I'm a Brit and know almost nothing about Mexico, the Maya or ancient Maya art. However, having read this book I now know a lot more and it's fascinating stuff.
This book isn't meant to be a history/culture lesson on the Maya and, for that reason, I'm not sure it was entirely successful. I imagine it's meant to be a romance/suspense story but that certainly wasn't what stood out for this reader.
Lina Taylor is a part-Maya woman from an important family who is now an American academic. Hunter Johnston occasionally attends her classes but is a former ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) officer now working in the security business in the US and Mexico.
When Hunter needs someone to verify some ancient Maya artefacts that his former colleague has unearthed as part of a drug shipment, he goes to Lina. He only has photographs to work from as the artefacts have been stolen again and his friend is getting the blame (although the friend is entirely innocent). Lina and Hunter look into the matter and we are drawn into Lina's world - her former teacher who now fancies her, her archaeological-dig-obsessed father Philip, her antiquities-trader mother Celia - and the family's position as descendants of Maya royalty.
But there are some bad people who seem to be following them and attempting to kidnap Lina and there is a worrying link between the artefacts, various dodgy characters and Lina's heritage.
As mentioned above, the power of this story was in its cultural and historical setting. I don't know what links the author has with Mexico and the Yucatan in particular but she did an excellent job of writing about the history, culture, language, traditions and artwork - so much so that I found myself doing some further research about what she said, looking up pictures of the sorts of artefacts she describes. She wrote about these pieces in such a warm, understanding way that it opened my eyes to this new (to me) form of art.
The problem is, that probably wasn't the point of the story. There's a fairly sketchy romance in there (man and woman thrown together find they are a good match) and there's a whodunnit aspect (why are people being killed? where did the artefacts go? what is the link with Lina's home?) but these two aspects, which I assume should have been to the fore, faded into the background of the cultural setting of this story. I barely cared what happened at the end, especially as I found many of the events not at all convincing and a bit too coincidental (although my lack of knowledge of the area/culture might be contributing to this sense of disbelief). Be that as it may, I felt as if the author were so in love with the history/art that she struggled to put her full concentration on the plot and romance points.
This was a good read which built to a conclusion (albeit a rather hard-to-believe one) and the author's writing style was good with lyrical descriptions and the odd flash of humour in dialogue. However I think that the main success of the book was not in plot/character in this case but was in various inanimate objects made of obsidian, pottery or just a bundle of rags.
Originally published for Curled Up With A Good Book © Helen Hancox 2012