“On thinking about Hell, I gather my brother Shelley found it was a place much like the city of London. I, who live in Los Angeles and not in London, find, on thinking about Hell, that it must be still more like Los Angeles.”
Every evening, guests at the Erebus Resort in the mountains of Colorado gather to watch ‘de-extincted’ Pleistocene animals like woolly mammoths; giant armadillos; rhinoceros-like indricotheres; giant ground sloths; Irish elk; and giant beavers. The luxury resort, a kind of Disneyland for rich people, comprises a magnificent lodge in a valley surrounded by 144 square miles of rugged, mountainous terrain.
Honeymooners Olivia and Mark Gunnerson—who happens to be the son of a tech billionaire—stay at the lodge for a few days before they embark on an eight-day guided hike along Erebus Resort’s 110-mile Barbican Trek. On their first night out, the couple sets up camp on a ridge, dines on freeze-dried chicken tetrazzini, and retires to their tent. Later that night, Olivia and Mark are attacked and abducted.
To investigate the Gunnersons’ disappearance, Agent Frankie Cash of the Colorado Bureau of Investigation (CBI) is sent to Erebus along with a CSI team. At the resort, Cash collaborates with Sheriff James Colcord to search for the Gunnersons. Cash—a sharp-tongued woman who comes from Maine, and Colcord—an old-fashioned guy who hails from Colorado, start out as uneasy partners but ultimately work well together.
Cash and Colcord study the crime scene, speak to Erebus’s managers and security experts, visit Erebus’s research laboratory, and interview Erebus’s chief scientist, Dr. Marius Karman. Karman supervises the ‘Erebus Project,’ which uses DNA from extinct creatures to produce ‘de-extincted’ animals for release into the Erebus Resort. When Cash and Colcord question the project’s safety, Karman insists the new fauna are non-aggressive herbivores.
When the investigators search the woods, they sense silent shapes flitting through the trees and hear hideous yowling. Cash and Colcord realize cryptic creatures are scurrying around the resort, which is made even more evident by additional frightening occurrences.
Meanwhile, a film crew is making a movie on the resort property, directed by Slavomir Doyle. Doyle tells Cash and Colcord the film, called Hannibal and the Baron, is about a herd of mammoths that get caught in a time warp and appear in the 1880s. Cowboys then tame the mammoths and ride them into town to save the residents from a robber baron. Some of Doyle’s crew weren’t on the movie set when the Gunnersons disappeared, and Cash and Colcord reserve the right to question them.
As all this is happening, Marc Gunnerson’s wealthy father, drunk and grief-stricken, lashes out about his missing son. Gunnerson Sr. insists that Erebus’s billionaire founder, Maitland Barrow, be called on the carpet to answer for what’s happened.
As evidence is collected and analyzed, Cash and Colcord conclude that a good deal of lying and deception is occurring. The investigators probe into events more deeply, and shocking secrets are revealed.
The novel, a combination police procedural and adventure story, is engaging and suspenseful, with an interesting array of characters. I especially ‘loved to hate’ Cash’s boss at the CBI, Wallace McFaul, who tries to take credit for Cash’s discoveries and to blame her for his deplorable mistakes.
In the Afterword, author Douglas Preston explains that seemingly fictitious elements of his story are based on scientific research. Moreover, Preston asserts that a company called Colossal—founded by geneticist George Church and technology entrepreneur Ben Lamm—is focused on rapidly advancing the field of species de-extinction.
For a glimpse of things we might see in the future, read the book. Highly recommended.
Thanks to Netgalley, Douglas Preston, and Tor Publishing Group for a copy of the book.
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