Parker’s series on the Baja cartels and their creeping influence in Southern California is both informative and troubling. Charlie Hood, LAPD on loan to ATF, joins forces with fellow officer Bradley Jones after Bradley’s wife is kidnapped by the powerful Gulf cartel led by Benjamin Armento. The demand: one million in cash for Erin’s ransom—to be delivered in a set period of time. A popular LA singer, Mrs. Jones is spirited deep into the Yucatan jungle, where she learns that she must write a narcocorrido for Armenta glorifying his life as a “folk” hero. Like Scheherazade, Erin must barter her music for her life, adding critical days as the ransom is delayed.
While Charlie Hood escorts the money with a cadre of armed guards, Jones gathers the forces of an opposing cartel. The two groups move slowly toward their target through a dangerous terrain where ambushes are frequent, the money too big a target to pass unnoticed. To further complicate the journey, a hurricane batters the country, leaving devastation in its wake and the success of the mission in jeopardy. But, like soldiers of fortune in a lawless land, Jones and Hood continue on, locked on their goal in spite of ambushes and arrests, living through hellish escapes as Americans caught on the wrong side of the border carrying cash and weapons. They aren’t sure who to trust, everyone susceptible to corruption and cartel influence.
As in the previous novel, Hood’s nemesis, Mike Finnegan, plays a pivotal role. Keeping his connections to Bradley a secret, Finnegan inserts himself into the plan to rescue Erin, even though Charlie has been searching for him with a vengeance since their last encounter. This elusive character lurks behind the scenes of the carnage in this novel as well, manipulating, infiltrating, seemingly with connections everywhere. While Jones purposely withholds this vital information from Hood, crippling Hood’s effectiveness, the tactic does in fact move Bradley’s agenda forward, consequences with Hood to be settled later. Clearly, Finnegan is a man who will appear again, at least until Hood can deal with his pervasive menace once and for all.
As in The Border Lords, Parker seems weaker when writing dialog between men and women and in the acting out of their relationships. But this awkwardness disappears in the more volatile scenes between male characters, where the roles are more clearly defined and good and evil stand in stark relief. This issue was a bigger problem for me in The Border Lords, where the primary characters carry the weight of the plot’s focus. In The Jaguar, Parker shifts back into the intent of the series, exploring the violent conditions in Mexico, the nature of the drug cartels and the extensive damage done both in Mexico and coastal California. Gathering all the strands of politics, corruption, drugs, violence and greed, Parker weaves a riveting tale of murder and betrayal in the Yucatan jungle, where Armento meets his fate—a far different one than he had anticipated.