T. Jefferson Parker

The Jaguar

""Parker effortlessly achieves what more famous writers fall short of." "


Erin McKenna, a beautiful songwriter married to a crooked Los Angeles County sheriff's deputy, is kidnapped by Benjamin Armenta, the ruthless leader of the powerful Gulf Cartel. But his demands turn out to be as unusual as the crumbling castle in which Erin is kept. She is ordered to compose a unique 'narcocorrido', a folk ballad that records the exploits of the drug dealers, gunrunners, and outlaws who have populated Mexican history for generations. Under threat of death, Armenta orders Erin to tell his life story—in music—and write “the greatest narcocorrido of all time.”

As the mesmerizing music and lyrics of Erin's song cascade from the jungle hideout, they serve as a siren song to the two men who love Erin: her outlaw husband, Bradley Jones, and the lawman Charlie Hood—who together have the power to rescue her. Here, amid the ancient beauty of the Yucatan lowland, the long-simmering rivalry between these men will be brought closer to its explosive finale.

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That T. Jefferson Parker is not more widely read in the UK is a mystery to me. Parker effortlessly achieves what more famous writers fall short of. The Jaguar works on several levels. At first reading you have a shoot 'em up tale across the Mexican border country with enough gun action to satisfy the most ardent of action fans. And on a deeper level, we are offered a morality tale of good versus evil, with the several characters movement across the demarcation line demonstrating that we are all capable of both. People who live in Mexico will tell you that it is impossible to escape the storytellers' use of magic realism – and Parker introduces this element through the character of Mike Finnegan: a man who appears to be much more than human and meddling on both sides of the good/ evil divide. To be honest, the book would have worked just as well without this, but for me it added an extra frisson – and the publisher tells me that in the next book this element will be more openly explored. If the guns blazing are there to satisfy the action fans, the sections of the book where Erin suffers her captivity under the evil eye of Armenta and his depraved son provide a thoughtful counterpoint. Here Parker's writing is at its most telling with lyrical descriptions of the jungle, it's dangerous inhabitants, and Erin's attempt to make music. He even manages to play with the reader's emotions as there are moments when you feel empathy for Armenta until you are reminded that he plans to skin Erin alive if her husband doesn't return with millions of dollars. In summary, this book has a little bit of everything and only a writer of Parker's skill could meld all those elements and make it work. I found the book a fascinating read and would heartily recommend it to you.

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