Scott, Manda - 'The Crystal Skull'
Manda Scott is an accomplished crime writer, and author of a wonderful series of historical novels. This latest book combines elements of both into one cracking storyline.
It opens with Stella Cody, experienced caver and her academic historian husband Kit searching a Yorkshire cave system for an ancient artefact, hidden there centuries before by Cedric Owen, a 16th Century benefactor of Kit's college. They have worked out the location of the crystal skull from a series of poems written by Owen. The skull is a remarkable sapphire cut into the shape of a human skull and it holds a great power over those who hold it, or even see it. Stella and Kit find the skull, but they are not the only people looking for it and Kit gets hurt as they try and escape from the caves.
Interlaced with the modern day plot line is that of Cedric Owen, the man who hid the skull, knowing it needed to be kept safe from the wrong hands. The skull had been passed down through his family for generations and he must continue to keep it guarded from those who would misuse it. He has several tasks he must perform to keep the skull, with its incredible powers, safe.
The skull is apparently one of thirteen skulls, recorded in Mayan prophecy. It is told that the end of the world will happen on 12th December 2012 and only if all thirteen of the skulls are in their appointed places in the world can this cataclysm be averted. The Mayan legends speak of a multi-coloured serpent which will be summoned by the skulls.
Kit and Stella have to decipher Cedric Owen's notes and calculate the right place and time to place the skull. But there are others who want to possess it and some who would destroy it. They need to figure out who they can trust and who is trying to kill them and seize the skull.
Now, I'm a sceptic of the first order and I have great trouble believing in the power of ancient Mayan prophecies and legends, but Manda is such a fine writer that she sweeps you along and keeps you believing that all this could be possible. She keeps the dual strands of the narrative moving along at a great pace, all the time making the various twists and turns totally believable.
This is what I was longing for all last year - a cracking story, with believable characters, a complicated plot, convincing historical details and a bit of mysticism thrown in for good measure. I know it's only the beginning of the new year but this is already one of my contenders for "read of the year". It's a seriously good thriller by a top class writer. It could just be the breakthrough she so richly deserves.
Pat Austin, England