This thriller begins ten days before the purported apocalypse of 12/21/2012 predicted by interpretations of the Ancient Mayan calendar.
Gabriel (“Gabe”) Stanton, is the director of a center in L.A. for research on prions – proteins in the brain responsible for some rare and currently incurable diseases, including Mad Cow Disease and Fatal Familial Insomnia (FFI). He gets an urgent call from Michaela Thane, a resident at East L.A. Presbyterian Hospital. She believes she is seeing a case of FFI, which causes total insomnia, leading to hallucinations, panic, and seizures. Nearly all of the afflicted die after a few weeks. Thane’s patient doesn’t speak English however, and when someone finally guesses he may be speaking Qu’iche, a branch of the Mayan language spoken by many Guatemalans, Stanton and Thane call upon Chel Manu, a local language expert, to help them translate.
Dr. Manu, curator of Maya antiguities for the Getty Museum, specializes in epigraphy, the study and interpretation of ancient inscriptions. Coincidentally with being summoned by Stanton, she has come into an incredibly valuable ancient Mayan codex, or written history, which was painted in glyphs (hieroglyphic-like symbols) by a royal scribe of a king.
Chel discovers that the patient, Volcy, is the one who found the codex, and he sold it to the collector who gave it to Chel for safekeeping. Volcy dies before he can tell them where he got the book, which is presumably where he contracted this virulently lethal disease. It is imperative for Chel to translate the codex as soon as possible, in the hope that she can figure out where it came from. Stanton needs to get to the source of the infection in order to figure out a cure, because somehow the FFI is spreading, at a rate suggesting that the rumored apocalypse could actually be happening.
As Chel translates, she learns about the fascinating world of Paktul, the scribe of the codex; what happened to cause the collapse of his city; and the reason that Volcy would get sick and die almost 1100 years after Paktul himself succumbed.
Discussion: Some aspects of the story were not plausible to me, such as Chel’s speed at translating broken fragments of a document that was moreover written in ancient glyphs no longer readily understandable.
It also appeared that everyone was quite susceptible to the disease except the characters the author needed to keep around.
The persona of Victor, Chel’s mentor, seemed a bit inconsistent to me, and the villain was a little too cardboardy. As for the two main protagonists, I really never felt like I “knew” either Gabe or Chel. But I found the medical part and the explication of Mayan culture quite interesting, and I enjoyed the sections of the book that told Paktul’s story.
Evaluation: I had a mixed reaction to this book. Much of it moved along at a “thriller” pace, but I considered some aspects to be better written than others. The ending also disappointed me; in addition to an abrupt denouement, the theme of coincidence or fate, so prevalent throughout most of the book, just sort of got dropped.
Nevertheless, it is an entertaining book, and certainly recommended for those with an interest in the prophecies about a possible apocalypse on 12/21/2012.
Published by The Dial Press, an imprint of The Random House Publishing Group, a division of Random House, Inc, 2012
Note: This book is reviewed as part of TLC Tours.