by Roland Smith
Meet Marty and Grace O'Hara, thirteen-year-old twins who are amazingly close, considering how totally unlike they are. One way they like to put it is that Marty is a foot taller, and Grace is a foot smarter. The fearless brother, blessed with talents for art, cooking, and trouble, is fiercely protective of the genius sister, even though both of them have spent most of their lives in the safety of an exclusive Swiss boarding school while their parents, a writer-photographer team who make journalism look like an extreme sport, travel the world in search of danger and adventure.
All that changes when their parents' plane goes down in the Amazon jungle. Even though no bodies have been found, and the kids don't know whether they're orphans or not, they are pulled out of school by a mysterious uncle they have never heard of. Travis Wolfe, a bear-like man who owns his own island off the coast of Washington State, likes to keep a low profile so that he and his high-tech partner Ted Bronson can follow their true calling—protecting the earth's last big-game creatures unknown to science—without their discoveries being scooped by a phony preservationist, and genuine psychopath, named Dr. Noah Blackwood.
Learning all this is sort of like finding out that a one-man combination of Jacques Cousteau, Marlon Perkins, and Jane Goodall is actually a gangster who lines the walls of his inner sanctum with the stuffed heads of the last members of extinct species. But that's only the beginning of the learning curve for Marty and Grace. Suddenly they are supposed to believe that creatures like Bigfoot and the Loch Ness monster really exist. Scarcely have they arrived on Uncle Wolfe's secret island when they are whisked off again as Wolfe's team races to find the last Mokèlé-mbèmbé—that's Tyrannosaurus rex to you—before Blackwood's team of cryptid-hunting thugs, led by the pictorially named Butch McCall. The kids aren't supposed to get involved in the hunt for Mokèlé-mbèmbé, but after they free-fall out of an airplane over the Congolese jungle, they don't have much choice.
After that, their adventure is only a simple matter of surviving in one of the world's last completely untamed wild places, staying out of the clutches of McCall and his goons, finding a secret safehouse, and getting in touch with a man of the forest who can only be seen when he wants to be seen. Oh yes, and discovering the lair of the Mokèlé-mbèmbé. Surprisingly, considering that she has always been so easily frightened, Grace takes all this in stride... as if she's been there before... as if she is not, in fact, Marty's twin sister, but a child whose lineage poses a danger even greater than the creature that killed her real mother.
Created by an author who specializes in wildlife stories for young readers, the O'Hara twins are great fun. Their vivid personalities, and especially Marty's sense of humor and mischief, raise this book above the common-or-garden adventure-thriller for middle-school and junior-high-age readers. I bought this book so that I could finally with good conscience read its sequel Tentacles, which I'd had on my bookshelf for way too long. You, meanwhile, might come at it from the other direction and find that the thrills, laughs, and creepy foreshadowings of this book lure you irresistably to the sequel.
St. Louis, USA
Recommended Age: 12+
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