The Ruins by Scott Smith

A jungle adventure turns into a nightmare when six tourists find themselves trapped in a clearing, unable to leave without being shot by Mayans, and finding a gory secret that brings new definition to the word flesh-eating.

I had to finish The Ruins during the day time, because I really did not want to face the heebie-jeebies again tonight. This book is scary, y’all–one of the scariest I’ve read in quite some time. It’s scary like I like, too, not just gore and demons but fear generated by good old-fashioned human drama. The kind that makes the characters’ sweat smell different because of the adrenalin. The kind that makes it impossible for you to avoid imagining this happening to you.

I am not a thrill junkie by any definition. I once ate a live shrimp on a dare during a field trip in 8th grade, and I went down a zipline at camp when I was 15. The only risks I’ve ever taken have been the professional kind. So when I watched these characters say, “Sure, let’s go into an uncharted part of the Mexican jungle using only a hand-drawn map as a guide! What about we get a group together where we don’t all speak the same language and none of us speak any Spanish other than ‘tequila’? Sign me up,” I immediately started twitching. Who thinks this kind of thing is a good idea? I would not have gone in a hundred million years. So part of me thinks that these idiots got what they deserved, except for what Smith has in store for them is so horrific that I forgive them for doing something I wouldn’t do.

Smith milks his premise for all it’s worth, creating a palpable sense of the dread and physical discomfort of the characters. The situation attenuates each character into the most vital of personality traits, and the subsequent interactions ring emotionally true. Because the atmosphere is so claustrophobic and the plot so relentless, I was completely sucked in and had to finish it as quickly as possible. I think I’ll be reading this one again.

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