Derek Dowell's Reviews > Excavation

Excavation by James Rollins
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Nov 15, 11

Read in April, 2011

If you like glue-your-eyes-to-the-page adventure stories, Excavation, a James Rollins rip-roaring tale of Incas, archaeologists, and modern Spanish Inquisitors, should be right up your alley. Unfortunately, this Cussleresque steamroller of a plot suffers from an also Cussleresque gallery of characters with all the depth of cardboard cutouts, speaking a universal brand of bland dialogue perhaps best described as television news anchorese. Yes, we do get a bit of diversity when Irish student Maggie tosses a few colloquialisms our way, like "fecking" instead get the idea.

Maybe the problem was all in my head but Rollins characters seemed to be more quick outlines whipped up for the sole purpose of running them through Adventure Plot #8. Let's see, I'll give this one a cowboy hat and a Winchester, make this one gay, this one a homophobic football player, and toss in a wee Irish lass who will be sure to lose her clothes at least once during the proceedings, though managing to remain chaste and virginal as the day is long.

The plot is a doozy and kept me turning pages long past the point my wife had gone to sleep on the other side of the bed. Of course, I'm easily entertained, so take my opinion with a grain of salt. Professor Harry Conklin discovers the mummified remains of a Spanish monk at an Inca temple excavation site in the high jungle of the Andes Mountains in some damn south American country - I forget which. Exhibiting a startling lack of common sense, he leaves the archeology dig under the control of his graduate students, including nephew, Sam (of Stetson hat and Winchester fame), and runs back to the United States to find out his mummy's brain is packed with an explosive new form of gold that comes to be designated Substance Z.

While a cult of secret monks descended from the Spanish Inquisition chase Harry and his romantic foil, Joan, around for a bit, eventually stealing their sample of Substance Z, kidnapping them, and taking them back to some damn country in South America - I forget which - Sam's group of wandering grad students are trapped by a cave-in at the excavation and forced to find a back door which includes a voyage through traps, snares, and machinations worthy of Indiana Jones. Low on flashlight batteries and running from an army of tarantulas, the kids end up in an ancient necropolis battling albino monkey freaks who might have been Morlocks escaped from H.G. Wells story, The Time Machine.

Luckily, a knife the kids found in a pile of Incan trinkets was made from Substance Z and can morph into any sort of key or weapon they needed. Whew! I was worried there for a minute. At some point in the necropolis battle scene, we lose the services of stock character #3, also known as Ralph, the homophobic ex-football player, apparently included on the adventure for the express purpose of providing one half of the most clumsily handled homesexual/heterosexual moralizing our planet has ever seen. Good lord, this part of the story seems to have been completed as a third grade writing assignment. "Excellent work, Jimmy," says the teacher, patting our little tyke Rollins on the head. "I especially like how the mean old football player was killed and eaten by nightmarish subterranean beasts as punishment for his sins against the gallant gay guy."

I must stop here and say that Rollins less-than-dextrous handling of the growing love between two middle-aged scientists was a tragicomic model of clumsy writing equaled only by his characterization of the growing love between twenty-somethings Sam and Maggie.

After finding their way out of the necropolis, Sam's group stumbles into a throwback hidden Incan city existing as it had for 500 years. Then we get into more monkeyshines with Substance Z. Norman's knee is healed and he suddenly speaks Incan perfectly. Sam is killed and brought back to life. A centuries old Incan chief who was beheaded back in the day is in the process of growing a new body. Finally the whole thing explodes and we find out the mysterious substance is actually comprised of nanorobots from a distant world sent to colonize earth.

If spit-in-your-hands-and-reach-for-the-bullwhip adventure stories are your thing, and you aren't driven batty by the prospect of four hundred or so pages of stilted characters and dialogue, grab your Kindle and download it now. I did and I'd do it again. For the aforementioned shortcomings, but taking into account those damn effective cliffhanger section endings, I grant this book a solid 3.5 out of 5 stars.

~ reviewed by CD

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