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Ann Charles has authored a number of mystery series, the most recent being the “Dig Site” mysteries, featuring feisty, often foul-tempered and foul-mouthed, archaeologist Angelica Garcia. In this initial outing, Angelica is working a Late Classic Mayan site deep in the Yucatan back country. While she is the lead archaeologist on the project, contracted with the Mexico National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH), her father—University of Arizona archaeologist Juan Garcia—is her second in command. A sizeable group of seasoned Mexican excavators round out the crew of this major project.
The plot is set as Angelica translates a series of Mayan glyphs that could be interpreted as a curse to those who violate the sacred structures of the site. Angelica dismisses such nonsense out of hand, but her father, who has had decades of experience working the sacred precincts of the ancient Maya, is a bit less willing to dismiss such ideas. It is certainly true that the hints of ancient curses do make the native crew members exceedingly nervous.
Concurrent with a series of minor but annoying incidents that bedevil the dig, a mal viento—an evil wind associated with Xtabay, the Mayan Lord of Death—blows through the site and seems to bring with it two additional members to the crew. The first is photojournalist Quint Parker, who has convinced Juan Garcia to allow him to shadow the project and write a lengthy article for a well-regarded journal. The second new-comer is archaeologist Jared Steel, who has ostensibly been sent by the University of Arizona to evaluate the efficacy of the project and to make recommendations concerning continued funding. He also happens to be Angelica’s ex-husband, and it is quite apparent that the break-up was anything but amicable. Angelica despises her ex-husband and she is not at all favorably disposed towards Quint Parker, either.
The mishaps and accidents grow ever more serious and, in fact, is beginning to put the very continuation of the project in question. The reader also learns that each of the major characters has a covert purpose for being at the project site, for each of them has a connection to the site that goes back decades.
Angelica hopes to unearth evidence that will substantiate her mother’s rather quixotic theories concerning the disappearance of the Mayan civilization from large urban centers at the end of the Classic Period. Marianne Garcia had worked the site with her husband Juan until she was tragically killed in a helicopter crash. Meanwhile Quint’s connection to site went back even further, when as a young man he worked under the tutelage of Dr. Henry Hughes. Hughes was ostensibly killed in a plane crash twenty years earlier, but his widow had spent years accumulating bits of evidence that to her indicated that murder, not accident, was the cause of Henry Hughes’ death. In respect for his mentor’s memory and his life-long friendship with the Hughes family, Quint had agreed to try to puzzle out the truth behind the archaeologist’s death, using the journal article as a cover for his investigations. Jared Steel had many secrets—he had been a graduate assistant to Henry Hughes when Hughes disappeared twenty years earlier and he had developed a healthy distaste for Quint Parker even back then. But it seems his real reason for appearing at the Yucatan site was his burning desire to win back the love and affection of Angelica.
The mysteries that have piled up over the years are finally resolved in a clever but not entirely unanticipated denouement. But not before Quint and Angelica find themselves enmeshed in a passionate but annoyingly on-again and off-again romance. Too often these world-weary adventurers—closing in on forty years of age—act like petulant middle school kids. But the archaeology and the question of “whatever happened to Henry Hughes?” mystery sustains the story line and makes for an entertaining read.
Two trowels for Dig Site Mystery #1, Look What the Wind Blew In.