The Creature X team travels to Papua New Guinea to investigate sightings of a surviving pterosaur.
Laura Reagan, host of Creature X, wants to leave North America behind and step out from the shadow of her father’s cryptozoological research. She leads her team to Umboi Island, off the coast of Papua New Guinea, to shoot a cryptozoological documentary about the mysterious Ropen, a bioluminescent pterosaur-like creature that has somehow survived extinction.
In a stroke of luck, Laura and her team see a mysterious purple light above the trees. Could it actually be what they’re searching for? But the hunt for the Ropen takes a drastic turn when a body turns up in the Creature X camp. With satellite phones down, Laura and her team are stuck on the island with a murderer — and no chance of help.
About the author
J.J. Dupuis writes fiction, poetry, and satire. He is the author of Roanoke Ridge and Lake Crescent, the first two books in the Creature X Mystery series. His work has been published in magazines and journals such as Valve, Foliate Oak, Spadina Literary Review, and University of Toronto Magazine. J.J. is the founding editor of the Quarantine Review, a literary journal born out of self-isolation. He lives and works in East York, Toronto, and is an avid outdoorsman and martial artist.
Excerpt: Umboi Island: A Creature X Mystery (by (author) J.J. Dupuis)
We came to Umboi Island in search of a lost world. Some might call it a romantic idea, others post-colonial, but the notion that the jungles of Africa or Asia hide prehistoric wonders has persisted in Western culture for as long as European sailors, explorers, and colonizers have travelled to distant lands and come back with incredible and wondrous tales. We didn’t expect to find one, of course, but the idea of a wilderness untouched for millions of years is one so persistent in the world of cryptozoology that we knew it needed to be “explored.”
We’d yet to spot any “living fossils” as I led the team up the trail back toward our camp, but something bizarre and glowing had risen through the trees and disappeared into the night sky, into the unfamiliar constellations revealed by the absence of ambient light. There was a break in the forest canopy where at daybreak I could watch the sun climb up over the edge of the world. Great frigatebirds, barely visible in the distance, broke formation as they skimmed the water looking for prey. The volcano toward the centre of the island could be clearly seen in the distance, a collar of greenery rising around its neck. With the ocean at our backs we continued toward camp, the volcano standing ominously to the right. It was more of a mountain, actually, since it hadn’t erupted for eleven thousand years, but that was cold comfort.
“Does it bother you, Laura?” Saad asked as he sidled up next to me.
I’d told him once about my fear of volcanoes, but he’d never brought it up. Growing up near Mount St. Helens, volcanic eruptions for me were not a remote threat but a real possibility. I had always pictured our town as the next Pompeii, our bodies preserved for the ages in walls of ash.
“I’m fine,” I said, hooking my thumbs under the straps of my backpack. “What are the chances it would become active now?”
“Slim to none,” he said, giving me one of his rare smiles.
The trail widened as we approached the clearing where we’d set up camp. Our team had spent the night hunting an extant pterosaur that glowed in the dark, known as the “Ropen.” Its name meant “demon flyer” and it supposedly flew above the canopy at night on leathery wings, emitting a haunting bioluminescent glow.
Rumoured to be a nocturnal creature, we stalked the jungle at night looking for evidence of the Ropen’s existence. While the team of British researchers from NatureWorld’s U.K. affiliate were training their nightvision cameras on the trees and the forest floor, we tilted ours upward. Chris, our cameraman, was enjoying the toys he got to play with, the drones and the camera traps, and the rest of us were happy to take part in a legitimate expedition. Well, maybe Danny, the producer, and the new guy, Joshua, weren’t enjoying themselves, but I couldn’t care less.
“I’ve never looked more forward to a cot in my life,” Danny announced, veering toward the large tent where the men slept. “I’ll say this for you, Laura, at least you picked a tropical location this time. I was getting pale as a ghost.”
The men were eager to dump their packs in the tent and either sleep or head to the commissary for something to eat. The straps of my pack had made permanent tracks around my shoulders and I wanted nothing more than to take it off, lay down on my cot, throw something over my face, and drop off to sleep.
Across the camp, I saw Lindsay emerge from the commissary tent and walk toward me. I smiled, relieved she’d made it back safely.
“There you are,” I said. “How were the caves?”
“They go deeper than I would have thought,” she said. “I’d love to go back with proper gear.”
That was the first time she seemed legitimately excited to be on the island.
“There might be time for that,” I said. “But I need a little rest before we start shooting again tonight.”
The scientists from the U.K. team were up at dawn, and for the most part stayed up until nightfall, so we expected we’d have the tent to ourselves. We had a few hours before we had to wake up for the night shoot.
I pushed the tent flap aside and walked in, several thoughts competing with the sensations of fatigue for my attention. The first thing I noticed was an odd smell, different from the thick rainforest air. Then the flies. A sense of danger set off alarms in my brain. Then I saw him. I stopped dead in my tracks, gasped, and turned to push Lindsay back out the door. But I was too late. She stood there in the doorway, open-mouthed, looking as if she’d stepped on the third rail of a subway track.
He was lying on Lindsay’s cot. On the ground beside him was my monogrammed Remington knife, the compact steel blade stained red with blood. I knew he was dead.
A good old-fashioned action-adventure novel, complete with martial arts, gun fights, and a far-off setting...an enjoyable, fast-paced read.
A solid mystery, rich setting, and lots of action...bold and confident, narrative-wise.
Umboi Island is a tremendously fun murder mystery, full of savvy characters, sensory depictions of a lush jungle, and morbid lawlessness.
First and foremost a romp and an evolutionary step forward for the Boys Own Adventure genre….While writing a hunt for a mythological creature, Dupuis has managed a few blows in getting rid of other dinosaurs altogether.
True Crime Fiction
Dupuis’s entertaining third Creature X mystery (after 2021’s Lake Crescent) smoothly combines scientific mystery and action. Fans of Lincoln Child’s Jeremy Logan books will hope this series has a long run.
Other titles by J.J. Dupuis
The Quarantine Review, Issue 11
The Quarantine Review, Issue 10
The Quarantine Review, Issue 9
A Creature X Mystery