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Friday, April 14, 2006 - Page updated at 12:00 AM


Book Review

"Night of the Jaguar": Last in trilogy grabs you by the throat

Special to The Seattle Times

"Night of the Jaguar"
by Michael Gruber
Morrow, 372 pp., $24.95

With "Night of the Jaguar," Seattle writer Michael Gruber completes an unusual and absorbing trilogy of novels — a piquant blend of crime fiction, supernatural creepiness and serious religious/philosophical inquiry. (The other books are "Tropic of Night" and "Valley of Bones"; though each stands separately, they're better together.)

As the new book opens, Moie, a native of the jungles of Colombia, sets off for the outside world, determined to stop the rapacious development company threatening to destroy his land. Armed with slight information but tremendous force of will, he makes it to "Miami America" — and tries to make sense of the strange land he finds.

Meanwhile, there's Jimmy Paz. Paz, centerpiece character in the trilogy's previous books, has traded in being a Miami homicide cop for the less stressful gig of managing his mother's Cuban restaurant, and his old playboy's life for that of contented husband and father. Until, that is, a former colleague asks Paz to help investigate the gruesome murders of some shady businessmen.

Moie is suspected — but what's with the evidence pointing to a 450-pound cat? Against his cop instincts, Paz begins to suspect that Moie can shape-shift into a jaguar. Pitting science against faith, Paz's pragmatic psychologist wife and his deeply religious mother enter into the equation. Then Paz starts having terrifying dreams — and his young daughter is threatened.

Author appearance

Michael Gruber will read from "Night of the Jaguar" at 7 p.m. Wednesday, Parkplace Books, Kirkland, free (425-828-6546); and will sign books at noon Saturday at Seattle Mystery Bookshop (206-587-5737;

Meanwhile, a hapless group of environmental activists is wandering around Miami. In particular, there's the intuitive (if undereducated) Jenny Simpson, who befriends Moie (when he's human, anyway). Jenny's group is planning some mysterious mayhem, if they can get it together.

The book is chock-full of pungent material — too much, maybe. Gruber knows a lot about many things — mythic tribal stories, the minutiae of Cuban santerķa rituals, obscure flora and fauna, Colombian drug cartels, you name it — and he's so eager to tell us that everything gets stuffed in. After a while, the abundance of detail threatens to swamp the story.

This aside, "Night of the Jaguar" remains that rarest of creatures: superior entertainment that raises sincere, provocative questions of intellect and faith.

Adam Woog reviews crime fiction for The Seattle Times.

Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company




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