IN this action-packed thriller the author, a very versatile writer, especially of thrillers and suspense stories, opens the story in Iraq where something mysterious is going on in Baghdad zoo. Two boys, Makeen and Bari notice that the cages are empty. Makeen, the older one, stares at the ruins of the zoo and recalls how six months ago he had come for a picnic at the al-Zawra Gardens with its amusement park rides and zoo, wandered among the cages of monkeys, parrots, cats, wolves and bears. He looks aghast at the part which sprawled outward in ruin of rubble and refuse. “It was a haunted wasteland of fire-blackened walls, fetid pools of oil, water and blasted buildings.” He also recalls seeing the firefight blaze across the garden between the American forces and the Republican Guards. The fierce battle had begun at dusk with the rattle of gunfire and the shrieks of rockets continuing throughout the night. Next morning though all had gone quiet, smoke hung thickly and from his apartment Makeen had seen hundreds of animals from the zoo stolen and this includes exotic birds, mammals and reptiles which had been smuggled to collectors in United States and Europe. Under the cover of the night, rare embryos are whisked from an Iraqi bio-weapons research facility and vanish along with the chief scientist. The boys probe further and stumble into a secret warehouse filled with equipment they don’t understand and are saved by a huge monster who they believe is cloned.
The action shifts to New Orleans where veterinarian Lorna Polk is called to inspect a fishing trawler. The crew is missing or dead but the boat holds a precious cargo – a caged group of exotic animals, clearly a part of a black market smuggling ring. Something is wrong with the beasts which have disturbing deformities. A mutated jaguar that has escaped from the zoo is going on a killing spree to feed herself and her young cub; there is a parrot without feathers; and a pair of Capuchin monkeys conjoined at the hip. However, all of them have one thing in common and that is a disturbingly heightened intelligence.
To uncover the truth about the origin of the strange cargo and the terrorists involved, Lorna teams up with Jack Menard, an agent with the US Border Patrol and both of them build up a close relationship and track a killer mutant tiger in the swamps of Louisiana to uncover the mystery behind the strange animals. Here the author presents a vivid description of the secret island which hides the laboratory. The book proceeds at a fast pace with the protagonist Lorna going to the help of Jack to uncover a mystery tied to fractal science, stem cell research and genetic engineering – an insidious threat of global terror that traces back mankind’s earliest roots. In this thrilling and informative novel that throws light on the risks involved in animal cloning is a fast-paced read.
What is more about the story, is that Lorna risks it all, including the life of her unborn child.
Rollins describes the text so vividly that one is able to visualise the dark and twisting waterways and vegetation that have shaped the complex history and culture of the region. The sense of things hidden and twisted secrets echoes in the scenery, making the story a thinking and provocative read, exploring the possibilities and hazards of human intellect.
(Hachette, The Orion Publishing Group, Orion House, 5 Upper Saint Martin’s Lane, London WC2H 9EA; www.hachetteindia.com)