Reviews and Recommendations by Mel Odom, Professional Writer

The Ruins, by Scott Smith

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Scott Smith’s new book is a gut-churner of the first-degree.  The novel starts out slow and builds, introducing the reader to each of the four characters.  Eric is the party guy who has settled into his future, planning on marrying Stacy, teaching school and being a high school sports coach.  Stacy is okay with her lot in life, but she’s still sowing a few wild oats when Eric’s not looking – but only up to a point.  Jeff is a survivor, a guy who always has a plan no matter what the situation.  Amy tends to be selfish and needy, a good person in a good situation, but this group left “good situation” back at the edge of the jungle.

While vacationing in Cancun, the four meet Mathias, a young German man who is also vacationing on theYucatan Peninsula.  But he’s there with his brother.  While they talk, Mathias tells everyone he’s worried about his brother, who started crushing on a young female archeologist and ended up going on a dig with the team into the interior of the forest.  Taken with Mathias’s plight, they pack up and go with him to search for the missing brother.  Also along for the trip, packing plenty of tequila, is a Greek man who calls himself Pablo.

Unfortunately, the nature of the novel precludes talking about the plot much beyond this point.  The reader really needs to experience it first hand.  Suffice to say that pleasant things are not encountered out in the wilds of the jungle.

Scott Smith, author of A Simple Plan, a novel that came out thirteen years ago, struck gold with his first book.  He also went on to write the screenplay, which featured Bill Paxton, Bridget Fonda, and Billy Bob Thornton.  Smith may take time between projects, but he scores big when he plays. I meandered through the first fifty pages or so.  Smith took time to set up the characters and establish their relationships with each other.  But it was easy to put the book down and go off to other things.  However, once our heroes entered the jungle, ran across the mysterious Mayan village with people that ignored them, then finally found the archeological dig site – which someone had tried to hide from them – I was white-knuckled and nailed to the pages.

Smith handles the suspense with a deft hand, ratcheting up the stakes like a skilled master.  It’s no wonder that Stephen King went on at length about this book.  When they find out that someone hid the dig site from them, warning bells started going off in my head.  But their reason for going ahead with the search was well done:  they were looking for Mathias’s brother, and if no one was around when someone should have been, it became even more important to find him.  When Jeff noticed that no living thing was in the area, not even flies, the weirdness level blossomed.  By that time the group had an injured party and were ready to leave.  Unfortunately, that option was no longer in play.  They were trapped.

Several reviewers seem to complain about the lack of explanation for some things, and some even say there’s a certain shallowness to the characters.  My argument is this:  Smith isn’t selling explanations here; he’s selling entertainment.  In this case, he’s selling horror, and there’s plenty of it here.  In the case of the characters, he’s writing about realistic people, not superheroes or spies or even – really – heroes at all.  They’re just people, and they come across that way.

It’s a foregone conclusion that The Ruins will become a movie.  The only question is when. Pick up the book if you like horror or suspense, because The Ruins is actually equal parts of both.

Stephen King fans will eat this one up.  Just make sure you leave yourself plenty of time to finish the book once you start it.  And you may want to leave the lights on afterwards as well.  And that cute little ivy plant that seems determined to take over your house?  Well, you just might not feel the same way about it!

One Response to “The Ruins, by Scott Smith”

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