4.0 out of 5 stars - Suspenseful and very entertaining...
Ever since I returned from touring Mayan ruins in the Yucatan Peninsula, I have been searching for books about their culture, customs, habits, family life, etc. -- in other words -- any anthropological and archeological information about this group of people! This book dealt with a story about Mayans from deep in the rain forests of Guatemala.
A series of related events combine to create a very suspenseful medical thriller as well as an interesting theory about what happened to the Mayans. It is December, 2012, in California. The doomsayers on the streets are insisting that the world as we know it will end on 12-21-12 -- because that is the end of the Mayan calendar -- the Long Count. A man is taken to the Emergency Room of Presbyterian Hospital and is diagnosed with a rare prion disease -- seems he is just out of the jungles of Guatemala. His symptoms rapidly become fatal and the fear of a contagious epidemic brings Dr. Gabriel Stanton of the CDC to investigate the cause and hopefully to find some sort of cure.
A stolen codex is given illegally to Chel Manu, the curator of Maya antiquities for the Getty Museum in LA, California. Being Mayan herself, and from the general area where this treasure was found, Chel accepts the looted book knowing that she could lose her job and her reputation. The lure of discovering her own peoples' history -- to find out what had caused the demise of their civilization during the classic period -- between 800-900 AD -- years before the Spanish conquistadors had arrived, is too strong for her to resist. Once thriving cities abandoned and a way of life ended with no trace of what had caused this fall.
Stanton and Chel find that there is a connection between the codex and the two initial victims of the prion disease. Their goal is to find the source site of the book and some evidence of prions in an ancient tomb or temple that some feel is a mythical lost city of the Mayans. Both are soon disgraced when authorities discover her perfidy in accepting the looted codex and his unauthorized attempts to treat the devastating disease.
LA is under quarantine and there are suddenly thousands infected with the prion. Is there anything that will help those affected? How did the prion get into the Mayans all those years ago? Stanton and Chel call in anyone they know who can help them translate the codex, locate the lost city, and figure out the mystery once and for all -- can they do it before 12-21-12 or is this how the end is coming?
This was a very fast paced read with lots of interesting detail. I don't know how much of it is based on any factual evidence, but it's a great tale nevertheless and quite imaginative if not true! I enjoyed the "translation" of the codex as a glimpse into Mayan life during those ancient times including the symbolism, language, and customs surrounding their life and worship of king and gods. I think any reader who enjoys speculative fiction with a historical aspect -- AND a bit of medical mystery thrown in -- will enjoy this novel as I did.
First Line: He stands silently in the moonlight against the wall of the temple, the small bundle held tightly under his arm.
For those who love to spread doom and gloom, the date December 21, 2012, has long been a touchstone because they insist that it is the date when the ancient Maya calendar predicts the world will end.
Two weeks before "Doom Day" it's business as usual for Dr. Gabriel Stanton, who heads off to the lab where he studies incurable prion diseases for the Center for Disease Control. The first phone call Stanton gets is from a hospital resident who insists she has a patient he has to see. At roughly the same time Chel Manu, a researcher at the Getty Museum, has an unwelcome visit from a known dealer in black market antiquities. The man thrusts a duffel bag into her hands and disappears.
By the end of the day Stanton, the foremost expert on rare infectious diseases, is dealing with a patient whose symptoms terrify him, and Manu, one of the best and brightest in the field of Maya studies, has in her possession a priceless codex from a lost city of her ancestors. This record, written in secret and hidden by a royal scribe, may very well hold the answer to one of history's great mysteries: why the Maya kingdoms vanished overnight. When Manu is called to interpret for Stanton's patient, it suddenly seems very real that our own civilization may suffer the same fate... and the clock is ticking inexorably toward December 21.
Thomason has written a fast-paced story based on enough truth to make you worry. The first part of the book quickly sets the stage and describes prion diseases (think mad cow disease and fatal familial insomnia among others) in such a way that will make you wonder if any food or product that enters your mouth is safe. I've done reading elsewhere that proves we'd be right to be concerned, but this is a book review, not a soapbox. The two main characters, Gabe Stanton and Chel Manu, are also introduced as being completely focused on their jobs yet willing to listen to opposing viewpoints and to make unpopular decisions.
Although I enjoyed both characters, my favorite parts of the book concerned the translation of the codex and the glimpse it gave into the ancient Maya civilization, as well as the depiction of life in Los Angeles as the entire metropolitan area is placed under strict quarantine.
There's a subplot or two that seem unnecessary, such as the one with the militant group that wants to steal the codex and head for the Guatemalan jungle to find the lost city, but they barely put me off my stride. If you enjoy Michael Crichton-like tales of doomsday disease wrapped up in Maya history and legend, you're going to like this book as much as I did.