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The Wall
A Thriller
By Jeff Long
Published by Atria
January 2006;$24.00US/$33.00CAN; 0-7432-6616-1

On the vast, sunlit walls of the world's greatest monolith, two veteran climbers unwittingly ascend into a vertical underworld. In a place where obsession kills, they quickly fall prey to past loves, old demons, and ghostly revenge.

Once upon a time, thirty-five years ago, Hugh and Lewis were Yosemite legends. El Capitan was their holy grail, and their destiny seemed written on its big walls. Here they met the women who married, then left them. Hugh's wife mysteriously disappeared into the desert. Lewis's wife is divorcing him. Now, the old friends reunite to climb El Cap one last time and make a fresh start.

But "the Captain" seems cursed this time around. Even before the aging "wall rats" leave the ground, disaster strikes three young women high on a neighboring route. Hugh discovers one body in the forest and spies a second dangling a half mile overhead. He and Lewis launch their ascent, desperate to leave the terrible omens behind.

But there is no escape. Doubts haunt them, the elements plague them, and an eerie reptilian woman invades their sleep. Nothing comes free up here. Every vertical inch, the men must battle the stone, their aging bodies, fear, and the memories of great loves lost.

They doggedly climb on, only to be drawn into a deadly rescue attempt by Augustine, a search-and-rescue expert. Like a man possessed, he is hell-bent on saving his lover, one of the doomed women. Hugh ties in to the rope with him and climbs through a gauntlet of fire, ice, and deep gravity to the wreckage of the fall.

There, he and Augustine find a survivor, starved, half-mad, and holding a corpse. The battered young woman raves that El Cap requires one final sacrifice. On this tiny island in the sky, the rescuers becomes the victims, hounded by some ruthless spirit and caught between the golden summit and terminal velocity.

Author
Jeff Long is a veteran climber and traveler in the Himalayas. He has worked as a journalist, a historian, and a climbing instructor. He is the bestselling author of seven novels, including Empire of Bones, The Descent, Year Zero, and The Reckoning. He lives in Boulder, Colorado.

For more information, please visit www.jefflongbooks.com.

Reviews
"An adventure thriller that takes its characters on a haunting trip beyond the boundaries of human endurance and into enemy territory -- superb, thrilling, and terrifying." --Vince Flynn on The Reckoning

"A superbly original thriller. Terrifying and exquisite in a single breath." --Dan Brown on Year Zero

Excerpt
The following is an excerpt from the book The Wall
by Jeff Long
Published by Atria; January 2006;$24.00US/$33.00CAN; 0-7432-6616-1
Copyright © 2006 Jeff Long

ONE

When God throws angels down, it starts like this.

A breeze stirs. It carries the slightest distraction, a scent of trees perhaps, or a hint of evening chill, or a song on a radio in a car passing three thousand feet below. In some form, temptation always whispers.

High above the earth, toes smeared against the stone, fingers crimped on microholds, the woman turns her head. Not even that: she turns her mind, for an instant, for even less. That's all it takes.

The stone evicts her.

The wall tilts. The sky bends. Her holds . . . don't hold.

She falls.

By now, eight days high, her body is burning adrenaline like common blood sugar, one more fuel in her system. So in the beginning of her fall, she doesn't even register fear. She is calm, even curious.

Every climber knows this rupture. One moment you have contact, the next it's outer space. That's what rope is for. She waits.

Her mind catches up with her body. A first thought forms, a natural. My hands.

All our lives, from the cradle to the grave, our hands are our most constant companions. Like the back of my hand. They give. They take. They roam and shape the world around us. But hers have turned to stone. Or time has stopped.

Each finger is frozen just so, still hooking on holds that no longer exist. Her high arm is still stretched high, her low arm still bent low. One leg is cocked, the other is straight to the tiptoe of her climbing slipper. She could be a statue of a dancer tipped from its pedestal.

Her paralysis does not alarm her. Hollywood shows victims swimming through air, limbs splayed and paddling. In reality, when a climber is climbing -- really climbing, not fretting the fall, but totally engaged -- and the holds blow and you peel, what happens is like a motor locking. "Rigor" is the formal term, as in rigor mortis. Your muscles stiffen. Body memory freezes, at least for a moment. It doesn't matter what your mind knows. Your body stubbornly believes it is still attached to the world.

What surprises her is the length of the moment. Time stretches like a rubber band. The moment is more than a moment. More than two. Patience, she tells herself.

There will be a tug at her waist when the rope takes over. Then there will be an elastic aftershock. She knows how it will go. She's no virgin.

Her synapses are firing furiously now. She overrides her Zen focus on what civilians call pulling up, and what climbers call pulling down. The rock has let go of her. Now she forces her body to let go of the rock. Her fingers move. She starts to inhabit her fall.

For the last day, they have been struggling to break through a transition band between two species of granite, one light, one dark. In this borderland, the rock is manky and loose. Their protection has been increasingly tenuous and their holds delicate as sand castles.

And so she was -- necessarily -- way too high above her last piece of protection, climbing on crystals of quartz, almost within reach of a big crack. She had the summit in sight. Maybe that was her downfall. It was right there for the taking, and maybe she grabbed for the vision too soon.

From the ground up, the beast has begrudged them every inch. They have done everything in their power to pretend it was a contest, not a war, nothing personal. Now suddenly it bears in on her, the territorial imperative of a piece of rock. El Cap is fighting back.

Part of her brain tries to catalog the risks of this fall. Much depends on the nature of the rope, the weight of the failing object, all 108 pounds of her, and the length of the drop. Any point in the system could fail, the runner slings, the carabiners, her placements, their anchor, the rope. The weakest link in that chain of mechanisms is the human body.

On her back now, helpless, she glances past her fingers. The rope is making loose, pink snake shapes in the air above her. She's riding big air now.

A dark shape flashes past. It is last night's bivvy camp, gone in a blink of the eye. Do they even know I'm falling? At this speed, the camp is the last of her landmarks. The wall is a blur. Her braids with the rainbow beads whip her eyes.

Except for the grinding of her teeth, she falls in silence. No chatter of gear. No whistle of wind. Oh, there's a whiff of music, a spark in the brain. Bruce, the Boss. "Philadelphia." Faithless kiss.

She's fallen many times. At her level of the game, no climber has not given in to gravity. You build it into the budget. It comes to her that she's counting heartbeats, six, seven, eight . . .

Her freefall starts to ease. Finally.

The serpent loops straighten. A line -- hot pink -- begins to form in the dead center of her sky. The seat harness squeezes around her pelvic bones.

Abruptly the line snaps taut with a bowstring twang.

Copyright © 2006 Jeff Long