by Bill Schutt and J.R. Finch
Cover Artist: Mount Roraima by Uwe George; Clouds by Cultura RM / ALamy;
Japanese flag by Bruce Stanfield / Shutterstock
Review by Joe Eriksen
William Morrow Hardcover ISBN/ITEM#: 9780062412522
Date: 07 June 2016 List Price $26.99 Amazon US / Amazon UK
As a zoologist, explorer, and military aviator, Captain R.J. "Mac" MacCready has seen his fair share of oddities. However, nothing could have prepared him for what he would encounter next: a Japanese sub, the Nostromo, found run aground deep in the Brazilian jungle.
In January of 1944, after a hazardous landing at a Caribbean air base, Mac meets with his commanding officer, Major Patrick Hendry, who tells him that a team of Army Rangers sent in to investigate has mysteriously vanished. Hendry plans to send Mac into the jungle to locate the Rangers and learn all that he can about the sub, an incredibly dangerous task due to the Xavante, a nearly-uncontacted native tribe that does not take kindly to foreigners. In addition to reconnaissance work, Mac learns that Hendry wants him to consult and team up with Bob Thorne, a botanist and friend of Mac's from graduate school, whom Mac, along with the rest of the world, believed to be dead. In reality, Thorne has spent several years living in the jungle, far away from the outside world.
After Mac deploys, we learn that the Japanese and the Nazis have teamed up on a project that, if successful, will simultaneously be a phenomenal accomplishment and a horrifying atrocity. Dr. Eugen Sänger and Dr. Akira Kimura use their skills and jungle discoveries to alter the course of human history. They, along with Colonel Gerhardt Wolff, set up shop in the jungle to hide from the world. However, like the Xavante, the jungle is far from welcoming. Early on in the story, two of Wolff's soldiers attempt to retrieve one of Sänger's cameras from a tree, but, in doing so, they are killed by an unknown beast that can apparently talk to them. This beast proves to be both deadly to the Nostromo base team and invaluable to their mission.
Schutt and Finch explore two primary themes in this novel: the not-necessarily-positive relationship between scientific and societal development and the unfairness of life. The former manifests in the experiments of Sänger and Kimura, showing that scientific developments are not inherently good or bad. Rather, the good or bad nature lies in our motivations behind the developments and how we use them. While reading, I remembered a war crimes course I took during my freshman year of college. In it, my professor told the class of another professor who considered World War II (specifically the Holocaust, but the example holds) to be the end of the Enlightenment. Scientific research and development made us worse because of how we used our new-found knowledge. Maurice Voorhees is the primary exemplar of the latter. Although he did everything he could to prevent a horrifying atrocity, and, in fact, succeeded in sabotaging its execution, he was in no way rewarded for his efforts.
In Hell's Gate, Bill Schutt and J.R. Finch take the reader on a 397-page thrill ride through the Brazilian jungle at the height of World War II. They combine science, history, and fantasy into a marvelously-crafted experience that never gives the reader a chance to rest. I thoroughly enjoyed Schutt's and Finch's use of foreshadowing, which continually beckons the reader to think forwardly about not necessarily what will happen, but rather about how and why those events could occur, much in the way that a scientist would analyze findings.
Fans of Michael Crichton's Jurassic Park and The Lost World will undoubtedly enjoy this premiere work of Bill Schutt and J.R. Finch. It mixes the well-explored concept of scientific achievement driven by misguided ambition with analytical reasoning, suspense, and imagination, and places everything on a solid foundation of research to make the story into a gripping and unforgettable tale. I hope that other readers will themselves flying through the novel for the same reason I did: they never want to stop.