Some years ago, I was running on a trail with my friend Charles, and he needed to make a pit stop. Emerging from the woods, he said eight words no runner wants to utter; “Do you know what poison ivy looks like?”


Well I didn’t, and don’t. That would not be the case were I Emma Caldridge, the heroine of a new novel by lawyer/runner Jamie Freveletti. Emma, we learn in the first paragraph, “went to sleep in first class on a British Airlines flight from Miami to Bogotá, and woke sixty seconds before the plan was downed in the Colombian jungle.”

Finding herself tossed clear of the wreckage, she has several advantages over your run-of-the-mill BA first-class patron. She runs ultras (including Badwater) and she’s a really good chemist.

After she quickly discovers that this is no ordinary accident put a plan to kidnap passengers to be held for ransom by various Colombian drugs gangs, with a pscyhopath named Luis Rodrigo — the “Devil” of the title — and his band of non-lovable misfits charged with collecting the hostages at the crash site and transporting them to a collection point, through overgrown and mine-laden jungle, she has no choice but to follow.

Although she has some baggage of a non-physical nature, our heroine has two things going for her, she’s in really good shape and, as I say, she’s a really good chemist. This all sounds trite, but the story isn’t. It moves rapidly through short chapters, jumping from several perspectives in the Colombian jungle to what-do-we-do-about-it? meetings in Miami among the overt and the covert. Other characters are well drawn — although I must warn that one of the most sympathetic smokes even though she has a weak heart — but they all, even the Devil himself (his no. 2, the level-headed Alvarado, is actually somewhat sympathetic), all take a backseat to the action, and the action takes a backseat to Emma.

At times the novel strays close to the plausibility line, but it never quite crosses it. An author’s note explains that the properties of the plants and other life put to good use by Emma are accurate. And there are a few twists here and there. I couldn’t put it down.

There’s not a lot of running here. The important running is done before the flight, and Emma’s running background gives her strength of body, strength of will, and strength of character.

The name “Emma,” of course, evokes Austenian thoughts. This Emma could well be a direct descendant of Elizabeth Darcy.

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