I owe my reading of this book to Goodreads - which I'm finally getting the hang of as an awesome way to get recommendations for new horror books to read :D
I picked The Ruins primarily because I watched the film version a few years back and remember it being a notch or two better than most horror films, but that is both a blessing and a curse, really, because I think it...er...ruined (see what I did there? So proud!) what may have been a few of the book's more effective surprises for me.
The Ruins was a Good Read (Again? Puntastic! Okay, I'll stop now) but perhaps not the high point in horror literature I hoped it would be. The tale of a group of young Americans vacationing in Mexico, who follow a German they meet on a quest to find his brother, who has been lost somewhere in the jungle. Naturally, what they find puts them in mortal danger.
The Ruins is eminently readable, and does include a few sequences that were genuinely squirm-inducing. It also makes good use of the sort of low grade fear associated with being lost in a foreign country and struggling with language barriers and a general lack of knowledge. Having wandered off the beaten track while abroad myself, I was easily able to identify with the tension and helplessness of being lost.
My major problem was with the characters, who I found to be pretty dislikable on the whole. This may well have been the point, and I suspect Smith's intention was to show just how badly prepared this group of pampered people (two young couples, along with the German and a Greek friend who tagged along) was when faced with a situation beyond their control. Forced to survive while being trapped in a dangerous part of the jungle by hostile locals, the breakdown of morale, mental stability and logic is pretty swift. The way the characters react is almost wholly negative, and it isn't long before they begin to turn on each other.
There are good ideas in The Ruins, and some highly effective gross-out moments, in particular a sequence involving one man and his knife which will linger in the memory. However, there are also a few plot points that didn't quite work for me, most notably the moment at which the non-human adversary that the group is dealing with becomes sentient. It works, but it requires a pretty big suspension of disbelief.
All that said, The Ruins was a quick read, and something of a page turner, and I'd recommend it, particularly if you haven't already seen the film. 3/5.