Scott Smith is a great writer, very descriptive and he knows how to build a plot. The Ruins, however, is no Simple Plan. While the story is clever and the moments of sheer horror are genuine, I just felt no empathy for any of the characters. In Simple Plan, you're hooked because you want the conspirators to make it and you cringe when things begin to fall apart. With the Ruins, I just didn't care if they all died or if some of them made it. I found some of the characters, particularly Eric, Amy and Stacy to be just plain annoying.
In a sense, Smith deserves credit because I guess that's how most people really are: annoyingly self absorbed and superficial, but at the same time, it just didn't make for very compelling reading for me. Eric, who's waiting to go home and start his career as a teacher, is shallow and incredibly stupid. His girflriend Stacy is unfaithful and simple, and you have to wonder why he's even with her. There are moments of self-reflection that seem like he's gaining confidence and trying to make some wise decisions in his life, but it goes nowhere. I think the only truly likable characters in the story are Jeff and Mathias, but they're just too detached from the situation to seem human. Jeff retreats into his experience with survival to avoid dealing with the horrors before him and emerges a leader, but the rest of his life is a mystery. Mathias you give up on almost from the beginning because the narrator never takes his perspective as he alternates back and forth between the views and minds of each of the principals.
Where this book does succeed is in it's organization and it's narrative of purely terrifying events. I thought that bouncing around into the heads of each of principal characters brought shades to the narrative that allowed you to see the events and people involved in slightly different ways each few pages. It's subtle, since the narrator is technically omniscient, but he chooses to focus on the thoughts and feelings of one of the characters at a time. This tends to spiral the narrator faster and faster as the characters begin to be picked off at the ruins and adds to the intensity. It also, however creates pacing problems. The beginning really felt like it dragged to me, and sometimes the same events were narrated twice or three times, but from a subtly different perspective. The end should have come much sooner in my opinion. Smith also succeeds at finding really gruesome ways to get rid of the characters and there are really tense and horrifying moments sprinkled throughout that make this well worth the read. I just think that if he tightened up the pacing a little more the novel would have been tighter, more horrifying and more suspenseful.