An unwieldy cast of bad characters scrambles across Mexico after Montezuma’s funerary mask in a thriller with pretensions by memoirist Wright (Learning to Float, 2002).
Not that a thriller can’t be literary (i.e., Graham Greene, John le Carré), but it requires more than murky philosophizing about the meaning of masks or invocations of Santa Muerte, a Mexican folk saint whose sinister name forecasts the final destination of a good many of these unsavory folks. Among them is Christopher Maddox, the meth-addicted looter who digs up the mask for drug kingpin Reyes but makes the bad mistake of stealing it back. Anna Ramsey, an American who has just ditched her cheating fiance, gets involved when her father hears about the mask from shady Mexican art dealer Lorenzo Gonzáles and thinks it will salvage his reputation, cast in doubt by the discovery of forged masks in his collection. Anna, anxious to ensure her father doesn’t sink back into the alcoholism that enveloped him after the sudden death of her mother many years ago, reluctantly heads to Mexico to buy the mask, setting off an elaborate chase involving so many people that Wright is reduced to labeling chapters, “The Carver,” “The Housekeeper,” et al. so readers can keep them straight. The multiplicity of motives and back stories would be confusing enough, but the mask changes hands so many times that it finally becomes ridiculous in a baroque climax involving (among multiple others) a fetishistic collector who likes to have sex with women in masks. Anna is an irritating heroine whose doubts and self-destructive ways are not as interesting as the author thinks. Her attempts to manipulate the creepy collector are both distasteful and pathetically inept; her meant-to-be-redeeming relationship with attractive artist Salvador Flores doesn’t make her any more appealing. The level of violence is appalling but hard to take seriously after characters survive being buried in cement and a gunshot to the gut.
Well written but seriously undisciplined.