Amazonia by James Rollins

In these days of unrest throughout the world, it’s nice to be able to step back and see things as we wish they were. A hero fighting the forces of evil . . . chasing girls . . . and doing it all with a smirk. Escapism is big business. For instance, author Clive Cussler has made a career of writing books about his hero, Dirk Pitt. In fact, Dirk is so successful that Mr. Cussler has taken on a co-writer for a series of adventures about Kurt Austin, who works for the same fictitious government entity as Pitt and shares many of Pitt’s traits.

If more evidence is needed that people are looking for escape, look no further than the first installments of Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter. These two movies, both released within the past year, are both already in the top 10 of all time in revenue, with more coming in all the time. Even the august American Movie Classics has seen the need for escapism and is running all three of the Indiana Jones films in fairly regular rotation. There is currently an “Extreme James Bond” flick (called XXX) out and a full-blown James Bond chapter is due before the end of the year.

Into this atmosphere, James Rollins brings us a fantastic adventure called Amazonia. As the book opens, a man stumbles out of the Amazon jungle into a small village where he comes upon the village priest. The priest is shocked to find that the man is grievously wounded, and even worse, his tongue is missing. The priest attempts to bring aid and comfort to the man, but the village shaman refuses to let anyone help because of the strange design on the man’s chest. As Kamala, the priest’s assistant says, “The symbol is the mark of the Ban-ali tribe. Blood Jaguars. He belongs to them. None must give help to a ban-yi, the slave of the jaguar. It is death.” Kamala says that the man will die and that his body must be burned or death will come to the village.

The man dies and, instead of burning the body, the priest sends it to the States for identification. Positive ID is made — it’s Special Agent Gerald Clark, but with one small problem. Gerald Clark went into the jungle missing one of his arms and this man has two. Also, the man’s body is riddled with cancer that only started metastasizing three months previous.

All of this almost unbelievable evidence of something strange in the Amazon jungle gets things going in Washington. A team is dispatched to the Amazon to find Dr. Nathan Rand, an expert on the jungle whose parents died in an expedition to find the Blood Jaguar tribe. Once Dr. Rand is found, a party of other scientists, CIA men, and Army Rangers head out into the jungle to follow the Gerald Clark’s path and try to find out what happened to him.

Meanwhile, thousands of people everywhere along the path that Gerald Clark’s body took from the jungle back to the States are breaking out with a plague, including the village where the priest found the Gerald Clark. Something in or on the body is causing the plague, which adds finding a cure for it to the mission of our search party.

No adventure would be complete without a villain, and this book has a doozy. Louis Favre, together with his Amazon Indian companion Tshui, have been hired by a drug company to track the group in the jungle and, by any means necessary, take whatever cure they find and claim it for the drug company. Tshui has a very gruesome hobby that I will leave to the reader to discover.

Whew! Time for a breather. The author sets a pace of almost non-stop action from the beginning and the suspense almost never lets up. When it does, Rollins teaches us about various plants and how they are used to treat disease. This makes for some interesting reading that doesn’t detract from the suspenseful parts in the least.

So, as the old radio show “Escape” used to begin, “Tired of the everyday? Want to get away from it all? We offer you . . . ESCAPE!!”

Mr. Rollins offers you escape, and more than that, you’ll learn something new, which your Mama always told you to do every day.