Not since The Secret History has a novel so flawlessly married the ferocious intensity of an unforgettable thriller with the depth, daring, and nuance of our most celebrated literary fiction. Tropic of Night is a virtuoso performance -- an unforgettably accomplished novel, a masterpiece of electricity and ambition. Jane Doe was a promising anthropologist, an expert on shamanism. Now she's nothing, a shadow: after faking her own suicide, she's living under an assumed identity in Miami with a little girl to protect. Everyone thinks she's dead. Or so she hopes. Then the killings start, a series of ritualistic murders that terrifies all of Miami. The investigator is Jimmy Paz, a Cuban-American police detective. There are witnesses, but they can recall almost nothing of the events, as though their memories have been erased -- as if a spell has been cast on each of them. Equally bizarre is the string of clues Paz uncovers: a divination charm, exotic drugs found in the bodies of the victims, a century-old report telling of a secret place in the heart of Africa.
Gruber's intricate thriller ignites in the very first chapter as anthropologist heroine Jane Doe employs the theories of Claude Levi-Strauss, quotes W. H. Auden, kills a drunken woman using advanced aikido techniques and rescues an abused child whom she raises as her own. The story moves seamlessly between Miami, Long Island and West Africa. Jane Doe's husband, DeWitt Moore, an African-American poet and playwright, accompanies Jane to Nigeria, where she visits the Olo, a tribe of spiritual practitioners. There he falls under the influence of a malevolent witch and becomes a sorcerer. Fearing that her husband will try to kill her, Jane fakes suicide and flees to Miami. Moore, intent on wreaking vengeance on white America, follows and begins murdering pregnant women and stealing their unborn babies for use in a rite that will give him unstoppable powers. Investigating the murders is Cuban exile Iago "Jimmy" Paz and his Bible-spouting partner, Cletis Barlow. As Moore terrorizes Miami, Jane bows to the inevitable, comes out of hiding and gathers a tiny band of courageous accomplices to battle her ex-husband and his shuffling band of the undead. First-time novelist Gruber keeps his far-flung locations, complicated characters and anthropological information perfectly balanced in this finely crafted, intelligent and original work. While readying herself for battle, Jane's commentary on cleaning her rare Mauser pistol could read equally well as a description of Gruber's meticulous plotting: "Each part pops free with a precisely directed pressure and snaps in with a satisfying click, just where it belongs." How readers categorize this book will depend on their acceptance or rejection of Gruber's underlying thesis: "The point is, there's no supernatural. It's all part of the universe, although the universe is queerer than we suppose." (Mar.) Forecast: Some readers may find the wealth of anthropological detail off-putting, but those who loved Peter Hoeg's quirky Smilla's Sense of Snow and Norman Rush's demanding Mating could push this book on to the bestseller list. National advertising; eight-city author tour. -- PUBLISHERS WEEKLY.
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Posted August 13, 2010 by tommygram , GreenbayHaving read all the Karp novels I elected to pursue works done by the ghost writer of said. I researched Mr. Gruber on the web and determined that "Tropic of Night" (TON) was the first novel written by Mr. Gruber using his own name. I found this website to confirm that the author of TON was indeed the same Michael Gruber (I could not believe they were one and the same author). TON is akin to reading two novels at once (one acceptable - the other absolutely terrible). Jane Doe's persona on one hand (terrible) and the entertaining character Paz on the other. In my humble opinion the Jane Doe segment rambles on for 200 pages or so, is peppered with Mr. Gruber's command of his Thesaurus - the entire Jane Doe saga could more appropriately be woven in 25 pages or so. The banter of sorcery, African mumbo jumbo and martial arts diatribe advanced my ability to skim read significantly. This Gruber novel is purportedly "critically acclaimed". By what critics ? This acclaim must focus on Mr. Gruber's penchant for his Thesaurus and extensive mumbo jumbo (perhaps if I were Mary Leaky this crap would be sensible - but alas I am a mere consumer.) Are the subsequent Gruber authored works of the same caliber ? I enjoyed the Karp novels immensely. TON on the other hand is beyond description. Simple advice Mr Gruber - put the Thesaurus away (or if your vocabulary is that extensive, dumb down the $5 words). You are trying to reach a mass market I presume not write for the benefit of critics. Perhaps I am incorrect in presuming you are writing to a mass market - what do I know ?
January 31, 2004
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Excerpt from Tropic of Night by Michael Gruber
Looking at the sleeping child, I watch myself looking at the sleeping child, placing the dyad in a cultural context, classifying the feelings I am feeling even as I feel them. This is partly the result of my training as an anthropologist and ethnographer and partly a product of wonder that I can still experience feelings other than terror. It has been a while. I assess these feelings as appropriate for female, white, American, Anglo-Saxon ethnicity, Roman Catholic (lapsed), early-twenty-first c., socioeconomic status one, working below SES.
Socioeconomic status. Having these feelings. Motherhood. Lay your sleeping head, my love, human on my faithless arm, as Auden says. Maladie de l'anthropologie, Marcel used to call it, a personalized version of Mannheim's paradox: the ethnographer observes the informant, at the same time observes herself observing the informant, because she, the ethnographer, is part of a culture too. Then at the same time observing herself observing herself as a member of her culture observing the informant, since the goal is complete scientific objectivity, stripping away all cultural artifacts including the one called "scientific objectivity," and then what do you have Meaning itself slips from your grasp like an eyelash floating in a cup of tea. Hence the paradox. Geertz found a theoretical solution as far as fieldwork goes, but in the heart's core Not so easy.
It is not all that interesting to watch a child sleep, although people do it all the time. Parents do, and perhaps also Mr. Auden, at least once. I am not, however, this child's mother. I am this child's mother's murderess.
The child: female, ethnicity unknown, nationality unknown, presumed American. SES probably five: rock bottom. Four years of age, though she looks younger. In Africa there were kids of eight who looked five, because of malnutrition. Plenty of food around, but the kids didn't get any. The old folks hogged all the high protein, as was their right. A cultural difference, there. Her skin is the palest red-brown, like bisque pottery. Her hair is black, thick, and quite straight, but dry and friable. She is still thin, her spine a string of staring knobs, her knees bulging out beyond the bones they articulate. I think her mother was starving her to death, although usually if they're going to starve them they do it in infancy. The bruises are gone now, but the scars remain, thin cross-hatchings on the backs of her thighs and buttocks. I expect that they were made by a wire coat hanger, an example of what Levi-Strauss called bricolage: a cultural artifact used in a new and creative way. I fear brain damage, too, although so far there are no frank signs of this. She has not spoken yet, but the other day I heard her crooning to herself, in well-shaped notes. It was the first two bars of "Maple Leaf Rag," which is what the local ice-cream truck plays when it comes to the park. I thought that was a good sign.