A while back I read James Rollins’ novel SANDSTORM and liked it quite a bit. Since then I’ve been meaning to read something else by him, but his new books have been entries in his Sigma Force series and I’m a little obsessive about reading series novels in order, and also many of them have been longer than I wanted to tackle. I could backtrack to his earlier stand-alone novels, and I still intend to, but I just haven’t gotten around to it.
However, his most recent book, ALTAR OF EDEN, is not only a stand-alone, but it comes in just short of 400 pages, which is my entirely arbitrary and often violated limit for how long a book I’ll read these days. So I gave it a try and was glad I did.
As Rollins (whose real name is James Czajkowski) explains in an introductory note, he was a veterinarian before he became a best-selling thriller writer and wanted to write a book with a protagonist who’s a vet. Dr. Lorna Polk works at an animal medical research center in Louisiana and is called on to examine the cargo of a mysterious freighter that runs aground during a hurricane. This throws her back in contact with Border Patrol agent Jack Menard, with whom she shares a tragic past. They discover that there’s plenty that’s odd – and dangerous – about the animals on the wrecked freighter, and that discovery plunges them into an international conspiracy that threatens their lives and the lives of several of their friends.
The real strength of this book is its speed. Nearly the entire book takes place in a span of about twenty-four hours, with the action racing along through three distinct set-pieces. The way Rollins paces the book and cuts back and forth between the characters is very effective. The compressed time-frame means that some things happen maybe just a hair too quickly to be believable, but that didn’t really bother me. I’m not enough of a science buff to say whether or not all the cutting-edge science in the book is plausible, but Rollins certainly makes it sound like it is.
I really enjoyed ALTAR OF EDEN. I’ve mentioned before that I’m not a big fan of a lot of modern thrillers, but based on what I’ve read so far, Rollins’ books are fine adventure novels. I’ll definitely be reading more.