The Ruins (2006) by Scott Smith. Knopf, 336 pages.
Are you looking for a good scary thriller? Have you been missing the feeling of reading a new Stephen King book? Do you enjoy staying up all night long, the hair on the back of your neck slowly prickling as you read? Isn’t it fun when you mutter “no… no… don’t go in there….” under your breath as you turn the page? If so, then here’s a great book for you.
Smith’s only other book to date was A Simple Plan (1993), which I’ve read twice (as well as watched the movie version twice). The Ruins is completely different as far as subject matter goes, and yet manages to evoke the same sense of building terror. Unlike A Simple Plan, however, The Ruins is an honest-to-god horror novel, complete with supernatural elements and a group of people trapped in a no-win situation. Without giving anything away, I will say that this follows the general “who’s going to die next and who will survive in the end” formula that many successful spooky thrillers follow.
The story builds very well, as a group of four Americans on a long vacation in Cancun decide to help a German man find his missing brother. The German has a map, leading to an archeological site deep in the jungle, where his brother is believed to be assisting one of the scientists. They all embark on a lark, taking along a Greek tourist with whom none of them can converse with. Ignoring gentle (and not so gentle) warnings to stay away, they blithely head towards… The Ruins.
And that’s as much as I’ll say, except that I, for one, have no desire to go on a Mexican vacation anytime in the near future.
I love good scary books, just absolutely love them. The scariest movie ever made cannot even come close to a decent scary book. I fondly remember reading Salem’s Lot when I was fourteen years old, and how I kept looking out my bedroom window, imagining a dead schoolmate floating in the air, white blood-drained face staring at me in the darkness, tapping on the windows and begging to be invited in. I remember Carrie, and Ghost Story, and the Books of Blood by Clive Barker.
So, as a final testament, I finished The Ruins at about 1:30 AM this morning, and it took me another hour to fall asleep. I thought I heard rustling in the dark, and I kept picturing myself there in the ruins, with those green vines growing all around me, and the whispered mimic of laughter echoing down the hill…