The Jaguar Mask by
hbk out May 00
Published by HarperCollins
Not having read any of Easterman's score of previous books, I found it hard to categorise this one, but a 'horror thriller' seems to be the best description. It begins like something from 'Raiders of the Lost Ark', but overall is a mixture of James Bond, a medical textbook, a history of Mexico and David Attenborough.
The action alternates between Central America, where a Cambridge archeologist is excavating Mayan temples and France, where an Irish Interpol officer is investigating torn-out human hearts. What they have in common is a dastardly enemy, a Mexican Indian who is well on the way to world domination.
Given the familiar style of plot - erupting volcanoes and all - the standard of writing is outstanding and the numerous press accolades on the back cover are well deserved, even if those reviewers obviously like this type of book more than I did.
It was not a book that I enjoyed - if I had not been asked to review it, I would have put it aside unfinished, for it is full of the most graphic descriptions of cruelty, both to humans and animals. The elaboration of the different styles of slashing open the chests of screaming victims to pluck out the still beating hearts had a surgical repugnance, and the details of Mexican bullfights, along with accounts of life in their prisons, make Mexico the last of my list of places to visit.
Hamlet-like, most of the original cast of the book die horrible deaths by the end and I felt that the continuous gratuitous cruelty was unnecessary in a world where the real thing is all too common. However, I presume that this is what the horror genre is all about and for those readers who like very-well written adventures with a frisson of sadism, this is another winner. Me, I'm going back to P.G.Wodehouse for my leisure reading!
- Author of the highly acclaimed Crowner John series set in Medieval Devon)