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‘The Lost City of the Monkey God: A True Story’

By Douglas Preston

(Grand Central Publishing)

To pigeonhole Douglas Preston a true-crime author is a gross understatement of his skills as a writer. Yes, his many best-sellers with Lincoln Child are fun, suspenseful romps chronicling the adventures of an FBI agent. But he’s also an extremely capable investigator who, along with Italian journalist Mario Spezi wrote 2008’s fabulous “The Monster of Florence: A True Story,” a spellbinding work of nonfiction about a series of grisly murders in Tuscany.

This time, the subject matter is equally compelling — an ancient and sacred city in Honduras known as the White City or the Lost City of the Monkey God. For generations, indigenous people passed along stories of ancestors who fled there to escape Spanish invaders and that anyone who enters would get sick and die.

In 2012, Preston joined a group of scientists, archaeologists, photographers and film producers who traveled to La Mosquitia, an unexplored and dangerous region of Central American jungle. They faced floods, mountains, jaguars, deadly snakes, disease-carrying insects and other inherent challenges. They brought along a new piece of NASA-owned laser technology known as LIDAR, or Light Detection and Ranging, which confirmed a sprawling metropolis inhabited around the same time as the Mayan civilization in modern-day Mexico. Their intent was to map the city as well as explore and protect its rumored riches.

Preston unspools the history of the White City, the expedition and the journey itself in detail — sometimes in too much detail. The book originated as an article in National Geographic and it may have been a better story if kept restrained to magazine size. Lengthy discussions of scientific equipment, aircraft, landing zones and, later, infectious diseases, while fascinating on their own, feel somewhat superfluous and ill-placed.

The latter especially — an in-depth history of smallpox and other deadly diseases that systematically wiped out indigenous peoples — was a compelling read, but its contribution at the end of this book felt out of place.

It’s possible that part of the dissatisfaction at the conclusion of this tale was rooted in the dissatisfaction in the expedition itself. While a remarkably important scientific discovery, the team’s chief archaeologist decreed nothing could be excavated from the site at the time, which feels anti-climactic to the general public — and readers.

— Kim Curtis

Best-Sellers

The Associated Press

For the week Ending Jan. 1, 2017.

Hardcover Fiction

1. “The Whistler” by John Grisham (Doubleday)

2. “Cross the Line” by James Patterson (Little, Brown)

3. “The Underground Railroad” by Colson Whitehead (Doubleday)

4. “No Man’s Land” by David Baldacci (Grand Central Publishing)

5. “Two by Two” by Nicholas Sparks (Grand Central Publishing)

6. “The Chemist” by Stephenie Meyer (Little, Brown)

7. “Small Great Things” by Jodi Picoult (Ballantine)

8. “Night School” by Lee Child (Delacorte)

9. “Tom Clancy: True Faith and Allegiance” by Mark Greaney (Putnam)

10. “Turbo Twenty-Three” by Janet Evanovich (Bantam)

Hardcover Nonfiction

1. “The Lose Your Belly Diet” by Travis Stork (Ghost Mountain)

2. “The Princess Diarist” by Carrie Fisher (Blue Rider)

3. “Hillbilly Elegy” by J.D. Vance (Harper)

4. “Jesus Always” by Sarah Young (Thomas Nelson)

5. “Tools of Titans” by Timothy Ferriss (HMH)

6. “The Magnolia Story” by Gaines/Gaines (Thomas Nelson)

7. “Killing the Rising Sun” by O’Reilly/Dugard (Henry Holt & Company)

8. “The Undoing Project” by Michael Lewis (Norton)

9. “The Book of Joy” by Dalai Lama/Tutu (Avery)

10. “Zero Sugar Diet” by David Zinczenko (Ballantine)

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