Amazon Burning

Amazon Burning

by Victoria Griffith

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781938231940
Publisher: HighLine Editions
Publication date: 11/07/2014
Edition description: New edition
Pages: 222
Product dimensions: 5.51(w) x 8.50(h) x 0.60(d)
Age Range: 14 - 17 Years

About the Author

Victoria Griffith is the author of the award winning non-fiction picture book ‘The Fabulous Flying Machines of Alberto Santos-Dumont’, which won numerous awards, including the prestigious ‘Parents’ Choice’.

Before becoming a full-time author, Victoria spent twenty years as an international journalist, fifteen of which were as a foreign correspondent for the UK’s Financial Times. During that time, in which she served as the newspaper’s US science correspondent, followed by a stint as its’ representative in Brazil, she covered a wide range of topics, including architecture, space exploration, the human genome, the growth of the Internet, and Brazil’s Yanomami Indians. Environmental issues also featured and she spent some time in the Amazon rain forest. She even managed to fit in some children’s book reviews.

Victoria currently resides in Boston with her husband and three daughters.

Read an Excerpt

Amazon Burning

By Victoria Griffith

Astor + Blue Editions

Copyright © 2014 Victoria Griffith
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-938231-95-7



Emma slipped out of the water and wrapped herself in a large, fluffy beach towel with a sun and water design. She was amazed that her father's apartment overlooking the ocean in Rio de Janeiro had its own tiny swimming pool. That was something you didn't see very often in Manhattan. Shaking out her wet hair, Emma stole a glance at the woman sunning nearby in a dental floss bikini.

"It's a shame your skin is so pale," Raquel said as she spread another layer of oil onto her own golden limbs. "How awful to constantly worry about burning."

Raquel had a special talent for wrapping humiliation in a veil of kindness. Determined not to take the bait, Emma shot a feigned smile of appreciation. She resented the fact that her father, Mike, hadn't even mentioned Raquel's existence before she made the trip down to Brazil. Emma hadn't expected her dad to stay single forever after the divorce. But she also hadn't expected him to select a mate closer to Emma's age than his. When she first arrived, Emma had tried, really tried, to get along with her potential stepmother. She stole a glance at Raquel's obviously augmented and deeply bronzed figure. Maybe she shouldn't have mentioned that article about how something like 99.9% of Brazilian women get plastic surgery. The country was full of enhanced lips, breasts, and noses, and she was pretty sure Raquel belonged to that club. But other than that, Emma thought, I've been incredibly open and friendly.

Emma reached for her iPhone. No messages. Damn! Still clutching the phone in the hope that any moment now she would get the text she had been waiting for, she walked to the balcony's railing and looked down. Below her spread Rio's chaotic harbor. The honking horns and shouts from the avenues and streets drifted up. Having grown up in New York City, Emma had always considered herself an urban girl. But she had been unprepared for the tumult of Rio, a town that moved to a frenetic samba beat. The city's extremes of wealth and poverty made New York seem like an egalitarian society. Her eyes took in Rio's mixed messages. The Museum of Tomorrow jutted out into the ocean, like a giant metal shark about to take a plunge. Behind it was the timeless silhouette of Sugar Loaf Mountain. Next door, a luxury high rise reached ambitiously towards the sky, curtains drawn against the fishbowl living. On the nearby hillside stood one of the city's famous favelas, a massive slum with thousands of metal and concrete-block houses struggling to stay erect on the precarious red earth that threatened to collapse beneath them at any moment.

When her dad had offered her a summer internship with the Guardian, the British newspaper where he worked as Brazilian correspondent, it had seemed like a godsend. Jay Goldberg, Emma's lawyer, had advised her to leave town, at least for a few months. Emma was attracting way too much attention. Newspaper photographers had begun to track her. She had even made the Metropolitan section of the New York Times and inspired an op-ed in the New York Post. Unfortunately for Emma's career aspirations, the pieces were not by her but about her. And she couldn't have picked a worse enemy than Tony Horowitz.

Horowitz was a legend in the business, famous for his reporting on the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. A word from him and no news outlet in the country would offer her a job. Sometimes it seemed like Emma's career as a journalist was over even before it started. And she might not even get the chance to finish her degree. New York University, or NYU as everyone called it, was threatening to bar her from completing her last year of journalism school. If Jay failed to get her off the hook, building a career outside the US might be her only hope. Thankfully, her story hadn't crossed the ocean to any overseas outlets, so her reputation at the Guardian was still intact. If her dad knew what was at stake, maybe he would take the internship more seriously, give her better assignments. But Emma couldn't bring herself to tell him what had happened.

Emma shifted her gaze to look through the glass doors of the patio. Inside the apartment, her father was huddled over the telephone, his head bowed down as he listened intently. People often talked about how much Emma resembled her dad, with her long, thin figure topped by dark, wavy hair. But the resemblance didn't go beyond the physical, Emma thought. Mike was so emotionally distant that sometimes she had to remind herself that they were related at all. Right now her dad looked even more serious than usual. As Emma watched, he clicked off the telephone with his one good hand and placed it on the countertop. He stood there for a few moments, head down, as if he was trying to absorb some momentous news. Then he walked with an uncharacteristically uncertain step to the terrace.

"Sit down here with me," Raquel purred when Mike pushed open the sliding glass door.

Mike shook his head. Emma's phone emitted a chime, and she glanced down to view the text. Just mom, checking in.

"Emma, put that thing down!" Mike said disapprovingly. Emma lowered her hand and turned her attention to her father. "Thank you. I've had some bad news," he said, his voice breaking. "Milton Silva has been killed."

Raquel's expression was a strange mixture of surprise and irritation. Dad just spoiled her sunny afternoon, Emma realized. From her father's countenance, she understood that there was more to his announcement than a news bulletin. For Mike Cohen, this was personal. "I'm really sorry, Dad," she said sympathetically. "Was he a friend of yours?"

"I liked to think of him as a friend," Mike said.

"What happened?" Raquel asked.

"Shot last night as he was going to visit Ronaldo for a game of cards."

Raquel grimaced. "Will you have to cover the story?" she asked.

"I'll have to write about the murder, yeah. They've already got the obituary on file. My editors had me do it weeks ago because of the death threats Milton had been getting."

It seemed morbid to write an obituary before a person even died, but Emma understood the need for speed in the world of journalism. The first outlet to get the news out could claim they "broke" the story, that they had the inside scoop. Emma also realized that the murder victim must have been important to warrant an ahead-of-time obit. "He was well known?" she asked.

"Milton Silva? Greens' best weapon. Hero to anyone wanting to save the Amazon."

Maria, a sweet-faced maid, stepped through the open sliding doors, carrying a tray with three tall cups of watermelon juice. Mike and Raquel shook their heads at the offered refreshment, but Emma had noticed Maria's need for someone to appreciate her efforts. She accepted the drink and murmured an obrigada, one of the few words she knew in Portuguese. She took a sip of the sweet juice and watched the maid head back inside the apartment before turning back to her father.

"Judging by the number of forest fires I spotted from the plane on the way down, I'm not sure he was winning his fight," Emma said.

"All politics is local. Ditto for the environment. Protecting one small area can be a monumental achievement. Milton was one of the few people who had the courage to stand up to the ranchers and miners. A lot of people treat the jungle as an easy way to get rich. I don't know who's going to stand up to the filthy exploitation artists now that he's gone."

"Do you think the police will find the killer?" Raquel asked.

"Let's hope Milton's friends in the press give the story enough exposure to put real pressure on them," Mike said. "But let's be realistic. Depending on how fat the murderer's bank account is, they can pay off the cops, who will pretend not to see evidence right in front of their noses." He shook his head vigorously, as if trying to cast off his dark thoughts. "Anyway, have to catch a flight up to Boa Vista later today. I don't have much time if I want to make it to the funeral." Mike turned to Emma. "Brazilians bury their dead right away. Not a good idea to leave bodies hanging around too long in the heat of the tropics."

In the short time Emma had been here, she had made note of Raquel's habits. When Raquel got nervous, her eyebrows shot up quickly—like now. She was clearly digesting the implications of Mike's statement: namely that this event would make her temporarily responsible for Emma. Raquel definitely wouldn't want that. Well, that's something we can agree on, Emma thought.

"You're not planning to leave Emma here with me, are you?" Raquel asked. "It's just that I have events to go to every night this week, and tomorrow is Maria's day off. I'm sure you don't want Emma to be in the apartment all alone. Might be risky."

The remark was calculated to strike a chord. Cariocas, as residents of Rio called themselves, were obsessed with personal security, and for good reason. Crime was a part of everyday life here. A few nights ago, Emma, Raquel, and Mike had gone to dinner at a friend's house. Emma was shocked to hear that the hostess's apartment complex had been assaulted by armed intruders earlier that day. The first thing the criminals did was herd the building's residents into a common room. They asked each family to hand over their keys and indicate where the valuables were in their apartment, separating the residents into a "to-be-robbed" group and an "already-robbed" group. Because of a bureaucratic error on the part of the thieves, the hostess was mistakenly moved to the "already-robbed" section before her apartment had been touched. At dinner, the guests drank to her good fortune.

Security measures among Rio's elite followed fashion trends all their own. Since her arrival, Emma had learned that one hundred thousand dollars could turn a regular car into a bulletproof vehicle, and that a lot of Brazilians thought it was worth the price. It was better than spending money on personal bodyguards, who had an unfortunate tendency to collude with armed attackers. Emma had discovered that most dogs in Brazil were watchdogs, not pets, and that cariocas like to hang out in shopping malls because they're safer than the streets. At least they used to be until groups of teenagers from the local favelas started to organize massive "walk-throughs" that sent chills up the spines of wealthy shoppers. Kidnapping was one of the most popular ways for criminals to make money. From what Emma could tell, victims were usually released after the family paid a ransom, but sometimes minus a toe, finger, or earlobe. The dangers of the city clearly weighed on Mike as he weighed his options.

"Why don't you take Emma along with you, Raquel? She can do some research for that blog piece she's doing on Brazilian society women." Mike had agreed to link Emma's blog to the Guardian's web site, but had so far refused to publish anything she wrote under the newspaper's name. Maybe that would change if she could help her father cover the murder of a famous environmentalist.

"I just wouldn't feel comfortable being responsible for Emma," Raquel said. "What if something happens to her?"

"I'm not sure Boa Vista's safer than Rio," Mike said uncertainly.

Emma pressed her advantage. "But would Mom want me to stay here on my own?"

Mike sighed. "Okay, pack your bags," he said to Emma in a resigned tone. "I'll have Yvonne from the office book us on the next flight. Just bring what you've been wearing here and be ready to leave by five. We might run into some heavy traffic on the way to the airport."

Emma had had enough experience with Rio's epic traffic jams to realize that her father could have dropped the word might from the sentence. "Thanks, Dad!" she said. Throwing her towel onto a patio chair, she walked over and gave him a quick hug.

"Hey, if I want to get wet, I'll jump in the pool," Mike protested as Emma's wet hair dampened his shirt. She laughed and stepped away, walked through the sliding doors, and crossed the living room to enter the guest bedroom. The Amazon—it was exotic enough to provide good material for her blog, and maybe even a piece for the newspaper, one with her name on it.

She glanced at her phone. Emma's plan didn't work outside of the US, so Mike had given her a new number to use during her stay. She had made sure Jay had it, and Mary, the NYU alum who said she might have information relevant to Emma's case. She was hoping to hear something—anything from either of them. But no one except her mother had messaged her in the last half hour. Emma would answer her mom later. She would have to rush if she was going to make it to the airport with her dad in a few hours. She put her phone on the nightstand.

Throwing off her bikini, she speed-changed into a T-shirt and jeans. She had just a few days before finished unpacking the contents of the duffel bag she had brought with her from New York. Now she threw it on the bed and began stuffing items of clothing inside. A dress in navy blue was her closest thing to funeral black. The chime of the cell phone announced another incoming message. She grabbed it, glancing down at the screen as she punched a button to view the text. It wasn't from Jay. Or her mom. In fact, she wasn't sure the message was for her at all.




Emma read the text a second time. The precise intention of the message was difficult to grasp. Was it a threat or a warning? The telephone number of the sender didn't show up on her screen. Despite her shaking hands, she managed to punch out WHO R U and press "Send."

She waited. No response. A familiar queasiness formed in the pit of her stomach as she realized the message must be for her father, not her. Emma had worried about Mike her entire childhood. He had never been the kind of journalist who went to the television studio, put on make-up, did his bit, and left the station. Mike was a professional loner, a print journalist who thrived on being in the middle of the action. There was the time he had been on the receiving end of enemy fire in some on going Middle Eastern conflict. He spent two weeks in the hospital after that, the doctor removing shrapnel from his body. One month after he checked out, wounds still covered with bandages, Mike was kidnapped in the desert by Taliban sympathizers. Emma and her mother were just reconciling themselves to his probable death when he rang them from the borrowed cell phone of an aid worker. He had escaped, but the torture he suffered during captivity had left him with permanent nerve damage in his left hand.

Soon after Mike's desert mishap, Emma's mom demanded a divorce. She was tired of the stress, tired of a husband who insisted on taking the most dangerous assignments when "in her mind" he should be staying home. Emma's mom had been horrified when her daughter announced that she planned to attend journalism school, and Emma even surprised herself with the decision. But Emma liked to write, and she wanted to make a difference. "It's probably some attempt to work through the pain of the past," said a therapist friend of her mom's, as if Emma's career choice needed to be psycho-analyzed. "Just take a local TV reporter's job when you're through," Emma's mom had advised her. When Emma decided to take the internship, Mike had to promise her mother that he wouldn't allow her to get into any dangerous situations. But the word "dangerous" is open to interpretation, Emma thought.

Whoever sent the text didn't know Emma's father very well. Nothing would hold him back if he was after a story, especially if the story had a personal relevance, like the murder of his friend Milton Silva. But the caller had left a message for Mike, and Emma supposed she ought to give it to him. Emma found her dad holed up in his small office, picking out letters on the keyboard with his right hand. Although the door was open, Emma still knocked.

"I'm a little busy, Emma." Her dad hadn't taken his eyes off the screen, and she wondered how he even knew who it was. Raquel and the maid probably knew better than to disturb him while he was writing.

"It's just that someone sent a text, on the phone you gave me." Emma tried to keep her voice steady. "It's a little disturbing. I think you should take a look."

"Weird. I thought I'd given everyone my new number when I switched plans," Mike answered, reluctantly dragging his attention away from the computer. "Who was it from?"

"I don't know. Do you want to read the message?"

Mike gave her an irritated look before reaching out his good hand to take the phone Emma offered. He looked down at the screen and frowned. For a few moments he stayed silent. He pressed a button, looking for and not finding the phone number of the sender.

"Sounds melodramatic, don't you think?" he asked, but didn't wait for an answer. "It's written in English, not Portuguese. Probably someone from a competing newspaper who doesn't want me on the story. I wouldn't worry too much about it. Anyway, I'd better get this article off if we're going to get to the airport on time."

He turned his back to her with a sense of finality. Emma stepped reluctantly out of his office. A competing newspaper, she repeated to herself. But what if it wasn't? It didn't matter what she thought, though. Mike would get on the airplane. Emma couldn't go back to New York, and she couldn't stay here alone with Raquel. She glanced through the glass doors to the patio where her potential stepmother was still roasting in oil. One thing was clear: between the snakes of the jungle and the viper by the pool, she preferred to face the serpents in the Amazon.


Excerpted from Amazon Burning by Victoria Griffith. Copyright © 2014 Victoria Griffith. Excerpted by permission of Astor + Blue Editions.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents


Title Page,
PROLOGUE - Amazon,
CHAPTER TWO - Texting,
CHAPTER THREE - Turbulence,
CHAPTER EIGHT - Antarctica,
CHAPTER NINE - Smugglers,
About the Author,

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Amazon Burning 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
JBronder More than 1 year ago
Emma has had some trouble at NYU and has to leave. She decides to go to Rio de Janeiro and intern with her father at his newspaper. While there, environmentalist Milton Silva is murdered and Emma travels to the Amazon with Jimmy to figure out who did it. Along the way, Emma gets mixed up with kidnappers, indigenous tribes, trafficking exotic animals, and other adventures. I liked the mystery of who killed Milton Silva. There were some good red herrings that kept me guessing until the end about who killed him. I do like following Emma and watching her mature throughout the story. It was a great way to portray a lead character, especially at an age that they are just learning who they really are. I kind of was disbelieving about the legal issue Emma left NYU for. If it was that serious I doubt she would have been allowed to just leave the country. The other thing was I had never heard of NA. I figured this was a YA book. It’s not that I’m a prude, it was just unexpected. Over all I really liked this story. It has a great mystery and is a good coming of age book. This would be a great story for those that like contemporary romances with some mystery. I received this book for free in exchange for an honest review.