Night of the Jaguar

Image of Night of the Jaguar: A Novel
Release Date: 
September 9, 2014
Minotaur Books
Reviewed by: 

“ . . . a mélange of the ways politics not only makes strange bedfellows but also spawns recurrent cycles of deceit and murder . . .”

Ajax Montoya is a former revolutionary, the hero of the people. Dubbed by the Press El Principe de la Paz—the Prince of Peace—he was called El Terrorifico, “Spooky,” by his comrades . . . and it is that name which sticks.

Born in Nicaragua but raised in Los Angeles, as a teenager, Ajax is long aware of the disdain given those not American-born. He is recruited to return to his homeland and join the fight for freedom. It is the first time he hears the word Sandinista.

“It was Horacio who had convinced Ajax to ‘come home’ to Nicaragua. Had recruited him to the Sandinistas, and been his first commander in the mountains. Horacio had taught him how to fight. How to kill. How to survive.”

 It is 1965, the Reagan Administration. Now Ajax  has fallen low . . . he’s merely a drunken cop in Managua, investigating homicides while his comrades, even his ex-wife, gain positions in high places.

“Now someone is one of the most powerful men in the country and you are a police captain.”

Ajax is haunted by his past, especially a figure appearing to him in his dreams and waking life. He often finds himself sleepwalking, wielding his gun and the knife he so often used. Rum and chain-smoking are his refuge. He refuses to believe he has post-traumatic stress syndrome as a good many comrades exhibit.

“That was something rich people got, gringos with too much money and too much time on their hands.”

At present, Ajax is six days sober and about to embark on the case which will change his life. A prominent rancher is found murdered. Preliminary evidence points to a robbery, further investigation suggests it is a Contra execution.

“Kill the vampire . . . Once in the throat, twice through the heart. That’s what they called it. Killing the vampire.”

What Ajax doesn’t know is that his new partner, Gladys, has been ordered to spy on him by a personage called the Visitor.

“I am asking you to make a report on Captain Montoya.”

Three persons of interest interviewed by Ajax have now been murdered. It appears the captain is being set up to be accused of the crime.

“Is it true Captain Montoya was the last person to see these men alive?”

There it is, she thought. The last person to see these men alive could only mean one thing . . . This is not a conversation. It’s an ambush.”

The Visitor calmly sees the outcome going only one way.

“If Captain Montoya is as unstable as he appears to be, then his failure—which we all so adamantly hope for—will be just bad policing by a bad policeman. Not politics.”

With the Sub-commandante’s men and the Contra closing in, Ajax’s investigations coincide with the arrival of a US senator’s fact-finding mission. Soon he has a resident journalist in tow as he tries to unravel the reason the victim left his ranch and came to Managua. There’s a brief interlude of love, destroyed in a barrage of Contra bullets, and that is El Terrorifico’s turning point.

“This isn’t justice . . . it’s politics.”

In the end, Ajax’s fate is undefined, with its hallucinations, lost love, burgeoning conscience, and desire for revenge. It’s up to the reader to decide whether or not he survives to perpetuate another circuit of the killings he is attempting to escape.

Night of the Jaguar is a mélange of the ways politics not only makes strange bedfellows but also spawns recurrent cycles of deceit and murder. Then, once he gains control, the triumphant underdog simply replaces the ousted tyrant and “’Every Judas is a friend of every Cain.’”