A strangely worded letter from Suzanne Clair has brought Dr. Edward Sanders by steamer from Libreville, Gabon, to dingy Port Matarre in the Cameroon Republic. For two years, Suzanne was his mistress while she and her husband, Max, worked with Sanders at the Fort Isabelle leper hospital in a corner of West Africa. When Max and Suzanne abruptly left for Cameroon, Sanders began to suspect that Suzanne had contracted leprosy. Now, Sanders seeks transport fifty miles up the Matarre River to Mont Royal, where the Clairs have established a small clinic. Passage upriver is difficult to secure. When Sanders arrives, Port Matarre is almost deserted, and an African official explains that a new kind of plant disease has been discovered in the forest near Mont Royal and that military authorities are surrounding the affected area.
There are other mysteries as well. His cabinmate during the voyage to Cameroon, an architect, Ventress, is a furtive and manic personality with his own hidden reason for reaching Mont Royal. Another passenger, Father Balthus, is ostensibly returning to his small parish in the forest after a sabbatical rest, yet Sanders senses in Balthus some dark purpose.
A young French journalist, Louise Peret, befriends Sanders at Port Matarre, and the two are drawn together. At night, they notice an odd luminescence from the jungle upriver, and even the Echo satellite overhead is brighter than usual. At a local curio shop, Sanders has seen beautiful crystalline flowers that seem to glow, which the natives keep under wraps.
An altercation at the port between Ventress and those hired by Thorensen, a mine owner, draws Sanders into the middle of a personal vendetta as he attempts to aid his former cabinmate. Then, the body of a man is found in the water, one arm covered with some deliquescing crystal structure. The drowned man was an associate of Peret, and now she, too, must journey into the...
(The entire section is 787 words.)