Altar of Eden [NOOK Book]


Following the fall of Baghdad, two Iraqi boys stumble upon armed men looting the city zoo. The floodgates have been opened for the smuggling of hundreds of exotic birds, mammals, and reptiles to Western nations, but this crime hides a deeper secret. Amid a hail of bullets, a concealed underground weapons lab is ransacked—and something even more horrific is set free.

Seven years later, Louisiana state veterinarian Lorna Polk stumbles upon a fishing trawler shipwrecked on a ...

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Altar of Eden

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Following the fall of Baghdad, two Iraqi boys stumble upon armed men looting the city zoo. The floodgates have been opened for the smuggling of hundreds of exotic birds, mammals, and reptiles to Western nations, but this crime hides a deeper secret. Amid a hail of bullets, a concealed underground weapons lab is ransacked—and something even more horrific is set free.

Seven years later, Louisiana state veterinarian Lorna Polk stumbles upon a fishing trawler shipwrecked on a barrier island. The crew is missing or dead, but the boat holds a frightening cargo: a caged group of exotic animals, clearly part of a black market smuggling ring.

Yet, something is wrong with these beasts, disturbing deformities that make no sense: a parrot with no feathers, a pair of Capuchin monkeys conjoined at the hip, a jaguar cub with the dentition of a saber-toothed tiger. They also all share one uncanny trait—a disturbingly heightened intelligence.

To uncover the truth about the origin of this strange cargo and the terrorist threat it poses, Lorna must team up with a man who shares a dark and bloody past with her and is now an agent with the U.S. Border Patrol, Jack Menard.

Together, the two must hunt for a beast that escaped the shipwreck while uncovering a mystery tied to fractal science and genetic engineering, all to expose a horrifying secret that traces back to humankind's earliest roots.

But can Lorna stop what is about to be born upon the altar of Eden before it threatens not only the world but also the very foundation of what it means to be human?

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Editorial Reviews

“Rollins is as sure-footed on new ground as he is in the familiar Sigma Force world.”
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780061959141
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 12/29/2009
  • Format: eBook
  • Pages: 528
  • Sales rank: 28,569
  • File size: 3 MB

Meet the Author

James Rollins

James Rollins is the New York Times bestselling author of international thrillers that have been translated into more than forty languages. His Sigma series has been lauded as one of the "top crowd pleasers" (New York Times) and "hottest summer reads" (People magazine). In each novel, acclaimed for its originality, Rollins unveils unseen worlds, scientific breakthroughs, and historical secrets—and he does it all at breakneck speed and with stunning insight.


James Rollins is the New York Times, USA Today and Publishers Weekly bestselling author of Black Order, Map of Bones and other adventure thrillers. He was born in Chicago and grew up in Ontario, Canada, and St. Louis, Missouri. He graduated with honors from the University of Missouri with a degree in veterinary medicine. And like most veterinarians, he presently shares his home with a Golden Retriever, a Dachshund, and a sixty-five year old parrot named Igor. Rollins currently practices in Northern California, and when not writing or working in his veterinary practice, he can often be found underground or underwater as an amateur spelunker and scuba diver. These hobbies have helped in the creation of his earlier books Subterranean, Deep Fathom, Amazonia, and Sandstorm. His thriller, Black Order, skyrocketed to the top of bestseller lists across the country, winning the author countless new fans, and was proclaimed by People magazine as one of last summer's "hottest reads." Map of Bones was chosen by Publishers Weekly as one of the most likely to win over Dan Brown's faithful audience, and the New York Times rated the book as one the summer's top crowd pleasers.

Author biography courtesy of HarperCollins.

Good To Know

Some fun and fascinating outtakes from our interview with Rollins:

"I often get asked if I still practice veterinary medicine. While I don't practice full-time, I still do volunteer. I work with a group that traps stray cats, brings them to the shelter, where I spend a day spaying and neutering them. It's basically eight hours of removing genitalia. It's a hobby."

"I am a TV junkie. I have two Tivos and they are constantly full."

"My first job was to flip pizzas. I once got a pie spinning that was ten feet across. I had to spin it on my back to keep it going. Yet, I still love pizza."

"Two hobbies I love -- caving and scuba diving -- are also essential research for my novels. Case in point:

I've always been an avid cave explorer, from the vast systems in Missouri to the lava tubes of Hawaii to the tighter squeezes of the California foothills. But one of my most frightening episodes also allowed me to better describe claustrophobia in my novels. While climbing out of the fairly technical wild cavern, involving lots of rope work, I managed to jam myself midway up a narrow vertical chute. Hung up on my ascending gear midway up the chute, I found myself unable to move up or down. My chest was squeezed between two walls, my left knee turned the wrong way. I could not maneuver, and there was not enough room to get a rescue climber to me. I was trapped. I remember the team leader, leaning down from above, shining his helmet lamp at me. ‘You either find a way to un-jam yourself, or you stay there forever.'

So over the course of a long hour -- wriggling, sweating, cursing, and clawing -- I managed to creep a millimeter at a time out of the jam. After this event, I had a better understanding for panic and the determination born of pure desperation, essential ingredients for to writing thrilling fiction.

But spelunking through caves was not my only ‘research' lesson. Two decades ago, I also took up scuba diving and went on dive trips all around the world: Monterey Bay, Hawaii, South Pacific, Australia. I particularly remember one trip to the Great Barrier Reef in Australia. I was informed by the dive master to beware of the many hazards found in the region. ‘On land, Australia has seven of the ten deadliest snakes. The seas are worse. Box jellyfish can kill in minutes. Local sea snakes are some of the most toxic. But worst of all is the stone fish. It looks like a stone, but its spines are loaded with paralytic poison. So be careful what you touch.'

And down we all went, buddied up in pairs, enthusiastic and excited. I dropped toward the reef and adjust my buoyancy until I'm floating just above the reef. All around spread amazing sights: giant clams, a flurry of colored fish, an astounding variety of coral. But I miscalculated my buoyancy, my weight shifted, and I planted a hand into the sand to stabilize my tumble, careful of the razor-sharp coral. Inches from my thumb, a jagged rock suddenly sprouted fins and swam away. I met the gaze of my buddy diver. His wide eyes firmed up the identification. The deadly stone fish. And I had almost slapped my hand on its back. As the fish scurried away, I understood at that exact moment how little Nature cared about the life of a scuba-diving novelist. Down here, Nature ruled. We were only visitors.

This mix of respect and terror is brought to life in my latest novel, The Judas Strain."

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    1. Hometown:
      Sacramento, California
    1. Date of Birth:
      August 20, 1961
    2. Place of Birth:
      Chicago, Illinois

Interviews & Essays

James Rollins on the Truth behind the Tale

Your SIGMA series has been incredibly popular. What drew you to write a stand-alone thriller now?

After writing six Sigma novels, I was ready to tackle an independent story, one free of baggage and recurring characters. It was also a chance to return to my writing roots. My first five novels were stand-alone adventures. Each book was an attempt to capture some of the spirit of adventure found in the pulp novels that I grew up reading, paired with the wild imagination of writers such as H.G. Wells, Jules Verne, and H. Rider Haggard.

In this book the main character is a veterinarian. For many years you were a practicing vet. What made you want to have a protagonist share your former profession?

Because I still love the profession. I always wanted to be a veterinarian. I remember in third grade getting that assignment all teachers eventually inflict upon their students: to answer what do you want to be when you grow up? I sat at my desk as a third grader, scratching my head. I knew I wanted to be a veterinarian, but I had a big problem. I didn't know how to spell it. So I did the one thing all third graders are loath to do. I looked it up in the dictionary. I was that determined to be a veterinarian.

We see that you decided to make Dr. Lorna Polk a woman. How are you able to get inside the mind of a woman so well and what made you want to write from the point of view of a woman for this book?

When I was in veterinary school, half of the class was composed of women. Since then, that percentage has continued to grow. So I thought it would beappropriate to tell the story from such a fresh perspective. I also grew up with three brothers . . . and more importantly, three sisters. When it comes to getting inside the mind of a woman, they keep me honest. They're still my best first readers. And since I was breaking ground writing a new subgenre anyway-the first veterinary thriller-I thought I'd have a woman take the reins in what is normally a male-dominated genre. But I didn't want to write a female Rambo. I wanted to flesh out a real woman with a rich history, one tied to New Orleans where the story takes place. So Lorna Polk came into being.

One of the true scientific gems you include in ALTAR OF EDEN is the idea of "genetic throwbacks." What exactly is a genetic throwback and is it possible for my next kitten to be born with saber-tooth fangs?

The scientific term for "genetic throwback" is atavism. It's a real phenomenon where a genetic trait, lost for generations, returns in an individual. In this novel, one of the many creatures featured is a python born with reptilian limbs, a throwback to a time before the snake's ancestor lost its legs. I thought I was making this creature up, but a couple of months ago, I stumbled upon a scientific article about a Chinese snake born with a fully functional reptilian limb poking out of its flank. For the curious, a quick Google search will bring up a picture of this snake. It just goes to show that nature is full of surprises.

Another concept that you include in ALTAR OF EDEN is the idea of a higher, collective intelligence. Do you believe in the notion that animals can think together? Do you believe this type of intelligence already exists?

Something is definitely going on, something beyond our current understanding. One of the scientific phenomena explored in this novel is the human-animal bond-the strange and deep affinity humans have for animals, an affinity that goes beyond mere affection or need for companionship. The presence of animals has a profound effect on people: petting a cat triggers an immediate drop in blood pressure, animals brought into hospital wards boost immune responses in patients and accelerate healing times. Yet, it remains a mystery why we have this bodily reaction. Current research is exploring the roots of this strange bond. In this novel, I offer my own theory. But to tell you more would ruin the story.

I'm sure many fans of the SIGMA series are panicking, wondering when they are going to see Gray Pierce, Painter Crowe and the rest of SIGMA again. Why don't you quell their fears, when can we see the next SIGMA?

It comes out next summer (July 2010). In that book, a major storyline that has been building over the course of the series comes to a head, and all Hell breaks loose . . . in this case, literally. It's titled The Devil Colony and it's a huge story.
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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4
( 641 )
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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 645 Customer Reviews
  • Posted December 19, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    Fans will relish this terrific thrille

    With the fall of Baghdad, the American political leadership in the White House and the Pentagon howled in euphoria for the military victory insured the reelection next year. In their adrenalin highs, no one was concerned over looting including the zoo of its exotic animals that would make a fortune in the black markets of the west as some Iraqi adjust to capitalism rather quickly. However, when the zoo was invaded by smugglers, a secret underground lab is found.

    Seven years later research environmental biologist Dr. Lorna Park finds a wrecked trawler on Lost Eden Cay, a barrier island off the Louisiana coast. No crewman is found alive, but inside the cargo bay is a shocker; mutations of species that should not exist are locked in cages. Besides physical anomalies, these caged beasts are extremely intelligent. Ironically as her work is to save endangered species, Lorna is unsure what to do with this strange cargo. She and U.S. Border Patrol officer Jack Menard unite in an attempt to uncover who genetically modified the animals and perhaps more important the one beast who escaped captivity.

    This is a fast-paced thriller that modernizes Dr. Moreau using recent current events including the Iraq War and genetic breakthroughs; but the key is like HG Wells did, James Rollins makes the bad guys and altered animals especially the one that got away three dimensional and intelligent. The lead couple is a solid pairing, as they follow the clues of diabolically clever villains and an even smarter genetically altered beast. With an underlying message to think what we sow before we Alter Eden, fans will relish this terrific thriller.

    Harriet Klausner

    18 out of 22 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted December 31, 2009

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    I have read every book James Rollins has written (after coming across his work accidentally). I have yet to be disappointed in one of his novels. They are always well thought out and well researched. His writing style gives just enough techno jargon to serve its purpose , but always comes with a character who needs it in layman's terms and I thank him for that. I love the way he takes something historically provocative and weaves a thrilling tale around it. If you've never read his work, but like action packed adventure, Rollins is your guy.

    11 out of 12 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted July 23, 2010

    Rollins Continues to Stagger Readers

    Writing plots and intricate characters that virtually reach out to snare like tentacles, Rollins continues to stagger us with his mind-blowing style in the introduction of his stand-alone thriller, "Altar of Eden". Beautifully crafted and set in the backcountry of Louisiana, it only takes a small squint of the eyes to see the landscape unfurl as Rollins words progress.

    When veterinarian Lorna Polk is summoned to the scene of an abandoned shipwreck, she couldn't have been prepared for the shock when she encounters an individual from her painful past and a vessel crammed with exotic animals. Each, a slightly unnatural version of a recognizable beast has an obvious and extraordinary intelligence. These animals-now orphans of the storm-are an incredible find even after the collective realization that a modern day monster, a female jaguar with the teeth of a saber tooth and a hungry cub, is on the loose.

    As the mission morphs into a hunt for the beast, the company that stands to lose all is taking no prisoners and leaving no evidence. They will not allow anyone to discover the truth behind their life's work even while it threatens the very fabric of our world.

    Teeming with creativity, Rollins' mix of the wide-ranging worlds of suspense and science equal a perfect cocktail to satisfy anyone's literary palette.

    Reviewed by Suspense Magazine

    4 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted January 24, 2010

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    Wasn't worth the effort

    I had never read a James Rollins book and was expecting much more from this novel. Although the plot was somewhat interesting, albeit reminiscent of Fragment or Island of Dr. Moreau, the writing style and character development left me cold. I usually enjoy a book that follows the theme of "suspend disbelief and just enjoy the ride" but after investing the time to get through 300 pages of this novel, I realized I didn't care how it ended and gave up. I doubt I will try another James Rollins novel in the future.

    4 out of 10 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted September 8, 2010

    Very Exciting!

    This book was definitely a page turner, unfortunately in a few chapters it was a page skipper as well. The plot was awesome, your typical mad scientist looking to create a race of super human fighters in the hope of securing a Haliburton-sized government contract, and his evil minions who will stop at nothing to protect the "project". Most of the characters were well drawn out if not just a tad cliche. The heroine was your classic superwoman, blonde, blue eyed with advanced degrees who can quote obscure scientific facts at the drop of a dime. And our leading man was the lone-wolf warrior with the chiseled chin and piercing gray eyes that looked through your soul, his hard body bearing the scars of victory as he battles evil. But Mr. Rollins is such a talented writer that he makes these characters work. There is a sub-plot about their personal relationship that I found to be a bit contrived and when it engaged into the main storyline it was like an unwelcome houseguest that you just want to go away. The plot takes many surprise turns although some were painfully obvious most were pure writing genius, and while the last few chapters were nail-bitingly exciting the end was as flat as a pancake. I pressed the next key thinking there was a clitch in my Nook and this could not be the end, alas it was. As for the aformentioned page skipping, we really did not need the extended science lessons on the theoretical existance of factuals (sp?) and the beginning of life. However, Igor the featherless, talking parrot was a great character and I do hope we see him again.

    3 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted May 14, 2010

    Great New Rollins Characters

    As a fan of Rollins' previous Sigma force novels, I was somewhat hesitant to dive into a new set of characters, but what a pleasant surprise. In this new novel he introduces two new great characters (Jack & Lorna) all the while immersing the reader in the Louisiana bayou setting. And of course Rollins maintains his trademark perfect blend of science, action and character development.

    A must read for any Rollins fan.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted February 13, 2010

    I Also Recommend:

    Rollins Delivers Again

    I'm a fan of James Rollins - I like his writing style, as well as his stories. This was not his "best" book, but still was a great book! Rollins has some interesting characters in this one: I particularly like that the lead female thinks and behaves as many real women do (rather than like a scared, stupid ninny, as women are often portrayed). Rollins also touches very briefly on the issue of homosexuality in this book, making me wonder if he might write more on that some other time. I always appreciate Rollins' intellect, insight, and respect for all human beings and animals. This was a fantastic book with an interesting plot and I found it hard to put the book down when real life came calling!

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted January 25, 2011

    more from this reviewer


    This is the first and only book to date I have read br Rollins. I couldnt put down. The animals kept me intrigued and the plot kept me turning pages as fast as possible. Unusual, suspenseful and hard hitting. I hope this author keeps it coming. Mith a bit of scifi, and mysterious twist, couldnt put it done. I am definitely shopping for more by Rollins.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted May 16, 2010

    You'll not want to put this one down until you've read the entire book!

    This one got off to a quick start and never slowed down. The Louisiana swampland was a perfect setting for this novel. The plot centers on a series of government experiments gone awry. Throw in a rekindled romance and several colorful characters, several good twists, and you have a great story. I found it hard to put down.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted March 13, 2010

    more from this reviewer


    Multi talented actress Paula Christensen gives a stunning voice performance of James Rollins's latest thriller - a startlingly imagined tale of genetic engineering. From the initial moment when protagonist Lorna Polk makes an incredible discovery to the denouement Christensen perfectly captures each characters' shock, fear, resolution. ALTAR OF EDEN is a spellbinder, albeit a scary one.

    The tale begins at the Baghdad Zoo where two young boys are poking around where they shouldn't be - they find a storeroom filled with strange equipment and come face to face with an enormous monster, the likes of which they've never seen.

    Action segues quickly to veterinarian Lorna Polk in Louisiana who is summoned to see a cage of animals in a shipwrecked vessel. Odd things may have been found in the Mississippi River but never anything like this - the animals have been mutated, horribly so yet they are all highly intelligent. However, one beast is missing - a mammoth jaguar escaped and is killing in order to eat.

    Not only must the jaguar be found, but what or who could possibly be behind such nefarious doings, and for what reason? Lorna, with the help of U.S. Border Patrol Agent Jack Menard, must find the answers to these questions and quickly. It's a gasp producing hunt as the two eventually uncover a secret they never could have imagined.

    - Gail Cooke

    2 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted January 26, 2010

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    Solid and fun adventure, but not very deep

    Altar of Eden is a fun, exciting and fast read. If you're looking to escape in a tv-movie sort-of-way, then this is a good purchase.

    James Rollins writes short and to the point. His characters and plot are somewhat similar - short and to the point. And it's enjoyable. The first half of the book sets the stage for genetically altered animals escape into the Bayou after an attempt to smuggle them into the U.S. goes awry.

    Rollins writes adventure and pseudo-science well. Think Michael Crichton lite. But that's not a bad thing.

    The book is full of gun fights and nasty animals attacks, plus the obligatory evil-scientist-explaining-his-nefarious-plot-to-the-protagonist. But it wraps up the story nicely.

    If you're looking for something deep, then keep looking. You can stop looking, however, if you're in the market for a rock solid adventure, with mutated jaguars and super-smart hominids.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted January 4, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    Beware the Tigerphants as the Zoo

    After the fall of Baghdad, looters discover a secret laboratory beneath the zoo, and allow more than animals to escape. Seven years later a fishing trawler shipwrecks with very unusual things aboard. U.S Border Patrol agent, Jack Menard, is trying to track down the perpetrators of this horrible cargo. Twists and turns, packed with action make this a great read. I highly recommend it.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted January 4, 2010

    I Also Recommend:

    Another good book from a awesome author

    The book starts with a break neck speed and never lets go. The books start in Baghdad after fall of Iraq. Two kids scavanging in a abandoned zoo for food witness a horrible attack by a creature that comes out of a hidden lab under the zoo. Fast forward to Louisiana. In the aftermath of a hurricane, an investigation into a beached trawler leads to a horrific discovery and hunt for a escaped creature that should not exist at all.
    Genetic manipulation, evolution, fractals, flocking behaviour and lots and lots of action make up rest of the book.
    Have read all James Rollins books (except for Jake Ransom. Yes I read Indiana Jones too), I am a big JR fan. It is refreshing to see JR return to stand alone series. The book devels into the murky subject of genetic manipulation with a awesome twist. I think the reason JR choose to write a standalone thriller was because Sigma team has already touched on some elements of this book (but not all) in The Judas Strain.
    The reason I read JR books is because I always get to learn something new science wise. Sadly the only new thing I learned was too little(fractals fractals everywhere). Rest of the elements in the book have already been touched upon in other recent books like Judas Strain, Next (by Michael Chricton) etc.
    Also the characters were not as well developed as you might expect of a JR book. And the Sigma Team would have probably kicked the villan's butt in the first few pages.
    Despite some of the shortcomings this is a excellent book. Definitely recomend it.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 21, 2012

    Worst Rollins book

    This is the worst Rollins book I have ever read. It was hard for me to get through the first few chapters because of how incredibly cliched the characters from Louisiana are portrayed. Rollins names drops throughout the book as though he is mentioning a Travel Channel highlights. By trying to be " authentic" he wound up being nauseating.

    Alter of Eden had a lot of promise, evolution, genetic throwbacks, but it was terrible. It may be the last newer james Rollins book I will read.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted January 8, 2010

    Too Much Like Crichton

    I was a bit disappointed in The Altar Of Eden. It had a little too much like the late Michael Crichton with mutant animals.

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted January 3, 2010

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    I'll be real

    I needed more, more of what it did well and less of what it did wrong.

    1 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 26, 2014


    Very very good

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  • Posted August 4, 2013

    more from this reviewer

    Rollins has another fast paced hit

    Storyline centers in New Orleans and the Mississippi delta/bayou. Lot's of local flavor and character appeal. The story revolves around genetic engineering of animals and some humanoids in the pursuit to develop a better soldier. As with all Rollins books there is lots of interesting science wrapped around fast paced action. This is not a SIGMA series but the characters are all interesting, believable and as said before really ooze the local color of the bayou region on New Orleans.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 17, 2013

    best of the year!

    I read several books a week and this by far has to be the best book I've read all year.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 6, 2013

    Alter of Eden

    I liked this book..I like the Signa Force books also, he keeps you turning the pages..I read for pleasure, his books give me pleasure..

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