undertaking and the gathering series of inexplicable images that appear on Molly’s digital display: ghostly figures, “the morning people,” come and go in the tropical mist; and a clear shot through water discloses a US Army helmet when all it should have picked up was the reflection of the flash. A creeping sense of dread, the strange weather, a cast of intriguingly repellent characters keep readers tethered to the story, as does the historical material Long uses to describe the lost city the team is led to explore. He gets his teeth modestly into the airy and exotic mysteries of the East, yet when the tale shakes itself dry, it’s America that’s got all the demons in its ratty closet of secrets. As ambiguities peel away, none of the characters goes unscathed, but the story gels and then gratifyingly dissolves, just like the specters of the morning.
Too enthralling a landscape to be a heart of darkness, but the tale is gripping as it goes its merry, menacing way, shredding reality and body parts.