Clive Cussler, in collaboration with Jack Du Brul, has written a new Oregon Files novel that keeps readers on edge throughout. Cussler's knowledge of water-submersible vehicles becomes pivotal in guiding us through his latest adventure, which begins in Eastern China in 1281 A.D.
General Khenbish has been ordered to capture a walled village when the local warlord refuses to pay the Mongol Khan his entire tax burden. The Khan has sent his emissary, Marco Polo, to witness the battle. Two wooden boxes, each containing an octagonal crystal, are pointed in the wall's direction and, when the order is given, fired at the fortress. Blinded by beams from the crystals, fighters behind the wall cannot react when the General's arrows strike and ignite bags beneath them containing Fire Medicine, or gunpowder. Polo decides that the mystery of the crystals may follow him to his grave.
Cussler fast forwards to London in the present time, where an American professor lectures a meager group about his research into Polo's discoveries. He believes that an Italian writer named Rustichello, who was imprisoned with Polo, wrote down Polo's censored information about China's superior achievements in medicine, engineering and warfare. Professor Cantor tells of his limited access to Rustichello's Roman de Roi Artus, where Polo has described the Khenbish battle using a crystal that funnels sunlight into a blinding beam. A mysterious stranger has attended the lecture, offering the professor a ride at the end. Authorities make no mention of the missing Rustichello notes when Cantor's battered body is discovered a month later.
The scene now shifts to northern Waziristan, Afghanistan, where Juan Cabrillo and his Oregon crew are hired to rescue wealthy Indonesian businessman Gunawan Bahar's son from the Taliban's control, as the mentally challenged young man was now groomed as a suicide bomber. Cabrillo's corporation is being paid a hefty sum to return the youngster, Seti, to his father and holds what appears to be a captured and wounded American soldier. With the threat from an unmanned drone above and Taliban fighters on the ground, Cabrillo, Linda, Linc and Eddie secure the two prisoners with stealth and speed. They drive out of the village in a commandeered ancient bus but are halted abruptly at a Taliban checkpoint. They race the old bus past the roadblock into a harrowing series of switchbacks, chased closely by a Taliban pickup armed with a machine gun. Cabrillo, in a quick-thinking move, arms a pre-set bomb and explodes the pickup behind them. MacDougal Lawless, the rescued American soldier, grabs the steering wheel, jams the bus off the road and into a ditch, saving them from eradication by an errant Hellfire missile. Back on board the Oregon, Lawless is formally thanked and welcomed to the crew.
The Oregon's appearance is that of a battered, worn-out cargo ship, barnacles and scraped paint as testimony to many years at sea. Underneath, she is a sleek ship, complete with new-age technology that most nations would drool over. The crew already has a new client, a Swiss financier whose adventurous daughter has vanished in the jungles of Myanmar, formerly Burma. Msr. Croissard believes that Soleil is in grave danger, but insists that his bodyguard, John Smith, accompany the Oregon crew. A reluctant Cabrillo accepts the challenge. Soleil's last communication states that they are close, but to what? At the same hotel, a jihadist terrorist opens fire and Cabrillo's men are drawn into a gunfight. However, the attack is seemingly unrelated to his upcoming mission. Cabrillo soon sets foot on foreign ground, whose dictators do not recognize the American government.
Far into the jungle, they maneuver rapid rivers, waterfalls, tangled jungle undergrowth, and finally come across an ancient holy Buddhist site. Soleil's bullet-riddled tent and mangled camping items suggest a vicious and deadly attack, but there are no dead bodies. The Oregon crew is soon under attack and separated; Cabrillo and Lawless find themselves in a Burmese prison camp. Surviving waterboarding torture, Cabrillo reflects back on recent events and concludes that they've been set up. But why?
Clive Cussler draws colorful word pictures of the surroundings, the jungle, the water travel and his cast of characters. The lone annoyance is Lawless's southern use of "Ah" for "I." Before the final word is read, the bizarre and unlikely puzzles congeal with chilling consequences, and villains and heroes are not necessarily as clear-cut as they may seem. International weapons deals that have deadly strike potential form the novel's undercurrent. Slithering through tough jungle terrain, Cabrillo sorts out the tangled mysteries that endanger his crew and the entire free world. Material in the prologue about Marco Polo becomes pivotal in the convoluted solution of THE JUNGLE, which I highly recommend.
--- Reviewed by Judy Gigstad