Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Like the sinister scientists who figure so prominently in his fiction, Saul (Black Lightning) has perfected a formula: invent an eerie menace and drive home its horror by imagining its impact on an innocent and defenseless victim. In his 21st novel, that victim is Michael Sundquist, the teenage son of anthropologist Katharine Sundquist, who has recently relocated their family to Hawaii. Katharine has come to the islands to study anomalies of early human development found in the lava beds of Maui. She is quickly distracted from her work by Michael's suddenly worsening asthma attacks and by the inexplicable disappearance and death of several boys with whom he went on a secret nighttime scuba dive. It's only a matter of time before she discovers that her research and Michael's problems are interrelated through the Serinus Project, a covert scientific experiment funded by her employer for the purpose of investigating the genetic origins of human life. Katharine's struggle to save her son from becoming a guinea pig sacrificed in the name of science is classic Saul, a pell-mell race against the clock that pits warm human feeling against the cold and dispassionate vacuum of scientific inquiry. Although he breaks no new ground, Saul distills familiar elements of horror, science fiction and the cyberthriller into a potent brew.
Saul, who recently took a cue from Stephen King with the release of a serialized novel, The Blackstone Chronicles, here tells of a young archaeologist's encounter with horror in Hawaii.
School Library Journal
YADr. Katharine Sundquist is hired to work on a short term archaeology project in beautiful Maui. It seems to be an ideal situation for her and her 16-year-old son, Michael, who suffers from asthma as well as the recent death of his father. She soon learns, however, that all is not well in paradise. There is a restricted wing in her high-tech laboratory where secret deliveries arrive at midnight and she discovers that deadly medical experiments are being performed. Then Michael and three friends sneak into a dive shop and help themselves to some equipment. During their night dive, they come upon a contaminated area in the ocean. Back on land, they find that their lungs cannot tolerate oxygen and they can survive only by breathing poisonous fumes. One by one, the boys are killed or simply vanish. When Michael is the only one left alive, Katharine must act quickly to save him. YAs will be engrossed in the computer search for DNA codes, the strange prehistoric or not so prehistoric bones that Katharine unearths, and a mysterious underwater geode from outer space. There is enough adventure and suspense in this thriller to capture the interest of even the most reluctant readers.Katherine Fitch, Lake Braddock Middle School, Burke, VA
A suspenseful thriller from the prolific and craftsmanlike Saul (The Homing, 1993, etc.) that moves like a dream through its paradisiacal Hawaiian landscape.
As in his Black Lightning (1995), the lungs here are the focus of the story. In that tale, a serial killer left SS-like black lightning bolts on the pleural cavities of his victims. This time, victims' lungs suddenly become allergic to oxygen and can live only on fumesthose of ammonia, for examplethat are normally poisonous. The action begins when Dr. Katharine Sundquist, an archaeologist specializing in early hominids in Africa, is hired for a three-month term to work on bones recently discovered near a vent in a volcano on Maui. Hiring her is a research lab owned by a superrich Japanese medical entrepreneur. Also on hand are a handsome fellow archaeologist who once courted the now widowed Katharine, and her son Michael, who's been overcoming asthma through physical training. When he and three Hawaiian friends go for a night dive, they come upon an underwater area contaminated by a geode from outer space. Back on land, they find that their lungs can't tolerate oxygen. How and why does the geode affect normal breathing? And what of the strange hominid-like bones Katharine patiently unearths? They look like those of early man, which is impossible, since Maui didn't exist when the first humans evolved. Are the bones somehow tied to the geode? Then it turns out that an astronomer in a Maui observatory has been studying a peculiar star some 15 million years old that seems to be sending out a radio signal, which eventually he interprets as a DNA code. Yipes! Folks from outer space are sending DNA code to planet Earth? Saul handily ties all of these elements together in a terse, provocative narrative.
Nicely done indeed: strange, disturbing goings-on, with only two spoonsful of outrageous melodrama.
Read an Excerpt
From above, the day was perfect.
A sky of sapphire blue, a sea of sparkling turquoise. A scattering of marshmallow clouds drifted across a vast expanse of azure.
The wind had died, and the ocean rose and fell gently against the shattered end of a lava flow that extended from the sea to a vent nearly halfway up Kilauea on the island of Hawaii ...
The kind of day for which the diving team had been waiting.
An hour after dawn, they were aboard the tug and barge that carried them out of Hilo Bay. Now the barge was anchored two hundred yards off the end of the lava flow, held in place by three anchors chained to heavy hawsers. The tug itself needed nothing more than a lunch hook to hold its position, and the surface crew -- with little to do until the divers in the water signaled them -- relaxed on the deck, drinking beer and playing cards, as somnolent as the weather itself.
Perhaps if the wind and the sea hadn't conspired against them, someone would have felt the seismic blip and realized that the idyllic day's serenity was an illusion ...
One hundred feet below the surface, the two divers, a man and a woman, worked with intense concentration to retrieve the object they had discovered a week ago.
Embedded in the layer of lava that covered the ocean floor, it was almost perfectly spherical, its color so close to that of the lava itself that the divers, coming upon it for the first time, almost missed it completely. Its shape was what had caught the woman's eye -- a curve caught in her peripheral vision ...
On the tug, the crew set to work to lift the geode from the ocean floor ...
As they concentrated on operating the crane,none of the crew noticed the smoke that was starting to drift through the first tiny rifts in the face of the cliff two hundred yards away.
A hundred feet down, the two divers backed thirty feet away from the geode, then turned to watch as the cable from the crane tightened. For a breath-held moment nothing moved. Then, the geode -- nearly three feet across -- abruptly came free of the lava....
The crane was just swinging the geode onto the deck of the barge when the face of the cliff gave way. As a gout of brilliant lava spewed out, exploding into millions of fragments when it hit the surface of the sea a split second later, the crane operator screamed a warning. Within seconds the hawsers had been cut, the anchors and their chains abandoned, and the tug was running directly out to sea.
The water, dead calm only a few seconds before, churned around the tug, reacting to the explosive force of the fast-growing gush of lava now pouring forth from the crumbling face of the cliff.
"What about the divers?" someone yelled.
But even as he spoke, the terrified crewmen knew the answer to his question....
Using binoculars, the crew scanned the water for any sign of the two divers, but even as they searched, they knew they were bound to fail. They had barely escaped with their own lives. As the storm built and the seas became great, heaving swells, the captain of the tug turned back toward Hilo and the safety of the harbor.
On the barge, three men secured the geode to the deck, silently wondering if it had been worth the lives it had cost to collect it.
From the Hardcover edition.