Umboi Island: A Creature X Mystery (2022) – J.J. Dupuis

Three Creature X novels in, J.J. Dupuis comes across as a more relaxed and confident author this time round. And while the monster aspect of the story is mostly sidelined to cater to a jungle adventure, Dupuis does some worldbuilding as Laura Reagan continues her television series on cryptozoology, introduces a possible new ongoing villain, a hint about their next adventure, and a family connection rediscovered, as well as past character histories paying off in new ways.

Laura and her team head to Umboi Island in Papua New Guinea in search of the ropen, supposedly a large reptilian bird, possibly a pterosaur. The island has been littered with sightings of it for years, though it’s never been captured on film. Honestly, even for me, this sounds like word of mouth tales that grew bigger with the telling.

But it’s enough to get Laura and her team on a trip across the world, but after a chilly adventure in Newfoundland, maybe they need a little warmth.

Arriving on the island, they are paired with another television series, a UK nature series, and research station, but Laura and the rest are troubled to discover someone one of her crew, Lindsey, knows, and has a terrible history with, one that practically ruined her academic career. He’s alive and well, working at the station, and seems to have gotten on with his life.

So it doesn’t come as a surprise that when a body shows up, it’s his.

It’s a fast-paced tale that quickly reveals that something else is going on at Umboi Island, (no spoilers) and that Laura and her team are, once again, right in the middle of it. The story will occasionally brush up against the idea of the ropen, each chapter opens with quotes from investigations, and papers on the subject, but of the three of Dupuis’ novels so far, this one is the most grounded, and plays out as a straightforward adventure.

As the story comes to an end, Dupuis sets up a couple of ideas for the next story, one of which seems to indicate which cryptid they are going after next, the Giant of Kandahar. But there’s also a suggestion that things are going to get very personal for Laura in the next book!

I like how Dupuis has developed the main characters of Laura, and her friend Saad, and the things that drive them. He keeps the plot moving, plunging Laura, Saad, and their friends into danger, and sooner or later, I’m sure they’re producers are going to wonder if it’s worth the trouble to finance their show.

Not to mention that every time they go somewhere, somebody ends up dead. They’re going to end up persona non grata, and they still won’t have any evidence for any of the cryptids they go looking for. But perhaps that will open up new venues for Laura and Saad to do their thing, and of course, keep up the search for her father…

Umboi Island is available next week from Dundurn Press and is an enjoyable addition to a series that thanks to its subject matter can tell a variety of tales, and take the reader globetrotting.

Check out Dupuis’ other entries in the series, Roanoke Ridge and Lake Crescent, then pick this one up!

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