Tropic of Night – Michael Gruber

[asa left]0060509546[/asa] I read so many really wonderful reviews of this book, I finally found a copy. And the first couple chapters made it clear that this guy can write. On every level. Strong, very visible characters, disturbing, unusual conflicts, and a story that goes zero to sixty like a really, really expensive car.

And it’s interesting. The story is about a woman hiding out in southern Florida. She was once a cultural anthropologist, working with a tribe in Africa for a long period of time on matters of belief systems and magic. There’s a long riff on that word — magic — which probably delivers more core information about cultural anthro and what it sets out to do than anything I’ve ever read in a textbook, and does it in an engaging way.

So you’ve got her on the one hand, Jane calling herself Dolores, and a series of violent murders on the other, ritualized and clearly having something to do with a religion something like, but much older than, Santeria.

On the other hand you’ve got two detectives, one a first generation Cuban immigrant called Iago Paz (points for the name, of course), who puts himself on the black side of the black-white continuum in the Cuban community. The other is an older, wiser, Bible thumping old time Florida cracker with a real talent for homicide work.

Somewhere along the way, though, I got lost. This novel requires a willingness to delve deep into the workings of western African mysticism, and sometimes I found myself unable to go there. This is my lack, I think, and not the novel’s, but it’s also sad that we parted ways. Because I liked it.

I’ve just started Gruber’s next novel, which also features Iago (Jimmy) Paz, murder, and a religious/mystical connection. It’s my hope I’ll be able to hold on for the whole ride.