This is my sort of book. Indeed, I am writing one myself (faraway in time and place from this one, I should add). This is the sort of book my friend Glenna calls a ‘history and mystery’. An Indiana Jones, Lara Croft, Dan Brown sort of mystery, with its basis in history or legend, that has missing artefacts attached to it, which artefacts are then hunted for while the hunters are themselves hunted. The genre is substantial, and usually the results are weak. Mostly the authors have done insufficient work on the historical aspect and instead concentrated on the hunting, which lets them down because it is not a USP. A chase is a chase is a chase … The best in the genre identify a genuine potential historical conundrum and play with it, which is what Howard Allan has done with this.
The historical bones are that the Mayans created a number of codices. We don’t know what they contained (which begets the necessary what-if possibilities) because when the Spanish invaded they destroyed them, concurrently suppressing the Mayan religion and imposing their own Roman Catholicism. Allan develops a lucid and plausible reason for the content and destruction of the codices. One more is found. Word gets out. The hunters gather.
The book begins with murder in the Yucatan of modern Mexico – which is an amazingly violent place, according to this book. I warn you that the methods Allan permits his local drug lord to use to dispose of those who cross him may turn your stomach. They did mine.
However, I persevered because not only is the McGuffin good, the plotting and characters are also well above the usual standard for this genre, and the tension is ratcheted up admirably as the story unfolds. The lapsed rabbi, who is the main narrator, is a delight of wit and quirks, courage and cowardice, love and lust. The doctor who runs a local women’s clinic is another narrator from whom one is always pleased to hear. The local policeman tries valiantly to do an honest job in the face of systemic corruption – which may be a cliché, but in this case seems both accurate and well-drawn. Even that local drug lord has an internal logic.
By the way – I see this book has been reported for typos on amazon. I did not find as many as I have had to wade through this year in other books self-published, from small press publishers, and from mainstream publishers. Perhaps they have been fixed. Perhaps the complainer has an even lower tolerance for such irritants than I do myself. The last sub-editor seems to have expired and proof readers are as rare as cuckoos. Sadly, I have also seen work published which has apparently had an editor’s input but which might have been better without it. Sigh. If you are a writer, you absolutely have to teach yourself to edit these days.