Monday, February 1, 2010


Imagine Indiana Jones down on his luck, living in a hotel room in the Yucatan peninsula.  No longer dealing in stolen Mayan artifacts, he's scratching out a living as a scavenger and bounty hunter.

That's Jimmy Burns, a generous easy-going guy with many eccentric and largely ungrateful friends.

There's Doc Landin, a maverick archeologist who wants to make one last trip into the jungle so he can be buried with an Olmec figurine in his mouth.

There's Rudy Kurle, a follower of von Daniken, who believes that "space dwarfs" civilized the Mayans.

There's Refugio Bautista Osorio, who runs a trading post and salvage yard, and counts "his wealth in fifty-five gallon drums."

Burns makes a delivery to a dysfunctional archeological dig, travels into the jungle when Rudy goes missing, and encounters a band of hippies who are awaiting the end of the world at the "Inaccessible City of Dawn."

The book is peppered throughout with archeological lore, Spanish words and phrases, and convincing details of life in Mexico. It has more of an edge than his other books, which makes a fine counterpoint to the wryly comic observations.

There is one misstep, though, and that's in a sudden burst of violence near the end. It's totally unnecessary. My only other complaint is that Gringos is Portis's fifth and last novel.

The others are Norwood, True Grit, Dog of the South, and Masters of Atlantis.

Unofficial Charles Portis Website
Charles Portis Appreciation Society