Afro-Cuban Miami detective Iago Paz, policeman, chef, and heartthrob hero of Gruber’s superb 2003 debut (Tropic of Night), returns to sort out the defenestration of a spectacularly nasty Sudanese petro-thug.
Adopting as his partner young Officer Morales, the rookie cop who, without vomiting, witnessed the ten-story fall and gory impaling of Jabir al-Mulawid, Det. Paz, only child of Miami’s best Cuban restaurateur and himself a dab hand with the pastries and butchering, steps into the hotel room from which al-Mulawid either jumped or was tossed—and finds Emmylou Dideroff kneeling in prayerful conversation with St. Catherine of Siena. Ms. Dideroff, whose fingerprints are on the automobile engine part that fits nicely into a fatal wound on the head of the Sudanese corpse, has a complicated past. The onetime hooker, thief, drug moll, and child-abuse victim, who could easily have fled the scene of the crime where she is the only suspect, is a soldier in the Society of Nursing Sisters of the Blood of Christ: a religious order famed for fearless service to the wounded of the many hideous wars since its founding in 1895 by the heiress to a French oil fortune. An autodidact with—well—catholic reading habits and a photographic memory, Emmylou, who, besides chatting with the saints, sees the devil routinely and casts out demons when necessary, seems crazy as a Junebug to zaftig hypochondriac psychologist Lorna Wise. But Paz, whose mum is way up in the Santeria hierarchy, thinks otherwise. Lovelorn Lorna and ladies’ man Iago, by the way, find each other pretty attractive. Gruber intersperses the Miami action with scenes from Emmylou’s possibly confessional notebooks detailing her at first lurid and then heroic past, tossing in searing sex, African civil-war carnage, wonderfully serious religious thought, great tenderness, and some of the snappiest byplay since William Powell and Myrna Loy.
No second-novel slump here. Gruber has drawn even with John Sandford and has power to spare.