Uneven account of a 14-month-long exploration of the Gulf Coast as it arcs from the tourist traps of Key West to the temples of the Yucatan Peninsula. Along the way, Turner (Of Chiles, Cacti, and Fighting Cocks, 1990, etc.) encounters embittered commercial fishermen railing against conservationists, backslapping Mardi Gras float builders, Cajun activists, and investigators of the grisly Matamoros cult murders. But the author too often fails to breathe life into these potentially engrossing characters, either by overloading his portraits with finicky details or by leaving their outlines sketchy and undeveloped. Turner's account of the environmental depredations to be found along the rivers, streams, and bayous of Louisiana encapsulates his tendency toward literary overkill. Seemingly unwilling to allow his firsthand experiences to speak for themselves, he piles on statistics until his narrative reads like a governmental report. Meanwhile, his recapitulation of the facts concerning the 1989 ritual torture/murder of Mark Kilroy by drug- running cultists in Matamoros, Mexico, would have been more effective with deeper probing into the African/Caribbean/Christian roots of the crime's underlying ``magical'' motivations. Turner is at his best when he abandons so-called relevance and merely recounts the facts surrounding the lives of such ``endangered species'' as eccentric Mississippi potter George Ohr and prickly Cajun cultural revivalist Barry Ancelet. In these vignettes, the unique character of the Gulf Coast mentality is captured through vivid anecdotes. Yet another weakness here stems from Turner's reluctance to reveal his own idiosyncracies. He remains something of a cipher, recording but not reacting to the world through which he passes.