By Ben Mezrich

Ratpac Press. 314 pp. $26

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Reviewed by

Frank Wilson

Super-geek Jeremy Grady, working late at night in an MIT lab, discovers something he can hardly believe. Jeremy, however, is not alone, and the significance of his discovery becomes plain to him in the form of "something jagged and long . . . knifing through the air." He has just enough time to hide a thumb drive on a key ring his twin brother had given him.

That twin, field anthropologist Jack Grady, has just discovered in a cave in Turkey an ancient mural depicting those legendary women warriors, the Amazons, one of whom bears a stone engraved with an image of a golden snake cut into seven equal segments.

Meanwhile, in Rome's Colosseum, a comely young botanist named Sloane Costa has discovered not only some really old flora, but also a hieroglyph of a pair of snakes twisted together into a double helix, like those on the caduceus, the staff of the god Mercury.

Jack finds an identical image of two snakes on his brother's thumb drive, along with evidence of a correlation between the seven wonders of the ancient world and their modern counterparts. Which is how Jack and Sloane and Jack's two graduate assistants come to circle the planet trying to put it all together.

Keeping track of them is menacing billionaire Jendari Saphra, raised by an aunt who introduced her to a secret tradition in which the caduceus, a paradisal garden, and a tree of life all figured. Jendari, who has a lethal band of female mercenaries to carry out her wishes, thinks there is something behind all this, but not what her superstitious old aunt thought.

Oh, and a female aviator in the '30s seems to have been involved, as well.

Seven Wonders marks Ben Mezrich's return to fiction after a hiatus spent writing Bringing Down the House and The Accidental Billionaires, both best-sellers that were turned into movies. He seems to have had some trouble leaving non-fiction behind. Had he trimmed and condensed the background information, he would have been able to develop his characters and speed up the narrative. He also seems to have been ill-served by his editor. Words are missing from time to time, and if you're climbing in the Andes, there won't be any Sherpas on hand unless you import them.

Despite that, the story really is neat, filled with derring-do and creepy dangers. It should make a good movie.