The agent in charge of the case is Jack Menard. We discover almost immediately that a secret from the past binds Jack and Lorna. Both protagonists are native to New Orleans, but from very different backgrounds. Lorna and her brother are the last descendants of a line of wealthy, educated plantation owners. Jack was raised in a large Cajun family in the bayou. The tragedy that they shared in the past has shaped the separate careers of each.
“Jack turned and shone his flashlight into the nearest cage.
She stared inside – and knew she was wrong about everything.”
The smuggling operation is no routinely illicit transport of exotic animals across a porous border. The animals discovered in the fishing trawler display a mutual genetic trait that distinguishes them from other members of their species.
“It looks like a severe form of atavism,” Lorna said.
“And that would be what in English?”
She offered him a small apologetic smile. “Ataism is where a genetic trait, lost for generations, reappears in an individual.”
“A genetic throwback?”
“Exactly. In this case, a throwback to a time before snakes lost their limbs.”
“That’s a mighty long throw, isn’t it?”
She shrugged and moved on. “Most atavism is caused by the accidental recombination of genes. But I don’t think it was accidental here, not with these many cases.”
“So you’re saying someone bred them this way on purpose. Is that even possible?”
“I can’t rule it out. Genetic science has come a long way and continues to push boundaries…”
Here we encounter the question of can vs. should. Though stretched to its fictional limits, Rollins’ science, and speculation regarding the possibilities of genetic technology, is sound. However, the pacing does fall victim to the hazard of the well-researched novel; it lags during expository scenes. Unfortunately for Rollins, the biotechnology involved is so complex, that there is almost no way to avoid slowing the momentum of plot with detail. He gets through these passages as quickly as possible, and as the action builds speed, the drag forces of exposition are overcome.
One of the animals that has escaped from the hurricane-wrecked trawler is a feline of epic proportions. Based on the physiology of the cub left behind, Lorna deduces that not only is this cat a member of the genus Panthera, but likely displays traits of atavism dating back to the saber-toothed tiger.