Planning a summer vacation? Well, you may want to read Scott Smith’s The Ruins first. Afterwards, if you decide to cross the Yucatan Peninsula off of your list of destinations, those who’ve read the book will certainly understand.
Jeff, Amy, Stacy, and Eric are vacationing in Cancun; a destination Amy was dead set against, but, as is always the case, she was outvoted by her friends, and her dream vacation to San Francisco will have to wait. Of course, Amy is a complainer, and she knows this, mostly because her boyfriend, Jeff – the embodiment of a Boy Scout – has made this especially clear to her on many an occasion. With this vacation, Amy has made a promise to herself that she will be a team player, even when her instincts tell her otherwise.
The group befriends a German traveler named Mathias, whose brother has taken up with a pretty young archaeologist and has ventured out toward the ruins of Coba, several miles southwest of the tourist trap of Cancun. When Mathias’ brother does not return as expected, he enlists the aid of his new friends, and he and Jeff organize a “search party”, much to Amy’s chagrin. Eric and Stacy think it will be fun; Jeff is always looking for adventure, and even their other new traveling buddy, the non-English speaking Greek that everyone has dubbed Pablo, seems game for the trip. So the crew mount the bus at the congested Cancun station and, armed with nothing more than a crude map scrawled on the back of a napkin, make their way to the fabled ruins of Coba in search of Mathias’ brother, and adventure. What they find, however, is a place of unimaginable horrors that will test their endurance, compassion, and sanity, as a remnant of an ancient civilization threatens to literally consume them all.
The Ruins is a compulsive and devastating read that I literally put down only when my tired eyes could no longer focus on the words. Smith’s elegant prose and attention to detail makes for a truly absorbing horror show that is at once heart-stopping and heart-wrenching, with richly developed characters who we become so deeply invested in that their plight becomes our own.
In addition to the ancient organic evil that serves as the book’s central antagonist, Smith sprinkles in liberal doses of paranoia, isolation, language barriers, cultural differences, and good old fashioned sexual tension to maintain a constant sense of dread and terror that permeates through The Ruins from its opening page to the jaw-dropping epilogue.
This is the sort of novel that beaches were made for; just don't wander off the resort.