I’m a devotee of any of the Preston Child novels, either standalone books or their long running FBI Agent Pendergast series. The adventurous tales, co-written by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child, are set in the modern day, using real locations mixed in with treasure hunting, pure evil doers and good guys triumphing at the end. So, I picked up this non-fiction work by Douglas Preston, not expecting it to be as riveting as their off-the-scale fiction. I was wrong.
The Lost City of the Monkey God was published in January 2017, and is a highly readable, thoroughly riveting firsthand account of Mr Preston’s involvement in an archaeological expedition into Honduras in 2016. He joined a team of scientists using LIDAR for the first time to explore the jungles of La Mosquitia both from the air and later on foot. The team were hunting the truth behind eons-old myths of a White City, the City of the Monkey God. Led by three ex-SAS soldiers, whose job was to keep them alive, they achieved vastly more than anyone dared hope for, and the rest has been well-documented in the media. Preston himself was assigned on behalf of National Geographic and his account of the entire trip, from leader Steve Elkins’ years of planning and fund-raising through execution and post-trip is alarming and illuminating.
Central American archaeology is not just about hacking through primeval jungle but also about dodging feu-de-lance pit vipers, bullet ants and spiders. The worst invisible enemy proved to be more than a myth, with more than half the team coming away with leishmaniasis, or white leprosy, contracted from sand fly bites and still incurable. After reading this book I have a greater respect for National Geographic and Peace Corps workers, who contract incurable tropical diseases and sometimes so badly affected they take months or years to recuperate.
“Truth is stranger than fiction” and Preston’s adventure as part of this expedition is actually more hair-raising than his fiction. Thoroughly recommended.