In this first novella from short story writer Tuggle, an intrepid archaeologist races to find an ancient emperor’s prized knife before it falls into the hands of an odious drug-cartel leader.
Deep inside El Tepozteco, an Aztec temple dedicated to the god of pulque (“the precursor of tequila”), Emperor Ahuitzotl long ago hid his beloved obsidian knife, which was rumored to have “sent 20,000 souls to the Aztec sun god.” At least, that’s what Dr. Jonathan Barrett deduces after poring over an ancient codex inside Mexico’s Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia. Barrett, a University of Texas at Austin archaeology professor specializing in pre-Columbian weapons, arrived in Mexico promising his wife a relaxing vacation in the city of Cuernavaca. They’re just another “middle-aged gringo couple on vacation,” Barrett muses—which provides him with the perfect cover to secretly track down the artifact for the U.S. State Department. But he soon realizes the American government is only one among several powerful organizations who’ve set their sights on Ahuitzoltl’s knife, including the Mexican government, a Mexican drug cartel and even some vigilantes waging war against the cartel. When the drug dealers suspect that Barrett has the blade, they kidnap his wife and tell him that she won’t be harmed, so long as the knife is theirs by midnight. Thus begins an odyssey that finds Barrett interrogated by mysterious masked men and later stuck inside a Mexican prison. Tuggle ably captures the spirit of Dan Brown novels and Indiana Jones–style adventure stories in this tale, as he surrounds his Aztec-treasure MacGuffin with just enough intrigue to keep readers engaged. The book’s brief length doesn’t hurt; it zips right along from twist to twist, eventually arriving at a bloody finale reminiscent of the film Taken (2008). At times, however, that same brevity works against the story—the final plot point, for example, feels particularly tacked-on. But, despite this, Tuggle manages to squeeze in enough character and plot developments that the occasional missteps don’t bring the proceedings to a halt.
A fun-size adventure tale that may not fill readers up but will taste just fine going down.