cover image THE QUEEN JADE


Yxta Maya Murray, Author, Yxta Maya Murray, Author . HarperCollins/Rayo $23.95 (352p) ISBN 978-0-06-058264-7

A trek through the Guatemalan rain forest helps a Mexican-American woman heal old family wounds—and solve a centuries-old archeological puzzle to boot—in this atmospheric, long-winded adventure story by Murray (The Conquest ). Lola Sanchez, a 30ish Californian bookseller, is long accustomed to dispatching her difficult mother, Juana, on archeological missions to the "jaguar-and-relic-filled jungles of Guatemala." But this time is different: Hurricane Mitch has devastated much of the country, and Lola fears that her mother's quest to discover the "magic queen of all jades"—a rare blue relic whose fabled power has obsessed centuries of European explorers—will lead her into dangerously flood-ravaged terrain. So she closes shop and heads for the rain forest, accompanied by Juana's academic rival, Erik Gomara, a paunchy lothario; her own intensely bitter ex-friend, Yolanda de la Rosa, who boasts expertise with a machete; and Manuel Alvarez, her frail, panicky father. These entertaining characters are all sharply drawn, and the depiction of the teeming jungle is breathtaking. But Murray is less successful at conveying the mythos of the Queen Jade and the history of its pursuit. Too much of the novel consists of the characters reading documents aloud to one another or pedantically lecturing. The repeat appearances of a menacing mustached soldier add zip to the plot, but seem forced and implausible, as does the family tree–altering conclusion in an amazing cave. Agent, Shana Kelly at William Morris. 5-city author tour. (Feb. 1)