JAMES ROLLINS – Amazonia. William Morrow, hardcover, 2002. Avon, paperback, 2003.

   James Rollins is a vet who has written several thrillers that don’t pose any serious threat to Clive Cussler but travel the same well-worn path of outsize adventures in tropical/arctic/marine settings, with fantastic elements that include lost races, animals surviving from prehistoric times, and cardboard characters. As you might imagine, I enjoy this sort of flimflammery.

   Nathan Rand’s father and his scientific party were lost in the “lush wilderness of the Amazon” years ago and presumed dead. Now a surviving member has made his way from the depths of the jungle but has died, his body acidly eaten away by malignant tumors. The most notable thing about the dead returnee is that he had one arm when he disappeared with the Rand party, |but stumbled from the jungle years later with two arms.

   The government quickly forms a search team while a multinational corporation, the company that originally financed the Rand expedition, is secretly fielding its own search team, not to rescue but to retrieve any medical data they might use and destroy the government party.

   Add to the mix a mysterious, perhaps legendary tribe of jaguar warriors, and jungle perils that beggar every imagination but that of the author and you have a predictable Rollins’ juggernaut on the move.

   The most memorable — and sympathetic — creation is a black jaguar trained by one of the members of the government crew. I’m sure that you’1l be relieved to know that he survives, although not all of the other good guys do. The most striking element is a gigantic, centuries old tree that contains the still living bodies of millennia of animals and humans in its roots, feeding off their vital essences and creating a unique evolutionary record.

   Now to track down Ice Hunt, which appears to be the latest in the apparently successful and profitable series. (I say that only because I can’t imagine that anyone would continue publishing these overwritten, implausible but fun novels if they weren’t making money.)

— Reprinted from Walter’s Place #159, March 2004.