For this book to be classed a mystery (at least it is at Borders) is a grave injustice to the genre community: The Ruins is outright horror, through and through; I mean it has a blood-sucking vine for crying out loud!
Scott Smith has written a most unusual book with The Ruins, starting off kind of slow with the necessary character set-up, but then suddenly kicks into high gear and goes from scary to crazy to outright impossible yet riveting. Our cast is a group of five twenty-something characters: two couples who went to college together (including a German and a Greek) hear about some ruins nearby while they are vacationing in Cancun. Following the paths, they end up on a plateau and find themselves trapped by a group of armed Mayans at the bottom of the hill who will shoot to kill if they come too close.
The next few days are an experimentation in the devolving of civilized humanity, as they soon find skeletons of past occupants in the area – all mysteriously stripped of any flesh. As water and food supplies dwindle, they must stick together and ration themselves to ensure survival, all with the hope that their friends back at the hotel will eventually come and find them. Then they discover that the dense green vine surrounding the camp area is not your usual foliage. As more is discovered about this plant, the story goes from bizarre to preposterous, as the vine eventually imitates sounds and smells, then their actual voices to pit them against each other. One by one, the vine gets them and causes a slow but painful death. Eventually there is one girl remaining who chooses to slash her wrists and die before she can feel the vine taking her. Three days later the friends arrive and the book ends with them being trapped in exactly the same predicament.
I have mixed feelings about this book, because there were certainly some good parts that had me wanting to keep reading on ahead, but near the end it really became far fetched from the emergency surgery that was performed – leg amputations and slicing open of bodies because of the vine – to the farcical nature of the omniscient vine that was actually speaking German to enrage the German character; though kudos are deserved for a book that dares to kill off all its characters. Nevertheless, no reason is ever really revealed for why the Mayans are keeping them there. One character hints that it might be that the vine is some sort of god that the Mayans have “sacrificed to” for hundreds of years, and this whole effort just comes off as racist.
But if it’s a blood and gore horror story you’re looking for that pushes you to your limits and makes you think how far you would go in this situation – even though nothing like this could ever really happen – then The Ruins by Scott Smith is the book for you. Now I’m just wondering why the slasher movie of this book hasn’t been made yet?
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Originally written on December 21st, 2006 ©Alex C. Telander.