Taylor Zajonc's The Maw is a beach read in the best sense. It zips along at a thrilling pace, with a twist at the end of almost every chapter. A small team of cavers, funded by an enigmatic American billionaire, sets out to explore an uncharted super cave in Tanzania. Trapped inside by inclement weather and bad judgment, the team must go deeper into the darkness in order to make their way back. There are wrinkles (each caver has their own secrets, of course), and tilts toward sci-fi and horror, but Zajonc expertly mines his setting, a place so dark and vast that getting lost means death.
Milo Luttrell, a mild-mannered history professor, is ill-equipped for the journey, making him an easy cipher for Zajonc to explain the ins and outs of extreme caving. Brought along for his historical expertise, Milo quickly finds that little of what he knows from above ground comes to bear in the darkness.
Zajonc, a historian and adventurer in his own right, knows how to explain the sensation of caving. The sights and smells of the underworld come alive when reading The Maw, making the isolation and claustrophobia he depicts all the more intense. While not the most graceful of prose stylists, he knows how to keep his narrative moving, never letting that tension ease. Easily digestible, The Maw feels akin to watching a well-made thriller on Netflix. --Noah Cruickshank, adult engagement manager, the Field Museum, Chicago, Ill.