Review: Umboi Island takes cryptid-themed mysteries to new heights

The evolution of Laura Reagan throughout the three Creature X Mystery books is impressive.

Umboi Island:
A Creature X Mystery 
by J.J. Dupuis
Dundurn Press
Toronto, 2021

Reagan is the protagonist of J.J. Dupuis’ Creature X Mystery series and she’s gone from in search of her estranged father to full-blown buster of drug smugglers.

Umboi Island is the third book of the Dupuis breakout series and is the most mature regarding character development, location and narrative.

In the past, I’ve likened the crew of the TV docuseries of Creature X to Scooby Doo’s Mystery Inc. but now, it’s more on par with Jessica Fletcher having murders fall in her lap and solve them a la Miss Marple.

(Read enough murder mysteries, and grow up during the 1980s when there was an endless supply of detective serials on television, and you’d be full of pop culture references too.)

That’s where maturity comes into play. Reagan has evolved into a strong, dynamic female lead more on par with a modern Gertrude Bell than the male gaze creation Lara Croft.

It helps to read the first two books — Roanoke Ridge and Lake Crescent — much like playing the intro game to the 21st-century version of Tomb Raider. But, fear not, as Umboi Island is wonderful as a standalone too, save for a few back stories like Lindsay’s fraternizing professor who ruined her academic career and Danny’s strict business-first mindset.

The cryptozoology investigators take their show off the North American continent to Papua New Guinea to explore the ropen. The alleged pterosaur is said to haunt the thick rainforests of the surrounding archipelago. Reagan and the team are finding their legs on new soil, with the addition of an overzealous creationist joining them.

They soon get more than they bargain for with drug traffickers and undercover cops.

As always, the cryptid takes a back seat to the crimes Reagan finds herself privy to, and very little is uncovered concerning the critter. I won’t spoil their explanation for a bizarre video shot by two villager children, but let’s just say it’s no pterosaur.

What was wonderful about each chapter, is there is a quote from either a newspaper clipping or documentary that progresses the mythology behind the ropen. It’s a consistent tool throughout the Creature X series that roots the story in its cryptozoology novelty.

Most murder mysteries have that one theme that serves as a vehicle for the story, and Creature X is very unique in its plot progression. There’s always that monologuing denouement, akin to Agatha Christie, where the protagonist reveals who the villain is.

Umboi Island does not disappoint, taking its denouement to new heights and delivering a kickass final fight — something Jessica Fletcher or Jane Marple could never deliver.

Much like Fletcher and Marple, there are many more mysteries to be solved, and Reagan still needs to find her cryptozoology-obsessed father. Will there be more exploits for her and her crew featuring Saad and Lindsay?

There are plenty more cryptids around the world for Laura Reagan to investigate.

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