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THE JAGUAR by T. Jefferson Parker

THE JAGUAR

By T. Jefferson Parker

Pub Date: Jan. 10th, 2012
ISBN: 978-0-525-95257-2
Publisher: Dutton

A Mexican drug dealer kidnaps the composer wife of an L.A. cop and holds her for a song.

Well, not just an ordinary song, but a narcocorrido, a kind of folk ballad dedicated to making heroes out of villains: drug dealers, gun-runners, kidnappers and the like. True enough, there’s ransom money earning a mention somewhere along the line, but nobody really takes that seriously. It’s the music that counts. Benjamin Armenta is the leader of Mexico’s powerful Gulf Cartel, as ruthless a collection of rascals as ever battened on the border drug trade. But he sees himself as uncelebrated, as an unsung anti-hero, which in his view amounts to a miscarriage of justice, considering the nature and frequency of the crimes for which he’s become infamous. The kidnapping of Erin McKenna, songwriter of note, is meant to fix all that. Bradley Jones, Erin’s bent cop of a husband, gets 10 days to raise the cash while performing certain auxiliary tasks—no mention of music at this early stage—or Armenta will arrange to have his wife skinned alive, a threat to be taken literally. Erin is whisked away to Armenta’s secret castle-fortress, where she will play out an oddball version of Beauty and the Beast. Meanwhile, knowing how much he needs help, Bradley reluctantly appeals to Charlie Hood, series hero (The Border Lords, 2011, etc.) and sometime friend. It’s a classic love-hate relationship in the context of Charlie’s intense and enduring feeling for Erin. So he signs on, and they mount the quest to locate and rescue Erin, who, deep in the cheerless Yucatan jungle, fraught and beset, composes to save her life.

Despite occasional affecting moments, the plot is essentially thin, unsustained by a cast of larger- than-life, empathy-proof characters. A rare misstep from the accomplished Parker.