William Race, a mild-mannered professor, is impressed into the U.S. army on a bizarre mission: to retrieve a centuries-old Incan idol revered by a Peruvian Indian tribe. The idol, carved out of a meteorite, is the missing ingredient in a so-called "planet-killer," a weapon long sought not only by the U.S. government, but also by a neo-Nazi group whose scientists, linguists, and anthropologists seem to be one step ahead of the Americans. Only Race can translate the legendary manuscript that holds the key to the idol's location high in the Andes in a temple guarded by huge, man-eating panthers, on a moat seething with equally carnivorous crocodiles.
It's a preposterous setup of the Crichton/Cook variety, but Matt Reilly, author of Ice Station, takes it to the max, with plenty of improbable feats of physical strength, an arsenal of weapons that would give Tom Clancy pause, and a breathtaking conclusion. There's also a sneaky little internecine war going on among various branches of the American military just to keep the tension ratcheted up. It's not too long on character development, but it's a fast-paced read, with plenty of cliffhangers (literal as well as metaphorical), lots of firepower, and enough villains for a whole other adventure. --Jane Adams