Review – The Jaguar by T. Jefferson Parker

Things got really weird for Charlie Hood when I wasn’t paying attention. In LA Outlaws, he was a Los Angeles Sheriff’s deputy with a troubled conscience. His biggest problem was that he had fallen in love with the infamous criminal he was sworn to arrest. Four years later, he’s almost single-handedly taking on Mexico and tracking down the devil in his spare time.

The Jaguar finds Hood traveling south of the border on a personal mission to ransom and rescue the wife of Bradley Jones, the son of Hood’s outlaw ex-lover and a corrupt cop to boot. Hood may have been able to turn a blind eye to his old girlfriend’s thrill-seeking exploits, but Bradley’s working for a cartel on the side. Still, Bradley and Hood are able to put their differences aside to rescue the woman they both love, singer-songwriter Erin McKenna, from the clutches of a drug lord so rich he lives in a castle assembled from Mayan ruins and has his own private zoo.

I could write a term paper on T. Jefferson Parker villains who collect deadly, exotic pets, or “The Novels of T. Jefferson Parker and the Destructive and Healing Powers of Water”. But kidding aside, the scenes where Erin is trapped in the cartel leader’s gothic jungle fortress and the chapters where Hood fights to survive in a city flooded by a hurricane are the best parts of the book. As outlandish as the villain is, it’s appropriate that his castle is populated by rapists, pedophiles, and lepers, and that it has an atmosphere reminiscent of Suspiria. Hood’s struggle to keep afloat and retain the ransom money in the midst of a city-leveling catastrophe also connects to the operatic grandeur the rest of the book aspires to, but generally lacks.

I’ve struggled with the Charlie Hood novels, and The Jaguar is the first book in the series I’ve been able to read from start to finish since LA Outlaws was published in 2008. Something about these books doesn’t quite click. It’s tempting to blame the supernatural elements, since they seem so out of character for the author, but I think it’s simpler than that. The characters themselves just aren’t interesting.

Bradley’s an important figure in the plot, but he’s unsympathetic and his own adventures boil down to technical details about firearms. The demon Hood’s pursuing, a telepathic, possibly immortal being who calls himself Mike Finnegan, is a bland enigma with an agenda fascinating only to Charlie. Even Charlie and Erin are rather dull. They’re only interesting because of where they go and what happens to them.

A gothic adventure story packaged as a crime novel, The Jaguar is hindered by redundant character viewpoints and an unfocused supernatural metaplot. Parker executes the novel’s setpieces to magnificent effect, but otherwise stumbles with pacing and he blows the denouement. There’s potential in the setting, but I’d prefer it if the author set Charlie Hood and Mike Finnegan aside for awhile and tried his hand at a more straightforward supernatural thriller.

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