The Hieroglyphic Staircase by Marjorie Thelen

The Hieroglyphic Staircase

Second Novel in the Mystery-in-Exotic Places series
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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 1st, 2012
Page count: 215pp
Publisher: BookBaby
Program: Kirkus Indie
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