Gryphonwood Press: Grayson, GA
2011 (pb), eKindle (2011)
Young Professor Thomas Thornton has led an “ecology fieldtrip” into the deep recesses of the Amazon rainforest, but when he, his grad assistant and two undergraduates fail to return as scheduled, his best friend and university colleague back in Charleston, South Carolina, follows instructions should this happen, and delivers an envelope to his fiancée, Kaylin Maxwell. Immediately after the exchange is made, the friend is snatched off the street and Kaylin is pursued by thugs who are obviously intent upon seeing the contents of the envelope.
Given the disappearance of her fiancée and the attack by persons unknown and the apparent inability of the local police to help her, Kaylin turns to the one man she believes can help her find Thomas Thornton: adventurer and underwater archaeologist Dane Maddock and his sidekick, Uriah “Bones” Bonebrake. The situation is complicated a bit by the fact that Kaylin, first introduced in the first Dane Maddock novel, Dourado, was once his lover. Somewhat reluctantly Dane takes on the search for her new love and thus begins another harum-scarum Dane Maddock adventure.
The contents of the mystery envelope contained the likeness of a portrait traced to the Royal Geographical Society—a portrait of famed early 20th Century explorer and adventurer, Percy Fawcett, who, like Professor Thornton, was never to return from the Amazon while searching for a lost city he called “Z.”* Thomas Thornton had long been obsessed by the lore and legend of Percy Fawcett, and it is obvious to Dane and Bones that there is some connection between the two disappearances. The intrepid adventurers follow clues found in the Fawcett portrait, including secrets left in Fawcett’s annotated copy of Conan Doyle’s best-selling The Lost World** and the good ship Quest, made famous by polar explorer Ernest Shackleton.
With bad guys constantly at their heels, Dane, Bones, Kaylin, and Dane’s crew of adventurers embark on a scavenger hunt, seeking answers to riddles left by Thornton in the present and Fawcett in the past that inevitably lead them to the Brazilian jungles that seemed to swallow up the two men separated in time by some 85 years.
While the dialogue can be painfully wooden at times, and the characters are rather one-dimensional, the plot and the action do gallop along at a blistering pace. The adventure does feature a rogue bioengineering company; the return of the sinister “Dominion” conspiracy from the earlier novel Cibola; zombie-like warriors; a lost city inhabited by the descendants of Carthaginian refugees fleeing the Third Punic War, who have guarded a monstrous secret for more than 2,000 years; and even a final showdown with the Mapinguari, legendary (and reported deadly) giant sloth-like creatures said to inhabit the Amazon! What’s not to like about a book like this!
Two trowels for this unabashedly delightful guilty pleasure.
* For a thoroughly enjoyable historical recounting of the life and times of Col. Percy Fawcett and his passionate quest, see David Grann’s The Lost City of Z: A Tale of Deadly Obsession in the Amazon (Doubleday Publishers, 2009)
** Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Lost World (1912) is arguably still the best of its genre.