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Impressive archaeological fantasy in a dramatic Yucatan setting. Archaelogist Elizabeth Butler, digging at the Mayan site of Dzibilchaltun, tells the sad story of her life: after a messy divorce from her insensitive husband, she suffered hallucinations and was confined to an asylum following a suicide attempt. In fact, Elizabeth does see ghosts: unthreatening ghosts of ordinary people going about their normal activities--a talent very useful to her investigations. In alternating chapters, estranged daughter Diane weighs in: following the death of her father, she has come to confront her mother by whom she feels abandoned and betrayed; Diane joins the dig, and soon begins to see ghosts too. Meanwhile, Elizabeth is visited by a persistent spirit who actually talks to her: this is Zuhuy-kak, formerly an ancient priestess of the Moon goddess, who helps Elizabeth to discover concealed tombs, steles, etc., while Diane, struggling to make contact with her distant, distracted mother, becomes involved with a local man. According to the complex Mayan calendar, a great cycle of years happens to be ending, marked by a succession of evil days. And indeed ill-luck begins to plague the dig. Various portents occur. Elizabeth and Diane persist in misunderstanding one another. Zuhuy-kak's power grows, and Elizabeth realizes that the Mayan spirit's intention is to seize the evil days at the cycle's end to change reality and restore goddess-worship--by urging Elizabeth to sacrifice Diane in the ancient manner. Unfortunately, things trail off from here on, as Murphy can't decide whether to upstage the Moon goddess plot or the mother/daughter collision; in fact, both conclude weakly. Still, Murphy splendidly captures the atmosphere and spirit of the dig, and adds a well-realized backdrop, intriguing archaeology, and mostly well-played dramatics. An exceptionally promising hard-cover debut.

Pub Date: Nov. 1st, 1986
Publisher: Tor--dist. by St. Martin's