ALTAR OF EDEN by James Rollins

Not in a million years would I pick up an action packed thriller from the shelf of any bookshop or library.  So you can imagine my quiet discontent at finding Rollins’ latest offering within the selection of books http://www.waterstones.com kindly sent me to read and review.

But as the age old proverb goes: Never judge a book by its cover.

The story begins in the weeks after the initial air strikes in Baghdad in 2003.  Two young brothers, scavenging for food, come across a clandestine meeting between two men which has an unexpectedly horrific outcome. 

Great, I thought, not my cup a tea at all, a story about military and war.  But to my utmost surprise the story shifts in time and location.  Six weeks on, in the state of Louisiana a hurricane has swept through clearing out the power at The Audubon Center for Research of Endangered Species (ACRES).  Dr. Lorna Polk, responsible for ‘pulling endangered species back from the brink of extinction’ is anxious to see if any of her frozen genetic bank has been ruined.  But there will be little time to assess the damage done.

Out in the Mississippi a cargo ship has run aground during the storm.  Carrying a myriad of wild, unusual animals, no crew appear to have survived the storm.  Worse still one specimen in particular appears to have escaped.  Not sure with what he’s dealing with, Agent Jack Menard of the elite Border Patrol Air and Marine Unit, calls in Lorna to assist.  Unlocking a past of pain and grief. 

But there is no time to lose.  A gigantic jaguar with throwbacks traits to a sabre-toothed age is running loose across the bayous hell bent on killing anything and everything in its path.  And when the ship is blown to smithereens it is evident someone wants to cover their tracks.  While Jack and Lorna go big cat hunting, the scientists at ACRES are able to uncover genetic irregularities in the animals who survived.  Little do they know that uncovering such mystery will put them in potentially fatal danger themselves.

I am completely in awe of James Rollins and his ability to keep me hooked in suspense.  Nearly 400 pages over a 36 hour period is an amazing feat and his capacity to paint such a vivid picture is enviable.  His pace is diligent, building tension and anxiety until your heart feels as if it will explode then pulling right back when you’re desperate to discover what will happen next. 

Rollins most impressive achievement, for me, is the way he deftly interweaves a subplot of love and grief between the protagonists completely in contrast to the action and anticipation of the main plot, yet the two marry together perfectly.  

This story goes way beyond what I have reviewed here.  Into a world of scientific advancement, questioning politics and ideologies and provoking frighteningly worrying possibilities.  Thankfully he ends the book with a glossary of notes, ‘truth or fiction’ which might set your mind at rest.

Altar of Eden is not for the faint hearted but it is a terrifyingly addictive read.  Surely it’s only a matter of time before film producers come knocking on Rollins’ door?

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