Tears of the Jaguar is sort of a riff on the Indiana Jones story, with our hero, archaeologist Deborah Miller, following the story from the Mayan ruins of the Yucatan to the moors of northern England, and back. The Indiana Jones references are fast and furious; Miller even returns to 55th & Ellis on Chicago's South Side at a crucial point in the story.
As he did with Macbeth, Hartley's technique is to take stories rooted in fact, such as the great palaces and temples of the Maya, or the witchcraft hysteria of 17th century England, and weave into them his own characters, stories, and images.
Hartley is a talented writer and his approach works well. Tears of the Jaguar is a fun story: if you like your murder mysteries with a bit of historical fact and a bit of exotic location thrown in; and you don't mind, or even enjoy, when an author describes a ruby as "the color of blood diluted with tears"; if you turn the pages of a thriller to escape into a wild story, no matter how improbable, because you're enjoying the ride; then you'll enjoy this book.
It helps that Hartley clearly finds these locations and their stories fascinating himself, so that when a character says
All he wanted now was to stay in this wonderful place and relish what he'd originally hoped archeology would offer: a glimpse of the ancient and the exotic, something he would look back on all his life.we know that Hartley is actually speaking about himself, as well as about anyone who visits such a place and contemplates its meaning.
[He] suddenly saw in his mind the Mayan city of Palenque as he had seen it as a boy visiting with his parents. He must have been no more than eight. He had not thought of that moment for years and had never thought of it as important, but he remembered now standing at the foot of the Temple of the Inscriptions, gazing up the monumental staircase to where his mother, wearing a blousy white shirt, was gazing out, eyes shaded with one hand. He saw his little boy's hands as they thumbed the film advance on his tiny Kodak Instamatic, and he remembered the awe and the sudden, surprising thought that people made a living by exploring such places.
Hartley has written several other books, and I might try reading them. I hope he continues to write, and continues to develop his style and technique, because he is a promising writer.