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Wednesday, January 4, 2012

The Jaguar, by T. Jefferson Parker (hardcover, $26.95) (due out 1/10/12)

T. Jefferson Parker's Charlie Hood series now deals with the violent world of the drug cartels, with their sadistically bent code of honor. Money brings only evil in its wake, and Parker tells the story of once-lovely parts of Mexico that are given over to gangs and gang feuds.

Parker's writing in this series is more poetic, channeling the soul, perhaps, of his younger protagonist, Bradley Jones. Bradley was a bright but criminal teenager when Charlie, a sheriff's deputy, first met him through his mother, Charlie's lover. Over the years, although Charlie has tried to help him, Bradley has gone his own twisted way and is now a member of a vicious drug cartel out of Mexico. And Bradley, too, is a sheriff's deputy. Both Charlie and Bradley mix with the federal ATF agents, tough and independent-minded people for whom there is no border, only crime.

Bradley has found his one true love, Erin. She is expecting their first child when a rival ganglord kidnaps Erin for ransom. Bradley enlists Charlie's help to get her back from deep in the jungles of Mexico. Whatever their differences, whatever their lack of trust in each other, they are united in wanting Erin back. Up until this point Erin and Charlie had no firm idea that Bradley is as deeply involved on the other side of the law as he is.

This is an unusual book for Parker, although he has dealt with the unknowable before. There's more of an ethereal, philosophical air to it. The ending showcases the steps Parker has taken outside the box. This odd book can't quite be categorized as a simple mystery or thriller. It should be remembered that Bradley's mother kept the head of one of her ancestors in a jar of alcohol. That sets the stage quite well, actually.

In Mayan mythology, the jaguar is sometimes the night sun, god of the underworld. Who is the jaguar in this story? Is he the psychopathic kidnapper, Benjamin Armenta, a man who has both lost and gained by violence? Or is he the mysterious Mike Finnegan, someone Charlie views as a devil and Bradley sees as his savior? It will help to read the other books in this series. Bradley's background becomes a little clearer, as does the reason that Charlie is searching for Mike. However, this book is capable of standing alone.

Parker has stated (http://tinyurl.com/7v252re) that he is planning to write six Charlie Parker books. I can see where this one, number five, is heralding the denouement of the series. It will be interesting to see how much over the edge Parker goes to bring his series to a conclusion, if that is his intention.

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