A Mayan Mystery
For our travels to Honduras, specifically to Copan, an apt site to visit in 2012 when the Mayan Calendar indicates for some that this may be the final year (do we recall the panic of Y2K?), it was somewhat difficult to find novels set in the locale. I passed over Wendy Murray’s The Warrior King and settled on Mayan Mask of Death, authored by a pair of sisters from Kansas, Vickie Britton and Loretta Jackson (2011). The duo has authored 30 some novels, according to their biographical information; however, this novel is in the burgeoning field of e-books, published by Solstice, which launched three years ago to take advantage of the quick manuscript to Kindle/I-Pad/Tablet market. A side note: one would hope that these companies might invest in an editor. It’s rather distracting when a novel set at “Chicago University” misuses punctuation and contains typos. In a nutshell, the novel is set primarily at an anthropology department, where Dr. Arla Vaughn is acting department head. Although an exhibit featuring Mayan artifacts—particularly a fascinating jade mask from the tomb of “Smoke Jaguar”—is on the cusp of opening, it appears that the department may have bought a clever forgery. The opening is occurring three years after the tragic death of a department professor, archaeologist Rachel who had returned from the Copan site, only to become the victim of the “Scarlet Strangler.” Her husband, Jordan Lund, tormented by the failure to find her killer, continues the hunt—on a reality TV show in order to “Right the Wrong.” But he is also a prime suspect. In fact, suspects abound with almost every member of the department faculty and staff considered guilty in one way or another. The strangler strikes again, first with Carly, a departmental secretary, and then yet another young woman. Is no one safe? And everyone seems to be suspect: the mild-mannered professor who was Arla’s mentor; the colleague who oversees the exhibit but whose curator purchased the mask and who seems to be having an affair with a faculty wife; the stalwart stuck-at-middle-management Martin. Although Professor Vaughn has a Ph.D. in Anthropology, she naturally (for a mystery plot) lacks common sense and has an unfortunate tendency to blurt out important details of the story even when she knows that the murderer must be one of the people at a dinner party. Only in the last third of the novel does the setting actually advance to the ruins at Copan, and the authors do a nice job of describing the scene of the hieroglyphic stairs, the ubiquitous ball
court, the acropolis. Naturally, Arla finds yet another body in the undergrowth as she’s signaled much too widely that she’s bound for Honduras to follow up on a lead. Perhaps a better investment for reading might have been the classic Popul Vuh, the sacred book
of Mayan high civilization.