(Originally published February 8, 2009)
I was wandering through my local library last week and the title of this book caught my eye. It sounded like something out of an Indiana Jones adventure – Max Broadbent, a reclusive old millionaire, hides himself and his treasure in the depths of the Honduran jungle. If his sons wish to claim their vast inheritance, they must work together to decipher his clues and discover his hidden tomb. (This author, Douglas Preston, was also responsible for a previously reviewed title, “Relic”).
The book follows Philip, Vernon, and Tom Broadbent, the millionaire’s three sons, as they venture deep into the heart of the jungle in a desperate search for their father’s treasure. But they are not alone. In addition to a vast treasure of art objects, Broadbent’s tomb contains an ancient Mayan codex that told of certain plants’ healing properties. A wealthy pharmaceutical company has contracted with a sadistic ex-Vietnam veteran to obtain the codex at all costs – even if it involves murdering the three Broadbent brothers.
It’s when they reach the jungle that the real action begins. Fans of wilderness-survival adventures like “Hatchet” will certainly appreciate this rainforest adventure. Throw in numerous parallels to Joseph Conrad’s classic “Heart of Darkness” and you’ve got a pulse-pounding thriller on your hands. Hauser, the murderous ex-Marine on the pharmaceutical company’s bankroll, is one of the best literary villains I’ve encountered in a long time. The book builds to a tense, explosive climax culminating in a rope-bridge standoff à la “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.”
In addition to plenty of gripping action scenes, the book contains a redemptive spiritual element that is quite gratifying. At the beginning of the story, it appears that religion will be portrayed as nothing more than a crutch – but in the closing pages of the novel, a leading character recognizes his helplessness in the face of human evil. Shortly before dying, this formerly hedonistic individual renounces his sinful life and acknowledges the saving grace of a higher power. This is most gratifying, especially in an age of increasing secularism.
It’s unfortunate, then, that such a promising book is marred by problematic moral elements. Foul language (including scattered f-words) is prevalent throughout, especially at the beginning. In addition, “The Codex” contains a graphic sex scene that is completely unnecessary to the plot. Without these elements, the novel would carry a solid PG-13 rating. While there are a few moments of gruesome violence, they’re relatively unsurprising given the genre.
I found myself really wanting to enjoy “The Codex.” It’s fast-paced, exciting, and has a spiritual depth absent from most other thrillers. However, the inclusion of unnecessary bad language and sexual content makes it difficult to recommend to other readers. With a few slight modifications, “The Codex” would certainly rank among my favorite suspense-adventure stories. But, as it stands…readers may want to think twice before reading.
A fascinating plot marred by needless objectionable content.