The Legend Makers
by Catherine Lanigan
(Mira, $5.99, PG) ISBN 1-55166-517-4
It took me a while, but I finally figured out what The Legend Makers really is. Itís a scenario for a new Indiana Jones film! Well, not exactly, especially since the Jones-like figure doesnít actually get the girl. But since the real hero of the book is 48 years old and the heroine is 28, I can actually picture Harrison Ford and some sweet young thing in the title roles.

I think youíll understand what I mean when I describe some of the events in the book. By the time itís over the heroine (mostly) or the hero have endured a wild ride down uncharted Amazonian rapids; a piranha attack; assaults by native fanatics who use blow guns, deadly vipers, and set fire to the camp; a puma attack; and other perils too numerous to mention. And like the Indiana Jones movies, what starts out as a search for Amazonian oil ends up as a quest for El Dorado and the secrets of the lost continent of Atlantis which will, if deciphered, uncover the mysteries of human history. Wow!

Obviously, doing a synopsis of this book is not an easy task, but letís at least meet the main characters. The heroine is M.J. Callahan, a geologist who is at the top of her field when it comes to using the new 3-D computer technology to search for oil. She leaves her safe desk job to take a position as field geologist for the Texan Oil Company which is searching for oil in the Ecuadorian Oriente, on the eastern side of the Andes in the uncharted upper reaches of the Amazon basin. Hired via the Internet, she does not bother to tell her new employer that she is a woman.

She meets another member of the team in the Houston airport. Michael Hunter is a renowned explorer and geologist. He is also a blonde hunk who takes M.J.ís breath away. Michael is appalled to find that his associate is a woman and predicts that the boss, already in Ecuador, will send her on her way. However, he does not hesitate to make a pass at her.

The boss is Travis Kincaid. Kincaid has a long and not especially glorious career in the oil business. The oil bust in the 1980s and a wife who took him to the cleaners when the money stopped rolling in left him down but not out. This Oriente deal is his last chance. But Kincaid wants to find the oil not just for the money he will make but also for the benefits that will ensue to poor Ecuador.

Travis would like nothing more than to send M.J. home, but he doesnít have time to find and hire a new geologist. So the three, with their guides and their boatmen, head into the Amazon and into all the troubles described above.

M.J. has always dreamed of adventure, of leaving behind her unhappy and unsatisfactory life. She has also dreamed of finding her perfect knight in shining armor. For a while, she wonders if Michael might not be the man of her dreams. But Michael turns out to be a pretty selfish and self absorbed fellow. Travis, on the other hand, proves to be a tower of strength, saving her life at least twice. And there is that almost mystical connection between the two.

Woven into the story of the three contemporary American explorers is the legend of three others who, in the 1930s, disappeared into the Oriente, never to be heard of again. When an old American herbalist appears to cure M.J. of her assorted health problems resulting from her run-ins with piranhas and fires, it turns out that history is repeating itself.

When The Legend Makers dealt with the search for oil, I found myself engrossed in the story. I was really rooting for them to succeed and was actually caught up in the scientific aspects of petroleum exploration in such a remote and hostile land. I really wanted them to find that oil.

But when the story veered off into the ďreincarnationĒ scenario and into the quest for El Dorado, with all the Atlantis mumbo-jumbo, I found myself saying, huh? And I never did find out for sure if the oil they found was exploitable or if Travis and his company succeeded. Let me say that the ending left me hanging.

As for the romance, well, it seemed to be secondary to the adventure and not very satisfying. M.J. is first attracted to Michael, but then is attracted to Travis (whom she rather annoyingly always refers to as ďsir). Michael discovers too late that just maybe M.J. is the woman for him, and realizes that his self-centeredness has led to his losing her. Travis tries not to admit how he feels about M.J. but they seem to be soul mates. May I say that the single love scene is remarkably improbable. Here we have M.J. suffering from second-degree burns and Travis hurting from the after effects of a puma attack, and they are fleeing from crazed tribesman through the impenetrable jungle, and their passions simply get the better of them? I donít think so.

But then I found the love scenes in the Indiana Jones movies pretty improbable as well.

One of Laniganís books was the basis for the hit movie Romancing the Stone . I have this strange feeling that The Legend Makers might be an attempt to create a story that would transfer onto the big screen. To tell you the truth, it just might. But as a romance novel, it leaves a lot to be desired.

--Jean Mason

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