Fri
Sep 5 2014 9:00am

Fresh Meat: Night of the Jaguar by Joe Gannon

Night of the Jaguar is the debut thriller from Joe Gannon about a a former Sandinista guerrilla comandante turned cop who investigates a string of political executions (available September 9, 2014).

Jaguars are extremely difficult animals to hunt, which as an animal lover, I find satisfying. I hear the good old boys out at night with their dogs when I am down on my friend’s farm in deepest Virginia, trying their best, without success, to track down the big cats from the same family as the jaguar.

Hunting them makes them extremely and understandably resentful of humans, and they will turn and bite back with a vengeance, just like Joe Gannon’s stinging tale of deals and double deals in the sweltering heat of Nicaragua.

You will need more than a cup of iced water to cool you down when you pick this rattlesnake of a book up, for a cozy night-time read. He whips you straight into the action and the life and times of Captain Ajax Montoya:

He got the radio call he’d been waiting two days for.

“Ajax, Ajax, Ajax. Copy?”

“Copy, Dario, Go.”

“We got him, Ajax. Positive ID.”

“Where?”

“Barrio Jorge Dimitriov.”

“Any sign  of the priest?”

“Neither dead nor alive.”

Fifteen minutes later Ajax squatted inside one shack, observing another about twenty yards away. He pulled the .357 Magnum from its hand-tooled holster and slowly rolled the Python’s chrome cylinder over his open palm. With the hammer half-cocked it turned smoothly. He could feel the chambers silently clicking as they rolled past the barrel, like tumblers in a big lock. It helped him to think, it always had.

The outcome is not a good one and sets up the story going forward as the bodies pile up. The characters are the lifeblood of any book, and they come fast and thick. Some are warmer than others, and some you wouldn’t turn your back on. It is good to see a proper multi-dimensional female character kick in and drive the story just as much Captain Ajax. Lieutenant Gladys Dario is a dead shot and has a mouth like a sewer, so she is right at home in Gannon’s story.

She has been assigned to Ajax to keep an eye on him, as the people in power think he may know some answers to some difficult questions about the high rate of murders. The narrative drives along, and like all good thriller writers Gannon makes sure we get an education in the process. I didn’t know Nicaragua exports 80 million pounds of coffee a year, but I do now. Equally fascinating is the political backdrop with suspect politicians from both sides of the border. The compulsory U.S. Senator makes a contribution to the tale, as you would expect along with other major and minor players. They have agendas which would make toes curl in agony along with sympathy for the poor people who actually inhabit the country, getting pulled this way and that, by men with guns and little interest in anything other than their own gain.

The story rattles along at a merry old pace and I enjoyed keeping up with everyone appearing left, right and center, to use a political term. Some fare better than others, but they all share interesting names. The most interesting is El Gordo Sangroso. The Bloody Fat Man. This tale should have been set in my native Glasgow, with names like that and Hunchback and Gypsy who have things happen to them which would make a grown man weep. I also learned something else. Once in the throat and twice in the heart is a Contra execution. Don’t you just love tradition? It is something Krill would understand:

Krill was a famous among the counterrevolutionaries as Ajax had been among the revolutionaries. A sergeant in the Ogre’s National Guard and an original founder of the Contra who actually did the killing. Krill had been at the top of the Sandanista list even when Ajax was working State Security. Krill’s exploits in battle were famous, his treatment of prisoners infamous-especially women. He was short, in the Nicaraguan way, but a bantam-cock from a poor barrio whose penchant for violence and prowess with a gun had lifted him out of generations of poverty and made him a leader of men.

Krill’s introduction to the reader signals an even deeper twist in the plot and leads to a good solid ending I didn’t see coming. Books of this style are aplenty, both with the subject matter and the geographical relevance to the events woven through the pages. It does, however, stand out as it manages to both thrill and inform at the same time. I am putting the book down and going to have a steaming mug of some of the 80 million pounds of coffee mentioned in the book. Then I shall google package deals to South America. This book has definitely grabbed a place in my luggage or on my tablet, when I finally make the trip, hopefully in an old DC3.

See more coverage of new releases in our Fresh Meat series.

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Dirk Robertson is a Scots thriller writer, currently in Virginia where he is promoting literacy and art projects for young gang members. When not writing, tweeting, or blogging on the Mystery Writers of America website, he designs and knits clothes and handbags from recycled rubbish.

Read all Dirk Robertson’s posts for Criminal Element.

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