Madness Is Better than Defeat

Written by Ned Beauman
Review by Susan McDuffie

This book opens in 1938 Manhattan, where a wrestler struggles with an octopus in a water-filled tank. From there we quickly move on to the deep jungles of Honduras, where two rival expeditions converge on the ruins of an ancient Mayan temple. One group, from Hollywood, expects to stay for two weeks to shoot a movie. The second group is there to disassemble the temple and move the ruins to New York City. Neither side will compromise. Eighteen years later, both groups remain mired in the jungle, forgotten by the outside world. A rogue CIA agent learns of the opposing camps, but that is just the bare beginning of the deep conspiracies forming the plot of this unique novel, laced with equal parts of thrills and comedy.

Although Beauman’s prose propels the reader along at a break-neck pace, at times I felt I was hacking my way through dense jungle. The prose and the plot are complex, but the book is not a slow, considered read. It’s more the sense of little plot tendrils growing before your eyes and winding about your ankles. Something slithers in the undergrowth, sensed but not fully glimpsed, as you forge ahead. It could be easy to get tripped up. Eventually the disparate elements come together in a cohesive whole, although like many explorers I feel that I’ve barely scratched the surface of this territory, and don’t really know it at all. Not a clear view in sight, but richly detailed, like the heart of the dark rainforest itself. There’s a lot for the intrepid reader to uncover here.