The Hieroglyphic Staircase


The second novel in the Mystery-in-Exotic-Places series by Marjorie Thelen (The Forty Column Castle, 2011, etc.) brings a small town known as “the Florence of the Mayan world” [7] vividly to life as the setting for an archaeological murder mystery. Soon after Elena Palomares, an epigrapher who specializes in Mayan hieroglyphs, discovers that intricately carved stones have begun to disappear from the staircase she’s studying in Copan Ruinas, she finds a dead stranger at the site. As the body count rises, and officials eye Elena for the crimes, she can’t shake the suspicion that she’s stumbled onto an antiquities-smuggling ring—one that she and another witness, a boy called Flaco, unfortunately know too much about. Luckily, they have the support of a new friend: Dominic Harte, a former Episcopal priest who volunteers at Copan’s new medical clinic. Sparks fly between Elena and Dominic, and the danger escalates. Thelen knows Copan first-hand—her dedication thanks the Honduran friends who introduced her to it—and her familiarity with local plants, customs, and language enriches the story immeasurably. Dialogue may sound stilted at times (“Dominic has become a pillar for me over these trying few days,“ Elena tells her mother [127]), but Thelen’s rendering of Copan consistently feels spot-on, from the way Elena gets around on scooter taxis and fends off the Latin machismo of motorcycle-riding Rolando, to the endless cups of café con leche and homemade soups doña Carolita, Elena's host, uses to comfort her, to the abundant bougainvillea, lantana, and gardenia blossoms. She even incorporates local Spanish. And Thelen doesn’t just home  on Copan’s alluring aspects: Elena visits shanty towns such as San Lucas and San Pedrito, with their corrugated metal roofs and scrawny dogs lapping filthy water out of potholes, and the plot turns on the testimony of Flaco, an orphan who lives under the bridge outside the Archaeological Park. Thelen’s affection for rural Honduras, for its natural beauty, generous people, and superstitions (Mayan ghosts loom large), is contagious: This simple mystery spreads the travel bug and satisfies thanks to its intoxicating focus on place.

Pub Date: June 1, 2012


Page Count: 215

Publisher: BookBaby

Review Posted Online: Feb. 20, 2013

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

Now that Coben’s added politics to his heady brew, expect sex and religion to join the mix.

Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT

  • New York Times Bestseller

  • IndieBound Bestseller


Coben’s latest darkest-suburbs thriller sets a decidedly offbeat detective on the trail of a crime with overtones unmistakably redolent of once and future presidential elections.

Wilde is called Wilde because nobody’s known his real name from the moment a pair of hikers found him foraging for himself in Ramapo Mountain State Forest 24 years ago. Now over 40, he’s had experience as both a lost boy and a private investigator. That makes him an obvious person to help when his godson, Sweet Water High School student Matthew Crimstein, expresses concern to his grandmother, attorney Hester Crimstein, that his bullied classmate Naomi Pine has gone missing. Matthew doesn’t really want anyone to help. He doesn’t even want anyone to notice his agitation. But Hester, taking the time from her criminal defense of financial consultant Simon Greene (Run Away, 2019) to worm the details out of him, asks Wilde to lend a hand, and sure enough, Wilde, unearthing an unsavory backstory that links Naomi to bullying classmate Crash Maynard, whose TV producer father, Dash Maynard, is close friends with reality TV star–turned–presidential hopeful Rusty Eggers, finds Naomi hale and hearty. Everything’s hunky-dory for one week, and then she disappears again. And this time, so does Crash after a brief visit to Matthew in which he tearfully confesses his guilt about the bad stuff he did to Naomi. This second disappearance veers into more obviously criminal territory with the arrival of a ransom note that demands, not money, but the allegedly incriminating videotapes of Rusty Eggers that Dash and Delia Maynard have had squirreled away for 30 years. The tapes link Rusty to a forgotten and forgettable homicide and add a paranoid new ripped-from-the-headlines dimension to the author’s formidable range. Readers who can tune out all the subplots will find the kidnappers easy to spot, but Coben finds room for three climactic surprises, one of them a honey.

Now that Coben’s added politics to his heady brew, expect sex and religion to join the mix.

Pub Date: March 17, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-5387-4814-5

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Grand Central Publishing

Review Posted Online: Dec. 23, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2020

Did you like this book?

Dark and unsettling, this novel’s end arrives abruptly even as readers are still moving at a breakneck speed.


Ten years after her teenage daughter went missing, a mother begins a new relationship only to discover she can't truly move on until she answers lingering questions about the past.

Laurel Mack’s life stopped in many ways the day her 15-year-old daughter, Ellie, left the house to study at the library and never returned. She drifted away from her other two children, Hanna and Jake, and eventually she and her husband, Paul, divorced. Ten years later, Ellie’s remains and her backpack are found, though the police are unable to determine the reasons for her disappearance and death. After Ellie’s funeral, Laurel begins a relationship with Floyd, a man she meets in a cafe. She's disarmed by Floyd’s charm, but when she meets his young daughter, Poppy, Laurel is startled by her resemblance to Ellie. As the novel progresses, Laurel becomes increasingly determined to learn what happened to Ellie, especially after discovering an odd connection between Poppy’s mother and her daughter even as her relationship with Floyd is becoming more serious. Jewell’s (I Found You, 2017, etc.) latest thriller moves at a brisk pace even as she plays with narrative structure: The book is split into three sections, including a first one which alternates chapters between the time of Ellie’s disappearance and the present and a second section that begins as Laurel and Floyd meet. Both of these sections primarily focus on Laurel. In the third section, Jewell alternates narrators and moments in time: The narrator switches to alternating first-person points of view (told by Poppy’s mother and Floyd) interspersed with third-person narration of Ellie’s experiences and Laurel’s discoveries in the present. All of these devices serve to build palpable tension, but the structure also contributes to how deeply disturbing the story becomes. At times, the characters and the emotional core of the events are almost obscured by such quick maneuvering through the weighty plot.

Dark and unsettling, this novel’s end arrives abruptly even as readers are still moving at a breakneck speed.

Pub Date: April 24, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5011-5464-5

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Atria

Review Posted Online: Feb. 6, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2018

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet