Meticulously researched backstory and excess verbiage too often trump adventure in Murray’s fourth effort (The Conquest, 2002, etc.).
Lola Sanchez is cocooning at her fantasy bookstore in Long Beach, California, when her mom, UCLA archeologist Juana, announces plans to return to Guatemala. Her quest? To discover the true artifacts behind the Mayan “Legende of the Queen Jade,” transcribed by Beatriz de la Cueva, colonial governor, ca. 1540. De la Cueva was the first European to track the Jade, a luminous blue jewel that is Central America’s answer to the One Ring of Power. For centuries, scholars have retraced de la Cueva’s steps as outlined in her fanciful writings. Von Humboldt (1800s) found the labyrinths mentioned in the Legende, the Mazes of Deceit and Virtue, which surround the jewel and confound would-be world dominators. Oscar Tapia (1924) discovered the Flores Stelae panels, which contain hieroglyphs declared meaningless by Juana; her partner, Manuel Alvarez, (Lola’s putative father); and dashing scientist/revolutionary, Tomas de la Rosa. Tomas—recently dead—and Juana had been estranged since he lured Manuel into quicksand. Now, when Hurricane Mitch hits Guatemala, Lola goes after her missing mother. With Juana’s other bane, Professor Erik Gomara, in tow, Lola reunites with Manuel and a very cheesed-off Yolanda, Tomas’ daughter. Still seething over banishment by Lola’s family, spitfire Yolanda is dodging her father’s army enemies. Lola’s conquest of rake Erik and revelations about her parentage momentarily quicken the pulse, but turgid prose slows the narrative (“here chocolate-covered earth, streaked with lime and pebbled with stones, extruded into the paved areas, thick, deep, and making exhaling sounds when the car’s wheels crushed on by”). Sheer logistics occupy three-quarters of the story, but getting anywhere near the Jade is definitely not half the fun. By the time Erik decodes the Stelae to expose the true nature of the labyrinths and Juana’s whereabouts, readers will have long run screaming back to The Da Vinci Code.
Fiery beauties and rakish hunks can’t enliven this overblown melodrama.