I decided to read the novel before the film arrives, and I was surprised. The premise is that a group of friends on holiday abroad, head to a remote archaeological dig and end up being trapped there by something evil that lives among the ruins.
Now there was a big fuss made a little while ago on the Interflab about the protagonist of the piece, the evil thing that lives in the ruins. Well let me tell you right up, it's a plant, a vine. This is not a secret. It's addressed really quickly in the book, believe me that is not the surprise of the novel, there are plenty more.
The novel sees two couples taking a holiday in Cancun and meet a fellow tourist Mathias. They spend a few days together and he reveals that he's actually about to head out deep into the jungle to find his brother Heinrich who has disappeared. He met a girl and together they had headed off to some archaeological dig in the jungle, and never returned.
After hearing Mathias' story, and some gentle persuasion within the group, the couples decide to go with him and try and find his brother.
The journey is long and overly arduous, with the jungle seeming to try and stop them at every point. Yet just through a remote village they find the dig site, on top of a small hill covered with a vine with bright red flowers.
While they stand at the bottom the villagers appear and when one of them touches the vine they heard them up the hill where they discover the dig site, abandoned and empty.
It's there that I'll stop, because it really does get interesting. The focus really turns on the people and how they all react to the events and each other, and there's some superb writing here.
The characters are believable and easy to identify with, unlike Hollywood they aren't flat and one dimensional, they're multi-layered and don't have just one or two character foibles, and for that they are much more real.
Apart from the superbly written characters and their interactions, the suspense and story turns are wonderfully crafted, mainly because they aren't huge and Hollywood. In a lot of ways this actually feels like a stage play.
With only a few leading characters playing off each other in such an enclosed space you might think that the story wouldn't have many places to go, and in fact as you are reading your mind is leaping to the next possibility as you would expect from a Hollywood film, and that never happens, what does is usually something much, much smaller and turned towards the main characters.
It's this refreshing aspect of the novel that really kept me interested, the fact that it never did as predicted, and managed to keep the tension and suspense ramping up. However it's not all tension and suspense, there's another aspect to this story and that's the darkness of the story, the bleakness of it, and that's why I loved it so much.
It kept me gripped throughout, and that's something I don't say very often about novels. You believe in the characters, and it's the writing that keeps you totally engaged throughout to the very last line.
I'm always looking for an author whose work I could keep reading and trust that if I bought their latest novel I wouldn't be disappointed, and with Scott Smith haven written The Simple Plan (Amazon.co.uk / Amazon.com), giving rise to the excellent A Simple Plan, I think I may have found one.
I'd definitely recommend The Ruins, and probably before the film comes out. I'm really not sure that they can capture the subtlety of the characters and the lack of big Hollywood action, and particularly the ending. However there is one good thing going for it, Scott Smith wrote the screenplay. Maybe, just maybe...