Crossing Miami’s Dark Side with Michael Gruber
For all of its lush and exotic locales populated with equally glamourous people, Miami is a city with a history of violence boiling in its seedy underbelly. This juxtaposition of heaven and hell has fuelled the imagination of many an author, seeing it as the perfect setting for tales about the evil men do. Michael Gruber is without a doubt one of those authors, penning the Jimmy Paz series about a Cuban-American former cop with a habit of getting mixed in the most complicated and deadly affairs possible in one book after the next. With Night of the Jaguar, Michael Gruber returns yet again to his magnum opus series (so far anyways) with a third instalment, once again following Jimmy as he gets dragged into a complex affair involving far too many parties to keep track of. Needless to say, it yet again puts him on a converging path with some of the most vile people this world has to offer.
The story in this book really is quite complex and multi-layered, beginning in South Africa where a dying Catholic missionary tries to tell a local Shaman how to fight the capitalist corporation set on destroying the forest. Following that, we are presented with some sort of tree-hugging commune on the fringe of society, filled with people hell-bent on changing the world to suit their own ideals. However, for some of them the worst enemies come from within the group rather than the outside world. Moving on from that, we learn about the plight of Cuban-American businessmen who seem to be getting bumped off one after the other by a wildly dangerous jungle cat, perhaps some sort of jaguar… or so the evidence suggests. As the story is set up we also intermittently learn about our favourite former cop, now cook Jimmy Paz, and essentially how life has been treating him up to that point. As he takes it upon himself to look into the murderous affair of the businessmen, he is drawn into the world of Santeria, and before he knows it, is embarked on a wild ride only he knows how to handle.
The Colourful World of Jimmy Paz
As you might have noticed, Night of the Jaguar is one of those mysteries which strives to be multifaceted while having numerous concurrent storylines eventually converging into an explosive finale. There are many seemingly independent layers interacting with each other in ways which only become obvious later on, and personally-speaking, I found keeping track of them all was more difficult than necessary. The way in which narration jumps from one event to the next makes it a chore to remember where you are in the story, and what the people you’re reading about now were doing last time exactly. It does become easier towards the middle and the end when you’ve had time to really get used and acquainted with the characters, so ultimately I feel it’s a difficulty which can be worked through, and perhaps more importantly, is compensated for by this book’s other aspects.
Speaking of the characters, while it does take a fair amount of time to remember and know all of them, their varied and colourful nature doesn’t make it a daunting task in the slightest. There is something notable about each and every one of them, even the smaller background characters having been given some form of personality or distinct characterization.
The tree huggers’ commune provides some quality comic relief with their misguided principles and internal battles, the business lords feel rightfully sleazy and at times comically self-absorbed, and the Colombian drug cartel showcases the horrors men inflict on one another in their full spectrum. Ultimately, none of them feel cardboard cutouts ready to be inserted into the next generic thriller; they are all fully-fledged human beings whose lives and actions you can become absorbed in one way or another.
The Hand from the Other Side
Those of you familiar with Jimmy Paz novels know that none of them is complete without some profound cultural exploration, generally somehow tied in with the protagonist’s heritage. There are some supernatural elements, and while they are never exactly prevalent, they still leave a strong impression on the story and play a role in shaping the overall atmosphere. We follow Jimmy as he slowly dives deeper and deeper into a world of mysticism, and to give full credit where it is due, Michael Gruber tied it all in with the main plot thread in masterful fashion. You never really feel like you’re simply going on an anthropological excursion, but rather, you’re simply following the storyline and these strange domains is where it happens to take you.
In addition to providing a profoundly-detailed perspective into the Santeria religion, Gruber has also infused a wide variety of musings and meditations on all sorts of topics throughout the story, including materialism, cosmology, ontology, the nature of reality, and that’s just to name a few. Rest assured, he never gets lost or bogged down in his philosophical strolls, making them concise and just long enough to push the reader to try and reflect on it on their lonesome. While a few of those reflections could be classified as “common wisdom”, most of them are presented either with humour, or from a slightly different angle than usual, making them worthwhile in my opinion. Ultimately, this remains about the extremely convoluted plotlines and how they all mesh together to close the show.
The Final Verdict
With all being said and done, Night of the Jaguar by Michael Gruber is yet another solid Jimmy Paz novel to add to the collection, offering a combination of colourful and diverse characters, complex converging plots with appeals of their own, some philosophy, as well as a cultural window into the realm of Santeria. If you enjoy complicated murder mysteries with a touch of mysticism, then I strongly recommend you give this novel (as well as earlier Jimmy Paz books) the chance it deserves.
Michael Gruber is an American author living in Seattle with a Ph.D. in biology from the University of Miami. He has gone through a number of careers before settling on writer, including marine biologist and policy advisor for the Jimmy Carter White House. In addition to ghostwriting a large number of Robert K. Tanenbaum’s novels, such as Enemy Within and True Justice, he has published a number of his own acclaimed works including The Book of Air and Shadows and The Return.