James Rollins’s latest bestseller is a white-knuckled scream ride filled with action and enough imagination to fill a reader’s mind with hair-breadth escapes for hours. Mark off a night to read this one, folks, because you’re gonna be nailed to the pages till you finish the last breath-taking page.
I’m a big fan of his books, and those of you who read him probably are too. But for the uninitiated, Rollins is a versatile writer. He writes standalone thrillers like this one under James Rollins, as well as an ongoing military/suspense/science series about a special forces unit called Sigma Force. He’s also writing a young adult series about a young hero named Jake Ransom. As James Clemens, he writes fantasy novels.
Altar of Eden opens in Iraq with something mysterious going on in the Baghdad Zoo. Two boys stumble into a secret warehouse filled with equipment they don’t understand, and are saved by a huge monster they believe is culled from myth.
The action quickly shifts to New Orleans where veterinarian Lorna Polk is called into a strange situation involving mutated creatures found in a boat wreck going up the Mississippi River. Before I had a chance to really settle into that idea, Rollins ups the ante by including a huge mutated jaguar that’s gotten away and is going to go on a kill spree to feed herself and her young cub. That hunt through darkness immediately claimed all my attention because it felt like Jaws on land and I love this kind of fiction when it works. Rollins pulls off the hunt, the anticipation of the strike, and the horror with skill that sent me chasing through the pages.
The fact that the chase culminated in an alligator farm with an 18-foot alligator named Elvis was just frosting on the cake. I was really expecting a fight between the jaguar and the alligator, but was only a little disappointed when it didn’t because Rollins wrings every bit of nerve-racking suspense out of the situation that he can.
Just as that chase dies down, the scientific weirdness kicks in like a jet afterburner. One of the things I’ve always enjoyed about Rollins is the way he lays out scientific thinking or history in ways that are immediately grasped by his readers. He doesn’t dumb it down. He couches it in terms that lay readers can pick up on and understand.
I loved the idea of the group mind as well as the other possibilities that the author postulates. I really think we’re not that far off from doing some of the things he writes about in this book, which makes things even more scary.
Even as that is going on, Rollins brings in his bad guys. You don’t really forget about them, but the suddenness and viciousness of their attack arrives with the speed and accuracy of a major league hitter’s homerun swing. Rollins cuts back and forth between the different action going on and really winds the clock with this one.
In some ways, some of the characters are thin. Jack Menard, our action hero, comes out really well and there’s enough depth in his back story with Lorna to carry the relationship. I loved Lorna’s connection with the animals as well as having to deal with the tragedy in her past. But both Lorna and Jack’s brother come off almost as cardboard, though they have some nice lines and are good to have around.
But face it. This book isn’t about the characters really. It’s about the action. It’s about imagining what it would be like to be in the middle of the situation and how things are going to work out. In that regard, Rollins delivers a fantastic thriller that fills a reader’s mind with larger-than-life threats and last-minute saves. I truly regretted finishing the book because I know it’s going to be a while before I find another read like this one. At least until Rollins’s next book arrives.Powered by Sidelines