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June 12, 2011

Page: 22/38

Home > 2011 Issues > June 12, 2011

A mystery set in macabre Iraqi war zone
Altar of Eden, James Rollins, Hachette, Pp 401 (HB), Rs 295.00

IN this thrilling fiction, following the fall of Baghdad to US troops, two Iraqi boys stumble upon armed men looting the city zoo, thus opening the floodgates for the smuggling of hundreds of exotic birds, mammals and reptiles to the West. But this crime hides a deeper secret.

Seven years later, a Louisiana state veterinarian called Lorna Polks is mysteriously summoned from her lab called ACRES by her boss Dr Carlton Metoyer, the head of ACRES and hustled away in a helicopter to the site of a beached fishing trawler, shipwrecked on a barrier island. Though initially puzzled as to what this shipwreck could possibly have to do with her, her curiosity is replaced with horror when she realises what the cargo is. The hull of the boat is packed to full with exotic animals, apparently bound for the US pet trade. The only thing is that these are not ordinary animals. They have a defect of some sort and a trait that is a throwback to the other animals’ ancestors. She notices a parrot with no feathers; a pair of Capuchin monkeys conjoined at the hip; a jaguar cub with the dentition of a sabre-tooth tiger. They also all show one uncanny trait – a disturbingly heightened intelligence. On probing further she finds that the crew is missing or is dead. Amidst a hail of bullets, an underground secret weapons lab is ransacked and something even more horrific is set free. The worst comes when she discovers that an animal is missing and has left behind a very large newborn.

Carlton turns to her, his bushy grey eyebrows resting high on his forehead. His wide eyes shine with raw curiosity, “The bigger question, my dear, is why.”

Subsequently, she, together with Jack Menard, decides to hunt for the escaped beast while uncovering a mystery tied to fractal science and genetic engineering, all to expose a horrifying secret that traces back to mankind’s earliest roots.

This book shows how Lorna stops what is about to be born before it can threaten not only the world but the very foundation of what it means to be human.

(Hachette, Orion House, 5 Upper St. Martin’s Lane, London WC2H 9EA;

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