Review

Altar of Eden

by James Rollins

Many fans of James Rollins may be unaware of the fact that he is
also a licensed and practicing veterinarian. But until the release
of his latest book, ALTAR OF EDEN, he had yet to truly explore the
animal world in his fiction. Let it be said up front that this is
no James Herriot novel!

Rollins takes a break from his SIGMA Force series to
release this terrific stand-alone thriller. The theory at the heart
of the novel raises questions originally conceived in the Book of
Genesis, which describes how God had banished man from the Garden
of Eden for daring to trespass upon the Tree of Knowledge (and we
all know where that temptation took Adam and Eve). ALTAR OF EDEN
poses this question: What if man learned to create his own
Tree?

The novel opens with a brief prologue chapter that features two
young Iraqi boys stumbling upon a mysterious group of armed men
apparently looking for something in an abandoned zoo in the year
2003. The story then jumps to current day and brings us inside the
ACRES Facility located just outside of New Orleans, Louisiana.
ACRES stands for Audubon Center for the Research of Endangered
Species. It is here where we find one of the story’s
protagonists, state veterinarian Lorna Polk. With her expertise in
the area of exotic and endangered species, Lorna is called in to
assist the U.S. Border Patrol with the discovery of a shipwrecked
fishing trawler containing various forms of animal life never
before seen. In addition to the featherless parrot and conjoined
Capuchin monkeys is the absence of a far more lethal species that
has left tracks of its escape into the bayou and surrounding
area.

Lorna is forced to team with Border Patrol Agent Jack Menard.
She had been with Jack’s younger brother on the night he died
in an accident --- something that the Menard family has had
difficulty coming to grips with. Putting aside their history ---
and misreading of the actual events of that tragic evening ---
Lorna and Jack begin their investigation. On the surface, it
appears that the animals found on this ship were to be used as part
of a black market smuggling ring. However, when Lorna begins to
analyze the animals at the ACRES facility, she finds that something
far more sinister is at hand: these animals had been created by
some freakish form of experimentation. Additionally, they all seem
to be connected in some unconscious way to each other and have
incredible intelligence, including the understanding of advanced
mathematical sequences.

The beast that escaped the ship is a hybrid panther that bears
the jaw and teeth of the extinct saber-toothed tiger. There are
some very frightening sequences where this animal comes upon an
alligator preserve being visited by a scout troop. Unfortunately
for Lorna and Jack, apprehending it is just the beginning of their
nightmare. The group behind these animal experiments is known as
the Babylon Project, and they send a team of mercenaries to the
ACRES facility with the mission of bringing back the heads of the
animals rescued from the shipwreck and killing any and all human
witnesses in sight. This event takes place and ends with numerous
casualties, and also results in Lorna being captured and taken to
Lost Eden Cay, where this experimentation took place.

It is at Lost Eden Cay where Lorna is able to put a face to the
evil behind the cruel experimentation she uncovered. The Babylon
Project is a secret research division of Homeland Security, funded
by a billionaire financier and primarily run by a Middle-Eastern
scientist. They have an agenda based far beyond that of national
security --- they are looking to play God. This involves not only
animal experimentation but also the unthinkable concept of human
experimentation. As Lorna is shown the true intentions of the
Babylon Project, she is horrified at the implications it has for
both the animal kingdom and humanity --- and she may be the next
subject of this experimentation if Jack and his makeshift team of
rescuers cannot save her and stop these atrocities.

James Rollins never fails to deliver intelligent and
thought-provoking work, and he continues to do so in such a manner
that pleases thriller fans as well as those readers who like their
stories filled with scientific research and moral dilemmas. I look
forward to his next SIGMA Force novel, but hope this is
not the last time we encounter Lorna Polk and Jack Menard.

Reviewed by Ray Palen on January 5, 2011

Altar of Eden
by James Rollins

  • Publication Date: January 1, 2011
  • Genres: Fiction
  • Mass Market Paperback: 512 pages
  • Publisher: Harper
  • ISBN-10: 0062041517
  • ISBN-13: 9780062041517