The opening pages introduce Neil Mallory, a young British brush pilot with exceptional skills. He's flying mail routes over and along the Negro River in Brazil. He loses power, runs low on fuel, and with the help of a veteran RAF pilot, is guided to a semi-safe landing. Mallory walks away from the wreckage and meets the guy who helped save his life, Sam Hannah. The two have some drinks together and Mallory learns that Hannah is a well-known guy in these exotic areas, a heavy boozer and women-chaser that loves a good time on someone else’s dollar.
The night before returning to the more friendly, less treacherous metropolis of London, Mallory is seduced by a woman who leads him into an alley and steals his wallet and passport. Mallory, facing unemployment and a perilous financial outlook, accepts a job with Hannah flying packages. But, is there more to this than meets the eye?
Higgins places these two characters at odds with each other while they perform a dangerous mission of assisting nuns on a missionary expedition to care for a tribe of indigenous people. A beautiful model and actress named Joanna learns that her sister, one of the nuns, has been taken captive by the Huna tribe. Joanna has a romantic involvement with both Hannah and Mallory, adding even more tension and abrasion between the pilots. They both agree to assist Joanna in locating her sister, despite the ominous threats the jungle brings.
In some ways I felt that The Last Place God Made was reminiscent of another bush pilot Higgins novel, 1968's East of Desolation. The two books share pilots as protagonists, and both are set in exotic, “high adventure” locales. East of Desolation is more of a murder mystery while The Last Place God Made is an action-adventure novel. My mild disappointment with this book is that the first 150 pages was a slow burn explaining the region, history, and characters. The build-up of Hannah and Mallory's rivalry was enjoyable, but nothing really happens until the last 60-70 pages. The book's closing chapters is some of the best Higgins action-adventure scenes I've read. The finale places both Hannah and Mallory with heavy firepower in a crumbling old church as hundreds of spear-wielding natives attack. This was well worth the wait.
The Last Place God Made is a calculated build-up featuring historic details of Brazil, fearless characters, gunplay, treachery, jealousy, crime-fiction, and the high-adventure genre tropes one would expect from the author. It may also be the most violent Higgins novel I've experienced in terms of savage violence and torture. This is not for the squeamish. If you can handle the blood 'n guts, this is another great Higgins offering.
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