Book Reviews

Review Rating

With the October 2004 review, we began rating the books on the basis of one to four trowels; 
one trowel= don’t bother, to four trowels= run right out to your local book store and buy the hard cover!

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A Tourist in the Yucatan by James McNay Brumfield

Reviewed on: March 1, 2007


Tres Picos Press:  Watsonville, CA
2004 (pb)

This conspiracy thriller caught my attention for a couple of reasons—neither of which was the intended plot per se.  In brief, we read of the unfolding of a diabolical plot hatched at the highest levels of U.S. governmental circles to enable a wealthy Mexican industrialist to corner the market on drug smuggling into the United States.  Twists and turns in the story leave us wondering—at least for awhile—who is conspiring against whom and ultimately, can one burned-out soon-to-be-retired federal agent bring the conspirators to justice before he joins the growing list of dead men who failed to unravel the plot before it was too late for them.

An odd plot-line for a review of supposedly archaeology-based novels, you say?  Yes, but only on the surface for A Tourist in the Yucatan weaves within its drug-smuggling conspiracy plot two interesting sub-texts.  The first involves an exciting treatment of the Vacation in Paradise that turns into the Vacation in Hell.  A young American couple, Jack and Jo Phillips, are vacationing in the Yucatan Peninsula, hoping to revive the marriage that has grown tepid and strained.  From the beaches of Isla Mujeres to the splendor of the Mayan ruins at Chichen Itza, Jack and Jo seem to be succeeding in their quest to revive their romance.  They meet up with another charming American tourist named Steve Potter, whose knowledge of Mexican archaeology makes their travels even more enjoyable—at least until Steve turns up brutally murdered and Jo is kidnapped!  Steve, it turns out, was wanted by Mexican law enforcement for drug-smuggling and multiple killings—but he also seems to have been hunted by U.S. officials as a deeply undercover DEA agent who had perhaps gone over to the dark side.  And it seems as if he may have been targeted by a Mexican drug cartel for being an undercover narcotics agent who had not turned!

As Jack desperately hunts for his missing wife, he finds himself the target of a manhunt staged by Mexican Federales who seem to be in the pocket of the Cartel.  Simultaneously seeking his wife’s whereabouts and hiding from the police, Jack seeks shelter at an archaeological excavation at Coba, a major Mayan site, and becomes an accidental participant in an earth-shaking discovery that would rival the unearthing of Pacal’s sarcophagus at Palenque. Brumfield very cleverly works this sub-plot—which, by the way, includes some very accurate descriptions of the archaeological process—back into his main plot of drug cartels and corrupt politics on both sides of the Rio Grande.

This is an entertaining thriller—not exactly John Le Carre, but fun nonetheless—that includes some interesting archaeology and some very vivid descriptions of cities and sites of the Yucatan.  However, if you are planning to vacation in Mexico anytime soon, you may want to put off reading this little gem until you return home safely!

It’s not great writing (an editor could help here!) and not a particularly innovative plot, but still a guilty pleasure to read.  Three trowels because of the archaeology!

Twenty Years in the Trenches: Archaeology in Fiction

William Gresens, longtime MVAC supporter and volunteer, has been writing reviews of archaeological fiction as MVAC’s book reviewer for twenty years.  In this interview Bill shares how he got started writing reviews for MVAC, how the genre has changed, highlights, and his thoughts looking forward. 

Bill Gresen’s Book Review 20th Anniversary

While Bill's reviews go back 20 years now, his relationship with MVAC goes back more than twice that long! The reviews capture some of the things we enjoy most about Bill-- he's perceptive, methodical, a clear thinker, and a whole lot of fun! We look forward to this relationship--and Bill's reviews!--continuing for many years to come.

The March 2021 review marks the 20th anniversary of reviews of archaeological fiction.  It has been my pleasure and great fun to while away the hours reading these books—for the most part, at least—and writing the reviews!  My thanks to MVAC allowing me to prattle on and I look forward to the years ahead.

Bill Gresens