The Ruins by Scott Smith (Vintage, 2008, 528pp.)
Two couples vacationing in Cancun decide to help out a fellow tourist when he confides that his brother, who went to visit a girlfriend at an archeological dig in the Mexican jungle, has not yet returned as expected. Despite severe discouragement from the locals, they set out for the dig site (located at an obscure Mayan ruin) and straight into the jaws of doom. A lightweight horror/thriller, this is the literary equivalent of every slasher film out there. While the novel’s primary villain (a man-eating vine) is creepy and interesting, the novel itself might have fared better in the hands of another, more mature veteran writer (Stephen King comes to mind). While the story setup is intriguing enough to keep the pages turning, the two-dimensional characters are dull and uninteresting. Their habit of making continuous, no-brainer mistakes grates on the nerves. (For example, instead of using the three bottles of tequila they have on hand to set the killer vine aflame, they decide to get drunk instead). While some may argue that the downer ending (everyone dies!) is consistent with the horror genre, it's really just the icing on top of a really bad piece of confectionery. It's not even a good story, but just like every other scary campfire story account of bad things that happen to stupid people. Most readers with any literary taste will probably rue the day they decided to waste eight hours of their lives on this ruin of a novel.
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