The Xibalba Murders by Lyn Hamilton: A review

The Xibalba Murders (Lara McClintoch Archeological Mystery, #1)The Xibalba Murders by Lyn Hamilton
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This series was recommended to me recently because of my interest in archaeology and my love of reading mystery series. Since this is billed as an archaeological mystery series, it certainly seemed like the perfect fit.

The Xibalba Murders, the first book in the series, seemed especially promising since it is set in Mexico and involves a mystery about a Mayan artifact and archeological dig. I've been fascinated by Mayan history ever since my long ago college days when I did a research paper about that culture for my Cultural Anthropology class. And so, I settled down to read the book with some enthusiasm.

On the whole, I found the book to be mildly entertaining. There were things that I liked about it and things that I didn't like, but considered as a whole, it was okay.

What I liked about it could be summed up as the Mayan aspects. The author names every chapter after a day in the Mayan calendar and she relates the events of that day to the characteristics which the Mayans attributed to the day. That was a clever way of telling the story.

Also, throughout the book, Hamilton gives brief dissertations on various parts of Mayan mythology, especially as it relates to the Hero Twins and their battles with the Lords of Death, rulers of Xibalba, the Mayan underworld. These explanations were to the point and clearly stated, something that can be difficult to accomplish with that very convoluted mythology. They added a lot to the story and made the fascination with the potential of discovering a  previously unknown Codex, which is at the center of the plot, more understandable.

The plot itself was pretty interesting. A noted Mexican archeologist is on to what he believes will be a great discovery of a Mayan artifact. For some inexplicable reason (and this was a weakness in the plot), instead of turning to other archeologists for help, he calls his friend Lara McClintoch, an antiques dealer in Toronto, and asks her to come down to help him. McClintoch has just gone though a messy divorce and has had to sell her antiques store and divide the profits with her ex. Now, she is at loose ends and jumps at the chance to go to Mexico, to the little Yucatan town of Merida to aid her friend.

When she gets there, she receives a message from the archaeologist delaying their meeting. Soon the action heats up and dead bodies are appearing around town - the first one discovered by Lara, which in the eyes of the local police, makes her the prime suspect.

Into the mix comes a tall, dark, and handsome British-born archaeologist and his handsome and darker Mexican friend. Lara, of course, is almost immediately besotted with the Brit, which perhaps tells us everything we need to know about her judgment in men since the guy is obviously such a rotter!

Okay, here's a thought. Why do mystery writers with women as their main characters seem to always feel they have to throw in that "tall, dark, and handsome" guy as a romantic interest for the woman? Did Miss Marple ever have a love interest? I don't think so, and yet she managed to solve mysteries just fine. Unlike Lara McClintoch who doesn't really solve the mystery so much as having its solution thrust upon her.

Do you get the idea that I didn't much like Lara? Well, you would be correct in that deduction. She really came across as much too slow-witted to ever be a successful detective. I knew who the culprit(s) was(were) as soon as I met him/her and I found myself wanting to shake Ms. McClintoch as she made bad decisions at every turn. Moreover, Lara often trusts the wrong people and distrusts those she should trust. Not a good recommendation for a "detective."

Well, this was the first in the series and it wasn't uniformly awful, just kind of meh. One of the attractions of reading series is that they often get better after the initial offering, so I think I will probably read a couple more in the series to give it every chance to grow on me. Maybe Lara will wise up a bit by then.

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  1. Well Dorothy, I don't think that not asking for help from the archeological community is necessarily bad. Just think about it, discovering something unique all by yourself, throw a dim witted detective in the mix and you apparently made the discovery on your own!
    If you are into archeology and mysteries (as I am), you could read Empire of Gold by Andy McDermott (I haven't read), and Thunderhead by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child (loved it!).

    1. Thanks for the recommendations. I'll put them on my list. And you may be on to something concerning the dim-witted detective. Maybe that archaeologist was cannier than I gave him credit for!


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