The opening scenes of Fallen Idols take place in the jungle of Central America at an important archeological dig. Looting is an ongoing problem once a site has begun excavation, as priceless artifacts are bought via a lucrative black market. When Professor Walt Gaines and his wife, Jocelyn, pack up to leave the site, they are informed that their armed escort guards are no longer available. They are left to rely on their own resources. After repeated trouble with their vehicles and constant rainfall, the group is ambushed and robbed by armed men. As luggage on the vans is inspected for valuables, Professor Gaines is shocked to see artifacts hidden in his personal effects. Unexpectedly, shots ring out and when the thieves ride into the night, Jocelyn Gaines lies dead.
After his wife's funeral, Walt leaves his three grown sons behind and moves to the West Coast, where he lives incommunicado. Confused and concerned about their father and the circumstances of their mother's death, the sons attempt to unravel the truth behind the accident and the meaning of their Walt's sudden retreat from everything familiar.
Combining ideas and resources, the Gaines men gradually uncover the mystery but are left with even more questions. To resolve the issue, they travel back to the scene of the crime and are permitted an interview with the Minister of Archeology and Culture. Putting the pieces together with this unexpected information, they are shocked but finally able to understand the chain of events.
A lack of connection between the beginning of the novel (jungle), the middle (and most interesting part, where the three sons turn sleuth) and the end (back-to-the-jungle) makes it difficult to take this book seriously. The tropical setting seems a facile construct for the gist of the story. The characterization of Walt Gaines, from professorial and fatherly to arrogantly eccentric, is equally confusing and thoroughly unsympathetic. Fallen Idols is wrapped in the suggestion of mystery, but there is not enough substance and too much superfluous detail to fill the pages.