“Once again I had the strong feeling, when flying into the valley, that I was leaving the twenty-first century entirely”: another perilous Preston (The Kraken Project, 2014, etc.) prestidigitation.
The noted novelist and explorer is well-known for two things: going out and doing things that would get most people killed and turning up ways to get killed that might not have occurred to readers beforehand but will certainly be on their minds afterward. Here, the adventure involves finding a lost civilization in the heart of the Honduran rain forest, a steaming-jungle sort of place called La Mosquitia that saw the last gasps of a culture related, by ideas if not blood, to the classic Maya. That connection makes archaeological hearts go pitter-patter, and it sets archaeological blood to boiling when well-funded nonarchaeologists go in search of suchlike things, armed with advanced GPS and other technological advantages. Preston, who blends easily with all camps, braves the bad feelings of the professionals to chart out a well-told, easily digested history of the region, a place sacred to and overrun by jaguars, spider monkeys, and various other deities and tutelary spirits. Finding the great capital known, in the neutral parlance of the scholars, as T1 puts Preston and company square in various cross hairs, not least of them those of the Honduran army, whose soldiers, he divines, are on hand not to protect the place from looters but to do some looting themselves. “I’ve seen this kind of corruption all over the world,” says one member of the expedition, “believe me, that’s what’s going to happen.” Yes, but more than that—and the snakes and spiders and vengeful spirits—there’s the specter of a spectacularly awful, incurable disease called leishmaniasis, on the introduction of which Preston goes all Hot Zone and moves from intrepid explorer to alarmed epidemiologist.
A story that moves from thrilling to sobering, fascinating to downright scary—trademark Preston, in other words, and another winner.