Cover image for The reckoning
The reckoning
Long, Jeff.
Personal Author:
First Atria Books hardcover edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Atria Books, 2004.
Physical Description:
278 pages ; 24 cm
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FICTION Adult Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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While covering a search for the 30-year-old remains of a pilot in Cambodia, aphotojournalist discovers an eerie wasteland of ghostly dawn people and theplot takes off on a turbulent course toward a final, hair-raising conclusion.352 pp.

Author Notes

Jeff Long is a veteran climber and traveler in The Himalayas. He has worked as a journalist, a historian, and an elections supervisor for Bosnia's first democratic election. He lives in Boulder, Colorado.

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Long's new book is in some ways a choose-your-own-adventure novel. It may--or it may not--be a ghost story. It may--or it may not--have a happy ending. Some readers might be confounded by the ambiguity, but the majority will go with the flow and be thoroughly entertained. The book centers on Molly Drake, a photojournalist who takes an assignment as liaison with an American team of MIA investigators in Cambodia. At this point, it's no longer a search for the living, just the bones of the dead. Long invokes a powerful sense of nightmarish\b existence in a place where one's next footstep could land on an unexploded landmine. Molly and the rest of the party fight their personal wars with fever and injury during a relentless quest for the MIAs, spurred on by the oncoming monsoon season and also by rumors of a legendary city hidden deep in the jungle. Perceptions of reality blur, commingling the modern world with the sinister beauty of a civilization that has its roots in the dawn of recorded history. --Elliott Swanson Copyright 2004 Booklist

Publisher's Weekly Review

Long (Year Zero, etc.) delivers a suspenseful, tightly written tale of a nightmarish journey into the dark past-and present-of Cambodia's former killing fields. Molly Drake, a would-be photojournalist, accompanies a U.S. Army-led search for the bones of a pilot shot down during the war. She meets Duncan O'Brian, an archeologist at a local dig, and John Kleat, who has come back to the country repeatedly, seeking his brother's remains. When bones unexpectedly turn up, Molly photographs them, breaking her agreement with the army not to take pictures of bodies. The captain in charge dismisses her along with O'Brian and Kleat, and the trio make their way to an ancient, fog-enshrouded Angkor-like city where they have evidence an army patrol went missing years ago. They soon find themselves lost in a labyrinth of ancient stone, in circumstances that quickly grow as dire as those in which the patrol evidently found itself. Long's considerable knowledge of Cambodian folklore and history is put to good use as he superbly depicts the war-scarred country, its people and its beautiful, hazardous landscape-lush, verdant, strewn with land mines, studded by bones. Although the inner lives of the characters are not as detailed as they could have been, the author's use of supernatural elements is subtle and effective, and adds an extra dimension to this solid, coolly told, smoothly paced narrative. Agent, Sloan Harris. (July) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

Set in the former killing fields of Cambodia, this exciting archaeological thriller contains the plot twists and turns that we have come to expect from Long (The Descent). Freelance photojournalist Molly Drake has the opportunity of a lifetime: an assignment for the New York Times. Packing a new $10,000 digital camera and her camping equipment, she heads to Cambodia to photograph the efforts of an army recovery team searching for the remains of an American pilot downed during the Vietnam War. After Molly herself finds the pilot, she is banished from the camp, her Times story ruined. She and several civilians, also banished from the camp, follow a trail of clues in their own search for a missing Armored Cavalry unit. Deep in the jungle, they find a lost pre-Angkor city and more questions than answers. Once again, Long writes a fast-paced thrill-ride using history and artifacts to propel his story to an astounding conclusion. Recommended for most popular fiction collections.-Laura A.B. Cifelli, Fort Myers-Lee Cty. P.L., FL (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



Prologue: Cambodia, 1970 They fish him from the Mekong like a long, pale dragon, shouting and prodding him with bamboo poles, full of dread. He thinks his white skin scares them, or his loincloth made from the last strips of his American uniform. Babies cry. A dog won't come close. A village. He laughs at his good fortune. Home free. "Food," he demands. "America." They scatter at his voice. Their fear gives him heart. He is mostly blind by now. His legs are too heavy to move. He can barely lift his head. He lies there like Gulliver in the gray rain. After a while some brave soul sneaks close enough to tie his ankle with a vine. They leave him in the mud on the bank above the flood, tethered like an animal. This sobers him. He must appear very weak or they would bind him properly. But he seems to have some value or they would kill him or feed him back into the river. As a Boy Scout, he was taught when lost to follow water downstream. And so for over a week he has been on the move, fording creeks that became muscular tributaries, climbing down around waterfalls and rapids, swimming, and finally drifting on a huge gnarled ship of a tree down the river. Evading and escaping, he'd thought. He remembers emerging from the forest and its dark shadows, and working through seas of grass, following the water. He expected to descend into light. But as the waters mounted, so did his darkness. When it wasn't raining, monsoon clouds covered the sun. Day by day, his eyesight has decayed. He blames the water. The river is filled with parasites. Or the rain is driving him blind. Before losing his compass, his course was reliably west by southwest, away from the savage borderlands. Away from the lotus-eating madness infecting his comrades. Deeper into Cambodia. But the farther he traveled, the more things seemed to melt from him. His paper map dissolved the first day. His clothing flowered with fungus and blue moss and fell apart. His web gear and rucksack vanished. Possibly animals stole his boots in his sleep. Thinking it was his rifle, he carried a tree limb for miles. The illusions nibbled him away. Now they have him. The men sit at a distance, out of the rain, watching him. He can hear their whispers and smell their tobacco pipes. Raindrops patter on his eyeballs. He can't shut his lids anymore. It should hurt, but it doesn't. He stares into the rain drumming on the bones of his head. Like every prisoner in a foreign land, he clings to his exceptional circumstances, his singularity. He is young, just nineteen. If he could stand, he would tower over his captors. He has a girlfriend waiting for him. He can throw a football, do algebra in his head, and play "House of the Rising Sun" on the guitar. His folks have the Chevy he rebuilt parked in their garage. If only he could explain. Coming here was not his doing. Somehow the currents brought him to this point in time. The war was somebody else's idea. At last his captors feed him. Out of caution or because of the rain, they don't light a fire, so there is no rice or cooked food. They give him a little fruit, plus insects and water creatures. By this time, after so many weeks subsisting in the forest, he knows some of the tastes and textures. Crickets have a nutty flavor. The beetles crunch more. The shrimp still wiggle. He is so hungry. They can't bring enough over the coming days. As his sight fails, he grows more ravenous. He chews grass, tree buds, even clay, anything to slake the hunger. While he can still crawl, they let him forage, moving his tether when he has consumed everything in a circle. Floating on the great tree in the river, he dreamed of being carried out to sea. Peasant fishermen would find him, or sailors or pirates who would ransom him. Or the U.S. Navy would gather him in. He would be saved. On the third day, guerrillas arrive. With the last of his vision, he realizes that he has traded one set of shadows for another, the shapes in the forest for these gray phantoms. The world has blurred, but he can still see that they wear black. He recognizes the banana clips in their rifles. The only mystery is their red-checkered scarves. They are a whole new species of enemy to him. They speak in whispers above him. He can't understand a word. They seem afraid and uncertain of what to do with him. He lies among their legs, stranded in the tonnage of his body. He despises them. He despises himself. In their place, he'd waste him. But all they do is wait. The men in black pants and red scarves are the last sight he sees. Soon after their arrival, his blindness completes itself. He can't tell day from night anymore. Time slows. The rain comes and goes, thick and warm as piss. Maybe two more days go by. His limbs grow heavier, heavy like the earth. He listens to the river. Occasionally someone touches his eyes with a twig. That and the rain, like flies he can't kill. He is losing his mind. Then one day, or night, a man speaks to him in English. "Are you awake or asleep?" he says. His voice is close to the soldier's ear. The soldier thinks it must be a dream. He hears men murmuring nearby. "Hello?" he calls. "Look at you," the voice says, clearly shocked. "How has this happened?" The young soldier fills with hope. "Thank god," he says. He would reach for the man's hand, but can't lift his arms. "I prayed. Who are you?" "A passenger, like you. They sent for me. I came to help." He sounds like a Frenchman. He could be a colonial, maybe a doctor or a priest. "Can you save me?" "I will do what is possible. But time is short. You must tell me everything." Like holy confession. A priest, he decides. The soldier calms himself. He has to play this right. "Whatever you want, Father. I'm blind. My arms are like stone. I'm eating dirt. What's happening to me?" There is a pause. "Let us talk." "Something's wrong with my eyes, Father." "Yes, your eyes. Can you see?" "Not really." "Something, surely." "Nothing real. Only a dream, the same one. I'm in the forest again. There are giant heads, and spires with monkeys. I need medicine, Father. Can you get me to the Americans? They'll pay you." The stranger evades his plea. Not good. Whose side is he on? "Where did you come from?" the stranger asks. "Chicago, Father. America." "Yes." The man is patient with him. His voice is kind. "You mentioned a city, where this curse began." A curse, exactly. That's what this was. "You mean the ruins?" A silence, then, "You found the city?" The ruins excite him. He seems to know them, or of them. "On a mountain, Father. Right when we needed it. An old place surrounded by walls. Wild, you know, unreal." "The wars have not injured it?" "It's untouched, like a thousand years ago. There was no sign of anybody. It was empty." More silence. The man asks, "Do you remember the way?" What way? Water flowing into water? But this could be his ticket home. "Absolutely. I can show you once I'm better." "And the rest of your men?" The soldier could deny their existence. He could hide them. But now he has mentioned "we," and he is desperate. "They're still there, all of them. I told them to come with me. But they chose a fool over me. We followed him onto the mountain. He led us wrong, then told us to stay. So he died for his sins. And the rest of them will, too." His interrogator is quiet a minute. He doesn't ask how many Americans are left, nor their unit or any military information. His only interest seems to be the ruins. "Âme damnée," the man finally murmurs. The American has no idea what that means. "Yeah," he says, "like that." "Fallen angels," the priest says. "And yet you escaped." The soldier grows wary. "I warned them. We were coming apart at the seams. Everyone was afraid. We were lost. There were voices at night. No one knew who to trust or what to do. It was every man for himself. Finally, I left to get help. They won't last long up there. I followed the water. The water brought me here." "Are they fossilizing as well?" The young soldier can't cut through the accent. "What?" "Your eyes," the priest says. The soldier grows quiet. "What about them?" "You have not touched them?" A hand hoists his heavy wrist and guides his fingers to his face. He feels the familiar shape of his cheekbones and forehead, but avoids his eyes. He doesn't want to know. "Touch them," the voice says. "My eyes?" "I, too, am maimed," the priest tells him. Mayhem-ed, it sounds. "There was a bomb. This was a year ago. For a time, I could not bear to see what was left of my body. But at last it was necessary. I had to touch the wounds. Do you understand? We must accept our fate." The soldier feels his dead eyes. "Oh lord, help me." The lids are peeled back in wide round circles. His eyes are as hard as polished jade. He knows from the ruins what they look like, the green jade eyes. They don't belong in his face. His hand is returned to his side. It settles upon the mud, like an anchor. His fingers sink into the earth. "Father? Don't leave me." "I'm here." "What will happen to me?" "The people are afraid. They want you to go away." "Put me on the river. I'll go. Far away." "I will put you on the river," the man promises. Relief floods the soldier. Even blind, he has a chance. "Thank you, Father. Tell them thank you." "Don't come back to their village, that's all they want. Put this place out of your mind." "I swear." "But remember the city. It is punishing you. I think you must return to there someday." Not in a million years. "Yes, Father." Then the soldier hears a sound he knows too well, the drawing of a knife. It is done softly, but there is no mistaking the linear hiss. The murmurs stop in the distance. "What are you doing, Father?" he whispers. "Releasing you," the voice answers, "so that you can finish your journey." The soldier's heart thunders in his chest. He waits for a tug at his ankle, for the vine tether to be cut. Instead a hand grips his forehead. His throat is bared. From the start, he knew this was no priest. But he couldn't help but hope. He still can't. "Forgive me, Father," he says. "I was only trying to go home." "Be brave." The voice is kind. "The dream goes on." Copyright (c) 2004 by Jeff Long Excerpted from The Reckoning by Jeff Long All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.