Pharmacognostic Gold Spells

  1. Christie Carrico, PhD
  1. Christie Carrico, PhD, is Executive Officer for ASPET. She has interesting stories of her own about sustaining injuries on a recent trip to Panama.

Amazon Gold

Dirk Wyle. Highland City, Florida: Rainbow Books; 2003. 337 pages. $14.95 ISBN: 1568250959

Amazon Gold is the latest in Dirk Wyle’s Ben Candidi mystery series. The book differs significantly from its predecessors not only in the title format (“… is Murder”), but also in the scope of the characters and story. To begin with, there is no murder for Ben Candidi to solve. Instead, his beloved Rebecca disappears in the Brazilian jungle while on a medical mission.

The context surrounding the plot is ethnobotany and the possibility that the South American rainforest might provide profitable pharmaceuticals. Ben accompanies Rebecca to Brazil to see her off on a trip up the Rio Marauiá to spend a month at a medical mission for the Yanomamö Indians. Once Rebecca sets off in an outrigger with the head of the medical mission and their Indian guide, Ben heads back to Miami where he is obliged to finish a report on how new drugs will be discovered a decade from now.

Back in Miami, Ben finds it very hard to concentrate on his drug discovery report. First, there is the nagging concern about the reputed ferocity of the Yanomamö Indians and their tendency to kill outsiders. Then there is the sexy and flirtatious flight attendant who shows up at his front door wanting to continue the conversation begun on the long flight back from Brazil. Add into the mix a visit from a DEA agent and the fact that Candidi’s house seems to be under surveillance. And it doesn’t help that Michael Malencik, the man who hired him to write the drug discovery report, is not a scientist but refuses to let Ben meet with recipient of the report, instead insisting on relaying all communication back and forth himself. So preoccupied is Ben with these issues, that he almost forgets his promise to Rebecca to attend an anthropology lecture at the university. The lecturer, Edith Pratt, gives a strongly anti-development lecture about the Amazonian Indian cultures, and is saved from being shot in the head on the way out by Ben throwing his briefcase in her face. Instead of thanks, Ben is manhandled away and has a hard time proving he was not attacking the speaker, notwithstanding a bullet stuck in his briefcase.

It is at about this time that Ben comes up with the idea of a drug discovery biochip, similar in concept to gene chips, and a way to make it work. He figures that the idea is all that his client is buying, but the implementation is his for the patenting. The client, however, is becoming increasingly “schizophrenic” in the types of questions being asked and information demanded, and Ben can’t be sure if this is coming from the client or if it is Malencik’s interpretation.

Several other things involving drug couriers (remember that flight attendant?), worries about his former mentor Dr. Westley, being staked out, and being shot at bother Ben, but nothing so much as an E-mail he gets from Rebecca indicating that she is extending her stay at the mission and he is not to worry. Ben begins to get suspicious about the E-mails and cleverly ascertains that they are not coming from Rebecca. Lucrative contract notwithstanding, Ben drops everything and heads back to the Amazon to find Rebecca. Along the way he meets a Dutch photojournalist who insists on accompanying him to do a human-interest story on Ben’s search for Rebecca.

At this point the action picks up and the story becomes a real page-turner. Nothing is quite what it seems. Ben’s smart-aleck approach to life doesn’t work in the rainforest and for once, Ben is totally out of his element and realizes it. It is refreshing to see the confident, cocky Candidi unsure of himself for a change––some of this is owing to the alien environment, but most of it is arising from the fact that he is being driven by something other than his intellect and his quest for wealth. The plot resolution involves finding Rebecca, drug discovery, and happy endings, but there are quite a few surprises along the way, and at least for some of us, some clever irony involving a certain publishing company (which I assume was intentional on the part of the author).

I hope Wyle continues to develop Ben and Rebecca’s characters in subsequent books. In Amazon Gold, Rebecca finally becomes something more than a cardboard cutout accessory for Ben and Ben becomes a bit more human and likeable. This book is highly recommended.

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