An unusual historical expedition made into an unusual, uneven novel. The American explorer John Lloyd Stephens and the English artist Frederick Catherwood tramp through the jungles of war-ravaged Central America in search of rumored ancient civilizations and, discovering the ruins of Copan and Palenque, bring the Maya to the notice of the world. By steamboat and mule, they hack their way through green jungle and red tape in a land full of nasty fauna and hostile officials, finding themselves at the mercy of every don and padre and alcalde--some inexplicably friendly, others inexplicably mean--but they get the goods. The real-life Stephens and Catherwood documented their trip so well that Highwater, possessing pyramids of material and adding digressions on Central American history, Catholicism in the U.S., the injustice of scholars to the Indians, etc., seems uncertain where to slash through and start his novel. He gives ns an adventure story written like a National Geographic article, full of scenic description and travail--and far too many modifiers-but without characters or emotions. We get more background than we want and little foreground at all. Too bad, but not fatal--because even such defects can't make this true story a dull one.