A somewhat self-indulgent and contrived mid-life crisis set at a pre-Colombian dig allows novelist and amateur archeologist Peters (The Incas, 1991, etc.) to engage in some historical speculation while strutting his stuff. Harp Yates, a minor novelist in his mid-30s and currently unemployed, has never been one to ``play it safe'': In college he fled to Canada to avoid the draft. But temporarily in suburban Maryland where sociologist wife Caroline is finally on the tenure- track, Harp is suffering from writer's block--a condition that makes him steal lawn ornaments from his neighbors, including a large green elf, because it gives him the same rush he used to get from writing. But Caroline, who has her own career problems, clearly thinks Harp's ``elf-theft'' is indicative of his imminent deterioration and when Harp's best friend calls and suggests that Harp join him at a dig in Mexico, Caroline urges him to accept: ``It might get you going on another book, and...definitely keep you off our neighbor's lawns and out of jail.'' Which it indeed does, but not before Harp has suffered revitalizing trials of the spirit and the flesh as he helps the team excavate the site of a city for whom a ritualized ball game with an enemy may have been a substitute for war. There, in the remote Mexican jungle near the Guatemalan border, Harp confronts an autocratic dig-leader, makes a major find, resists a beautiful archeologist, and is injured in an encounter with the Guatemalan army, which is pursuing a destitute tribe of Indians. Back home, Caroline continues to worry about Harp and her job prospects, but Harp returns renewed, all set to write, and Caroline gets the job and the house she wants. End of crisis. Neither a major dig, nor a major read. Even the archeology is ho-hum.