As a young man, John Alvarez is a bad boy, so it’s no surprise when a judge finally gives him the choice between going to prison and joining the Marine Corps. Alvarez reluctantly decides on the latter, not realizing that he will discover himself and find a home in the Corps.
Shipped off to Vietnam, Alvarez leads his own band of bad boys—Iron Raven—into the jungle. They become the terror of their enemies and always the first choice for the most dangerous missions. On one such mission, the brain child of a couple of CIA ops, Alvarez and his squad are cut off from escape by their CIA handlers and are left to fight their way out alone or die. Only Alvarez survives—but his revenge upon the men who abandoned him and his brothers lands him in prison for life.
After twenty years of incarceration, Alvarez is offered his freedom, but only if he agrees to undertake another suicide mission. If he’s going to be a free man, Alvarez must become the bodyguard of a Mr. Standish and lead him on a journey into the mysterious Amazonian kingdom ruled by the devil himself. It is only in the heart of the jungle that Alvarez discovers that he has accepted a mission with only two possible outcomes—redemption or death.
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Read an Excerpt
By GLENN STARKEY
Abbott PressCopyright © 2013 Glenn Starkey
All rights reserved.
November 1995, Ucayali River, Peru East of the Pacaya Samiria National Reserve
"Remember to keep watch, Ignacio," said the elder. He brushed a circling fly from before his face and then lowered the hand to rest once again on the grip of a belted machete as time worn as its owner. "If a caiman has you for his morning meal, I will have no one to carry the jugs for me."
A hint of a grin broke the stoic expression his mixed Spanish and Indian ancestry usually held. Gaze sweeping the shoreline, he maintained his vigil as his grandson walked into the river.
Slender and bronzed from a merciless sun, the boy stopped and bent to fill the jugs when the water reached his shins. At the reminder of the fierce brother to the alligator, Ignacio cast a wary glance in the direction of every splash he heard about him. He frowned and shook his head.
"Papito," he sighed with exasperation, calling his abuelo by the family nickname. "Every day we come to the river and every day you tell me the same thing. I am a man now! When will you stop warning me of the caiman as if I were a child?"
The leathery-skinned man benevolently nodded agreement. Unfortunately, his grandson had become a man, forced to grow beyond his years in a land that allowed little time for children to enjoy their youth. Jungle predators, the harsh climate, disease, poverty, drug runners, armed bands of leftist guerillas, these and more cared nothing for the innocence of a child. They demanded the strong survive, and the weak perish cruelly.
"Only when the dirt is tossed on my grave will you no longer hear me speak of the caimans! They are like this river, the cabrones—treacherous and unforgiving. Someday you too will be standing here warning your children of them."
The jungle weathered elder drew sullen. When he spoke again, his tone held regret. "Our lives are hard enough, Ignacio, without our seeing a loved one torn apart before our eyes."
The willowy boy rose from the water, his thin arms straining against the weight of the jugs. Whipping his head to move thick locks of black hair from his face, Ignacio turned to face his beloved abuelo standing on the shore. His eyebrows drew downward as he tried to understand the change in his grandfather. Such was the manner of old men who kept dark secrets well-guarded, allowing fragments to escape against their will.
Fear clutched the boy's throat when Papito's eyes flared.
"Jump, Ignacio! Jump away!"
Adrenaline flooded the young man's body. He released his hold on the jugs and tried to leap to the bank, but his feet held fast to the river bed. The heavy weight of the water-filled jugs had sunk him deeper than he realized into the mushy mud. He lost balance and fell forward into the shallow water. Jerking his legs frantically to free himself, he clawed and crawled his way toward shore, spraying a wall of mud-swirled water and river debris about him.
The machete cut an arc through the air as it cleared its sheath. Arm waving over his head, Papito raced past his grandson toward the river, ready to make a stand against the black caiman drifting slowly in their direction.
"You will not take this one!" Years of anguish, anger, and fear permeated his voice. Papito shook the razor-sharp weapon with a deadly grip, yet the long, blackish figure in the river only floated closer, undisturbed by the old man's readiness for mortal combat.
Ignacio stood blinking and wiping mud from his face. He stared at the caiman a moment, squinted to better focus, and then ran to his grandfather, laying a hand on his taut arm. "Wait, Papito. Do you see? It is a man holding onto a log!"
The boy crept toward the water's edge as the elder gradually lowered his machete to chest level. They stood cautiously studying the log and figure drifting toward them. Leaves, blades of grass and streaks of mud painted the wide back of a man, camouflaging his skin. His head was turned to the log with mouth open, hard-pressed against the bark, barely above the waterline. An arm of knotted muscle draped the log.
Ignoring any dangers, Ignacio raced into the river until he was almost waist-deep. He pulled the log toward shore, all the while trying to keep the stranger's face upright to prevent drowning. When the log lodged into the riverbank, the boy tried to lift the unconscious man. The limp weight was too great for him and the arm about the log held it in a death grip.
A feeble groan came from the lips of the mud-streaked, naked giant. One eye opened briefly, rolled and showed white then closed.
"Help me, Papito. Hurry, he's alive!"
The elder jabbed his machete into the ground and grabbed a wrist. Papito and his grandson pried the arm from the log and together tugged until the body slid through the mud and lay fully ashore.
Ignacio knelt by the nearly lifeless man's head and gently rubbed the river's filth from his face. Another low groan flowed from the man's lips, only this time carrying with it the mental suffering of a wounded soul. The boy leaned close, his ear almost touching the river giant's mouth.
"Que dice? What does he say?" Papito asked anxiously, examining the half-dead stranger as he sat beside him across from his grandson.
No reply. Ignacio remained bent over the man, eyes half-closed, straining to hear the slightest word.
Sympathetically shaking his head, Papito slowly sat upright, his eyes flushed with pity. He made the sign of the cross.
"Madre de Dios, this poor creature looks as if he has been tortured or beaten. Do you see the bruises and scars on his body?"
The grandfather gently brushed mud and strings of river weeds from the battered man's chest, carefully eyeing the red splotches left by dozens of ant and insect bites.
"Here ... look ... these are from a whip or a knife." Papito traced several of the wounds with a fingertip and shook his head. He leaned closer to study them. "No, they were made by the claws of an animal."
Still stunned by their discovery of the stranger, the boy eased back onto his heels, glanced at the wounds, and stared at the warrior- like features of the man who now lay upon death's doorway. Compared to the people of his village, here was a giant among men that easily stood a head taller than any of them. Ignacio had never seen anyone so muscled and strong in appearance.
Long black hair imbedded with twigs, mud, and grass hung matted from his head, and a wild, mud-smeared beard veiled his cheeks and throat. His deeply tanned skin told of relentless days under the jungle sun, but about his groin where a tattered loin cloth of some form had once been, a paler tint portrayed his true color.
"Tell me, Ignacio. Did he say who did this to him?" The grandfather's brown eyes were stretched wide on his wrinkled face, his gaze blending curiosity and dismay.
At first the boy shrugged then turned to him with an innocent expression. "He keeps saying Moloc."
Horror swathed the old man's face. Mouth agape, he recoiled from the wounded giant as if he were a viper about to strike. The elder rose, grabbing his grandson's arm with such force the boy fell back into the dirt.
"Come away from him. Pronto! Do as I say."
Shocked by Papito's sudden change, the boy slid back from the motionless body. "But he's hurt! We cannot leave him here to die."
Papito stepped back and motioned his grandson to him as he stared at the stranger. When Ignacio drew near, the old man wrapped his arms tightly about the boy, kissed the top of his head, and fervently made the sign of the cross when he looked at the tortured man again. Watching the stranger as if anticipating he would rise and attack them, the elder retrieved his machete. He lightly pushed his grandson back until they were ten paces away.
Sweat trickled down Papito's temples. The jungle air felt thicker to him, more humid than only moments before. Rising to its zenith, the sun cooked the land and all within its reach. The old man knelt and jabbed the machete into the ground, letting his hand rest on its handle. Conflict showed in his eyes as he struggled with his thoughts.
"We must take him to our—"
"No, Ignacio! It is better he dies."
For the first time in his life Ignacio saw dread mounting in his abuelo's eyes, and the sight of it frightened him. Yet something about the hurt giant silently cried out for help and Ignacio could not leave him to the fate of the jungle.
Papito's eyes slowly closed, his face somberly masked with the resolution of a determined action. Pulling the machete from the ground as he rose, he exhaled deeply, never removing his gaze from the stranger. His grip tightened on the machete's handle until his knuckles grew white.
"You cannot kill him!" the boy shouted, arms held out to block his grandfather's path. "He has done nothing to us." Ignacio stood his ground but across his face was uncertainty about what he should do next.
"Silencio, Ignacio!" Papito's voice rang hard. "Now leave me. Return to the village. You must not see this." The grandfather started around the boy, staring all the while at the unconscious man.
Fingers feebly moved on the stranger's right hand. A pain-drenched groan carried louder than before into the air.
"Why, Papito? Why must you kill him?" the boy asked, shifting his position to remain in front of his grandfather.
As the dread gripping the old man broke its hold, his gaze softened. He looked at his grandson with a desire to speak all he had been holding so long within his heart. He pointed with the machete to the battered man.
"He has been touched by the devil, Ignacio. Evil follows him and we must protect our familia from the dangers."
"Protect our family from what dangers? How do you know such things about him?"
Lowering his gaze to meet Ignacio's, Papito turned and gestured eastward to where the Ucayali River became the Amazon and then swung his hand toward the south.
"Out there, nieto, is a place where evil lives—and all who venture near it are cursed for life."
Immediately he made the sign of the cross and nervously looked at the stranger, almost expecting him to rise in demon form.
Ignacio readied himself to argue more, but a strained voice from behind startled him. In a single leap he was beside his grandfather, staring as wide-eyed as Papito at the grimacing man in the dirt.
"Let him kill me, boy. What I know must die with me."
The wounded stranger gazed glossy-eyed in the direction of the voices he had heard. He tried to speak again. A wrenching agony shot throughout him, sending him back into oblivion. His head fell hard back into the mud.
"Por favor, Papito. Please. He is not evil. I know it, I know it. Por favor. Let me go to the village and bring the others to carry him. Look at his body. Someone has done these things to him. He needs our help," the boy pleaded. He held fast to his grandfather's arm.
An eerie silence settled over the jungle as if the ruthless land awaited the old man's declaration of a death sentence. But it never came. Glancing from Ignacio to the unconscious man, Papito nodded begrudgingly.
"Very well," he said, wiping his machete clean on a nearby broad-leafed plant. "Go for your hermanos, your brothers. Tell them to bring the men of the village. This hombre is heavy and it will take many to carry him."
Ignacio smiled and raced into the jungle. The grandfather watched him leave then turned toward the wounded man and sighed wearily. He sheathed the machete and stood staring at the stranger.
"May God forgive me, hombre, for what I was about to do." He paused, drew a deep breath, and looked eastward across the river into the dense jungle. "But I remember the last man who came as you did. He went mad, staring at the sun and moon, screaming 'Moloc' until the pain within his mind was too great to bear."
* * *
Ignacio sat patiently near the stranger's mat, leaving only to do his chores, and always returning quickly in hopes of being present when the sleeping man awoke. Two weeks passed before the stranger's health allowed him to sit upright and remain awake for any length of time. When given soups filled with crushed coca beans and healing herbs, he slurped the bowls empty like a starved animal and watched the villagers outside the thatched-roof hut as if they were brutal captors. By the third week of the stranger's resurrection from the dead, Ignacio had not heard the man speak other than to cry out from the nightmares that seemed to regularly travel the dark canyons of his mind. But on the first day of the fourth week, the ruggedly built man surprised him.
"Are you the boy from the river?" asked a gentle voice.
Stirring from his afternoon nap, Ignacio rubbed sleep from his eyes and looked about in confusion. He was startled when he realized the stranger had spoken. He nodded hesitantly as he stared at the man sitting on a mat across the hut from him.
"Si, señor, I am Ignacio. Mi abuelo and I pulled you from the river. We have cared for you since that day."
The deep blue eyes of the stranger gradually closed as fatigue overcame him. A second later they opened with the glare of a troubled man. He glanced at his fresh loin cloth, and then to the multitude of scars and wounds lacing his chest. Raising a hand, he touched his shaven face and felt of his hair. It was clean and clipped short. Wearily he shifted his gaze to the young boy studying him.
"Mi abuela, my grandmother, washed your wounds, bathed you and prepared the medicines to make you sleep and heal."
The stranger nodded approval and watched the dark-skinned boy's smile widen.
Papito paused as if choosing his words carefully. "I thought you would die, but she says a hombre like you never dies easily."
No reply or hint of thought came from the stranger as he looked at the boy.
"So, the mud-giant has come to life," Papito said, his voice carrying a cheerful tone as he walked up the hut's rickety steps. He halted at the foot of the stranger's mat and stood with a hand resting casually on the handle of his machete. Not wanting to appear as if he were staring, he let his gaze carry a moment about the open-sided hut then returned his eyes to the silent man.
At a glance it was evident immense strength lay beneath the tautly stretched skin. Iron-like muscles flexed with the stranger's slightest movement, and yet he seemingly retained the agility of a jungle cat. Without his matted mane and mud-caked beard, he was surprisingly handsome, with high cheekbones, chiseled chin, and an aquiline nose. His superb physical conditioning hid his age well, but about the coldly staring eyes that watched the world with the alertness of a wild animal, were faint wrinkles which told of matured years. Although the man now sat on a mat, Papito remembered how tall he was when the villagers first lifted him from the riverbank to carry him here.
"Mi familia calls me Papito, and this is my nieto, grandson, Ignacio. You are welcome to stay with us until your health returns. Mi esposa, my wife, has cooked a monkey for us to eat. If you wish, I will have some brought to you."
Struggling against the agony raking his body, the stranger extended an open hand to the old man. "My name is Alvarez. John Alvarez. Thank you for all you have done."
They shook hands and Papito observed a fleeting glimpse of amity appear in Alvarez's eyes. The old man's apprehensions about the stranger lessened, yet he remained cautious.
"Ignacio, go tell Willita to bring the food she has cooked. Tell her we have a man here who is hungry for something more in his belly than soup!"
Anxious to report the stranger's condition to his grandmother, Ignacio dashed from the hut, clearing the steps to the ground in a single leap. Papito warmly smiled as he watched the boy race away. Turning, his smile faded when he found Alvarez staring at him, face devoid of emotion. Unnerved at first, Papito took a cross-legged seat on the hut floor, casually adjusting his machete into an easily grasped position.
Alvarez closed his eyes and rolled his head on his shoulders then slowly raised his arms above his head and stretched like a cat after a long nap. His face mirrored the pain coursing his aching body from the movement as his open hands clenched into knotted fists at the agony, yet he continued to flex as if needing to test his agility.
Excerpted from Amazon Moon by GLENN STARKEY. Copyright © 2013 Glenn Starkey. Excerpted by permission of Abbott Press.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Reviewed by Katelyn Hensel for Readers' Favorite In terms of genre, Amazon Moon was an interesting blend of thriller, pseudo-memoir, and a drop of sci-fi all mixed together to create something unique. After years of conflicts and other various scrapes with the law, John Alvarez has been given a choice. He can go to jail or join the Marines. Still clinging to freedom, he joins the Marines and becomes part of a family of brothers. The book really details what it's like to grow up as a troubled "bad-boy" and in finding your place somewhere unexpected. The betrayal and vengeance that John feels after he and his men are captured/killed was heartbreaking and powerful. I do wish I could have experienced a little bit more of John Alvarez' past so that I could understand him better. Glenn Starkey's writing style is heavy on the visuals. I was impressed by his descriptions and lush Amazonian imagery, but even more impressed by his knack for taking the story and moving you through it seamlessly so that you feel as though you are a part of it. There's no putting this book down to find something more interesting. While the genre might not be everyone's usual order, it will keep readers engaged through a great combination of classical storytelling and careful descriptions that range from stark and imposing to lush and mysterious. Amazon Moon is a great read for anyone looking for a fascinating escape from the real world, but who is still looking for depth and an intriguing story.