by Joyce Marcel
American Reporter Correspondent
November 26, 2009
THE GIFT OF GRATITUDE
BRADENTON, Fla., Dec. 2, 2009 -- One of the great things about the Internet is that it's encouraged thousands of new writers to self-publish their books, and hundreds of publishers to offer new books by them online and in print. One of these emerging authors is Robert Gross, whose book "The Extinction Gene," (iUniverse, 2009) is not only a first-class thriller and a natural for the screen, but short and punchy instead of long-winded, as so many new books are.
Publishers seem to have a problem with paperbacks that are just 169 pages and printed in 10pt type with generous line spacing; I suppose it's that buyers might not feel like they were going to get their money's worth.
But that's not the case here. Gross's book is a marvelous read set in a place authors rarely mention or visit, the wildest parts of Western Mongolia, amid vast high plains, daunting mountain ranges and pristine forests just north of China and south of the Russian Far East.
Into the wild vastness of the Ukok Plateau, peopled only by nomadic tribes who revere its ties to their past, Gross brings a young paleontological geneticist (we're not sure if that profession actually exists) in search of what went wrong when his Nobel Prize-winning mentor, Dr. Walter Perriman, was killed. Perriman, we learn, made one of the most momentous discoveries of all time in a large dig that had formerly enjoyed governmental approval but is now being arbitrarily closed. At least part of the reason is unknown, but in a sequenced layer of dinosaur fossils that shows their progress from a time of when they were abundant to the time when they disappeared, Dr. Perriman has identified a gene that predisposes them to extinction.
Shortly after Perriman has mailed off the evidence for his finding to an American scholar, he is brutally murdered on the dig, which lies hundreds of miles from Mongolian cities. The recipient of the evidence, Dr. Allen Trevathan, is an exceptional man as well.
A former Special Forces officer, Trevathan is now an admiring colleague of Perriman's. He first looks for weaknesses in his mentor's theory that mankind, too, may be carriers of the same gene, but finds none. In fact, excluding discovery of the gene, Dr. Perriman's discoveries track almost identically with his own.
What must come next is Dr. Trevathan's journey to Mongolia to gather the samples Dr. Perriman died for and to bring their message to the attention of the world. Soon after, he learns that lab tests show humans do carry the gene. It's not news everyone wants to hear.
There are several obstacles standing in his way. The Chinese government is not eager to interrupt plans for a trans-Mongolian oil pipeline through the Altai Mountains (that part is fact) for an important paleontology dig, and the Russians have quite a different, secret motive for not wanting Perriman's evidence to see the light of day.
Trevathan is aided by a beautiful Mongolian woman, Professor Kim Do, a fellow paleontologist who worked with Perriman and whose father, luckily for the pair, is well-connected in high places. She turns out to be an able scientist as well as an appealing one.
After a danger-filled journey to the Ukok Plateau and the dig, things only get worse. The Russians send assassins to kill Trevathan and his colleague, but he has been quietly befriended.
His protector is a mysterious Mongolian warlord, a descendant of Genghis Khan and has his own plans for Khan-like domination of his world. Like Kim, and Perriman, the Warlord wants that region of Western Mongolia and its nomadic peoples to rise again, bound by the code of Genghis Khan that resonates through their lives to this day. The environment was sacrosanct: soldiers were forbidden to bathe in rivers and streams, and a soldier following another who dropped something on the pathway was required to pick it up - at the pain of death.
And most of all, the Warlord wants to stop the Russian-Chinese pipeline transit of the Ukok Plateau and the Altai mountains, where remnants of the millenia-old Silk Road that Ghengis Khan's horses once trod protected at all costs.
Time and again, the Warlord's men turn up to keep Trevathan and Kim out of danger, and by then Trevathan has already eliminated several assassins on his own. Having gathered the specimens he needs to make his case, Trevathan is faced again with a group of Russian killers, this time in a helicopter. Escaping them, he finds what the Russians have been trying to hide all along.
That's all I can tell you without ruining the plot for you, so let me instead advise you that this book, even with typos on homonyms that elude the spellchecker ("here" for "hear," for example), is one of the best-written thrillers I have been privileged to enjoy in a long time. Compared to other books from iUniverse, it is well-edited, fast-paced and crisply written.
While "The Extinction Gene" is straightforward rather than intricate, its very rare choice of setting and its unique philosophical and genetic concerns are compelling. It's one of those books you could easily read in a single setting, but will probably enjoy even more a few chapters at a time.
It's really a first for me: a book of our time that understands the time limitations many readers have today and yet fulfills its mission brilliantly. Read it and enjoy!
Resources: Photos of the Ukok Plateau and surrounding regions of the Altai Mountains are magnificent to see. Visit this Website to appreciate the natural beauty of the area, considered sacred by its inhabitants.
For a brief but compelling biography of Genghis Khan and the story of his dynasty, see this Website.