Tropic of Night

( 1 )

Overview

"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 ...
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Overview

"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." These clues point Paz inexorably toward the fugitive, Jane Doe, and force Jane to realize that the darkness she has fled is seeking her out, hunting her down. By the time her path intersects with Jimmy Paz's, the two will be thrust into a cataclysmic battle between good and an evil unimaginable to the Western mind.
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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
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.
Library Journal
A woman who calls herself Jane Doe hides out in Miami, where Detective Jimmy Paz tracks a serial killer witnesses say looks like Detective Jimmy Paz. Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
An aristocratic anthropologist’s field leads out of academia and into African "magic." First-novelist Gruber (a minor staffer in the Carter White House and biology Ph.D.) starts out in ever-steamy Miami, where Jane Doe is a rich and semi-spoiled Long Islander who has faked a suicide and gone into hiding as "Dolores," a mousy medical-records clerk. In her former life, she was an anthropologist who studied under, and had an affair with, a brilliant Frenchman whose expertise in the magic practiced by isolated cultures led her well away from the usual tenure track and off through central Asia to Mali, where she picked up a few magic tricks of her own. Now, she’s hiding from Witt Moore, her husband, an African-American poet and playwright who, on their fateful field trip to Africa, also became steeped in magic—powerful and very, very nasty magic. Jane has recently complicated her fugitive life with the addition of Luz, an abused preschooler, whose mother Jane killed—accidentally—with an especially effective martial arts maneuver. It’s not a good time to be a mother in Miami, where a serial killer is drugging very pregnant women and taking the babies for what looks awfully like human sacrifice. Recognizing the murders as rituals from the lore of the Olo, the Malian tribe she and Witt studied, Jane knows that her husband is nearby and on the prowl and that it will now be necessary for her to practice her own arcane skills. In the meantime, Iago "Jimmy" Paz, a deeply cool Afro-Cuban Miami homicide detective with many, many ladyloves, is trying to sort out the gruesome string of murders as junior man on a team headed by an ultra-religious Florida cracker. And he’s about to meetJane. What would be overripe overplotting in lesser hands becomes wonderfully credible here, with cleverly drawn characters (Paz and his most excellent mum must surely return), trunkloads of ethno-botanical factoids, and interspersed sections from Jane’s African logbook. The climax is pleasantly apocalyptic. Monstrously entertaining. Author tour. Agent: Simon Lipskar/Writers House
Daily News
"An engaging thriller with a conscience — providing insights ... and social commentary."
People
“A blockbuster....Gruber creates a hallucinatory atmosphere as unsettlingas it is exciting.”
USA Today
"Bold, provacative, and frightening ... An extraordinary debut."
Washington Post
"An astonishing piece of fiction, one that expands the boundaries of the thriller genre."
Seattle Times
"Gripping ... Gurber has written an undeniably strong book."
New Orleans Times-Picayune
"A fresh, intelligent thriller ... one of the most absorbing and original novels I’ve read this year."
Cleveland Plain Dealer
"Absolutely mesmerizing.... Equal parts literary novel and thriller.... Gruber has an astonishing way of pulling in the reader."
CNN Online
"[An] inventive and deeply engrossing book ... absolutely gripping and thought provoking. In a word, "Tropic of Night" is magical."
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
"Dramatic [and] addictive....every character is fascinating ... a dark, thoughtful, original mystery that...makes the impossible believable."
St. Petersburg Times
"No ordinary thriller....Brilliant."
Book Magazine - Most Wanted List
“A phenomenal debut thriller.”
The Leader-Post (Canada)
"A riveting tale...that stands up to the best books penned by Stephen King and Peter Straub."
People Magazine
"A blockbuster....Gruber creates a hallucinatory atmosphere as unsettlingas it is exciting."
Capital Times (Madison))
"Even better [than The DaVinci Code]. Scary, fascinating ... shakes modern notions of reality. A haunting book."
Ridley Pearson
"WOW — what an incredible talent!... A superb read that draws you down into its spell of murder and magic. Astonishing."
Martin Cruz Smith
"A dark, brilliant book with as indelible a central character as Smilla from SMILLA’S SENSE OF SNOW."
Capital Times (Madison)
"Even better [than The DaVinci Code]. Scary, fascinating ... shakes modern notions of reality. A haunting book."
- Most Wanted List - Book Magazine
"A phenomenal debut thriller."
Capital Times (Madison
“Even better [than The DaVinci Code]. Scary, fascinating ... shakes modern notions of reality. A haunting book.”
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780061186752
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 3/28/2003

Meet the Author

New York Times bestselling author Michael Gruber is the author of five acclaimed novels. He lives in Seattle.

Margaret Whitton's performing career includes extensive work on and off Broadway, numerous television appearances, and roles in such films as Major League, The Man Without a Face, and Ironweed.

Biography

Michael Gruber, in his own words:

I was born and raised in New York City, and educated in its public schools. I went to Columbia, earning a B.A. in English literature. After college I did editorial work at various small magazines in New York, and then went back to school at City College and got the equivalent of a second B.A., in biology.

After that I went to the University of Miami and got an M.A. in marine biology. In 1968-69, I was in the Army as a medic.

In 1973, I received my Ph.D. marine sciences, for a study of octopus behavior. Then I was a chef at several Miami restaurants. Then I was a hippie traveling around in a bus and working as a roadie for various rock groups. Then I worked for the county manager of Metropolitan Dade County, as an analyst. Then I was director of planning for the county department of human resources.

I went to Washington, D.C., in 1977, and worked in the Carter White House, Office of Science and Technology Policy. Then I worked in the Environmental Protection Agency as a policy analyst and also as the speechwriter for the administrator. I started writing freelance at that time, and shortly after being promoted to the Senior Executive Service of the U.S., I left Washington and settled in Seattle. I worked for a while for the state land commissioner, but since 1988 I have been a full-time writer.

I am married, with three grown children and an extremely large dog.

Good To Know

Some interesting anecdotes from our interview with Gruber:

"My first job was writing copy for Classics Comics, which was the best job I ever had. Reducing Tolstoy to thought balloons!"

"I did my Ph.D. on the relation between moray eels and octopuses. As a result of this work, I am one of the few people who have been bitten by both a moray eel and an octopus. Being bitten by a moray is much like catching your finger in a car door. Being bitten by an octopus is like being snakebit. Your arm swells up and turns black."

"I was once a member of a traveling commune called the Hog Farm. I was the cook on one of the buses. My roadkill dumplings were famous throughout the mobile counterculture. I once made eggs Benedict for 14 hippies on the banks of the Rio Grande. Aside from that my life has been fairly dull and no fun at all."

"I have no hobbies. The only thing I do with my time is reading, writing, and research. I walk my dog. I occasionally dig in the garden, but we have a gardener and this tends to upset her. I never unwind, except I get drunk with a bunch of journalists every Friday. Every Wednesday I teach snippets of Catholic theology to people who wish to join the Church."

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    1. Hometown:
      Seattle, Washington
    1. Date of Birth:
      October 1, 1940
    2. Place of Birth:
      New York, New York
    1. Education:
      B.A., Columbia University, 1961; Ph.D., University of Miami, 1973
    2. Website:

Read an Excerpt

Tropic of Night
A Novel

Chapter One

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'smurderess.

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.

My own knees are rather like hers, for I am an anorexic. My condition doesn't result from a neurotic defect in body image, like those pathetic young girls exhibited on the talk shows. I got sick in Africa and lost forty pounds and subsequently I've eaten little, for I court invisibility. This is a strategic error, I realize: to become really invisible in America, a woman must become very fat. I tried that for a while and failed; everything came up, and I worried about scarring of the esophagus. So I starve, and try to fatten the child.

In my longings, I wish to be mist, or the ripple of wind on the water, or a bird. Not a gull, a class I feel has been aesthetically overrated, no; but a little bird, a sparrow of the type God watches fall, or a swallow, like the kind we saw in Africa. We had a houseboat on the Niger, above Bamako, in Mali. From its deck we would watch them come from their nests on the soft banks and fill the sky over the river in a pattern of flitting silhouettes in the ocher dusk, and in their hundreds and dozens of hundreds they would hunt the flying insects and dip to drink sips from the oily brown surface. I would watch them for their hour, and would pray that they contained the souls of women dead in childbirth, as the Fang people are said to believe.

She blows a tiny bubble in her sleep, so babyish an action that my heart flows over with love and for an instant I am rejoined to my true self, not watching from outside, like an anthropologist, or a fugitive, which is another thing I am, and after that instant the fear flows back again like batter in a bowl from which a finger has been withdrawn. Affection, attachment, weakness, destruction, not allowed, not for me. Or remorse. I killed a human being. Did I mean to? Hard to say, it went down so quickly. Hold a knife to my throat and I'd tell the truth: the child was doomed with her, she's better off with me, I'm glad the woman's dead, God rest her soul, and I'll answer for it in heaven along with all the other stuff. Worse stuff.

Naturally, the little girl doesn't resemble me in the least, which is a problem, for people watch us and wonder who did she fuck to get that one? No, actually, that's unfair: most people don't see us at all, both of us are good at fading into the foliage, going gray in the shadows. We go out in the dusk, before the quick fall of the tropical night, or, as on the weekend just passing, very early. Tomorrow I will have to find a place to put her while I work. I have only a little sick time left and I need the money. She has been with me ten days. Her name is Luz ...

Tropic of Night
A Novel
. Copyright © by Michael Gruber. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
Read More Show Less

First Chapter

Tropic of Night

Chapter One

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.

My own knees are rather like hers, for I am an anorexic. My condition doesn't result from a neurotic defect in body image, like those pathetic young girls exhibited on the talk shows. I got sick in Africa and lost forty pounds and subsequently I've eaten little, for I court invisibility. This is a strategic error, I realize: to become really invisible in America, a woman must become very fat. I tried that for a while and failed; everything came up, and I worried about scarring of the esophagus. So I starve, and try to fatten the child.

In my longings, I wish to be mist, or the ripple of wind on the water, or a bird. Not a gull, a class I feel has been aesthetically overrated, no; but a little bird, a sparrow of the type God watches fall, or a swallow, like the kind we saw in Africa. We had a houseboat on the Niger, above Bamako, in Mali. From its deck we would watch them come from their nests on the soft banks and fill the sky over the river in a pattern of flitting silhouettes in the ocher dusk, and in their hundreds and dozens of hundreds they would hunt the flying insects and dip to drink sips from the oily brown surface. I would watch them for their hour, and would pray that they contained the souls of women dead in childbirth, as the Fang people are said to believe.

She blows a tiny bubble in her sleep, so babyish an action that my heart flows over with love and for an instant I am rejoined to my true self, not watching from outside, like an anthropologist, or a fugitive, which is another thing I am, and after that instant the fear flows back again like batter in a bowl from which a finger has been withdrawn. Affection, attachment, weakness, destruction, not allowed, not for me. Or remorse. I killed a human being. Did I mean to? Hard to say, it went down so quickly. Hold a knife to my throat and I'd tell the truth: the child was doomed with her, she's better off with me, I'm glad the woman's dead, God rest her soul, and I'll answer for it in heaven along with all the other stuff. Worse stuff.

Naturally, the little girl doesn't resemble me in the least, which is a problem, for people watch us and wonder who did she fuck to get that one? No, actually, that's unfair: most people don't see us at all, both of us are good at fading into the foliage, going gray in the shadows. We go out in the dusk, before the quick fall of the tropical night, or, as on the weekend just passing, very early. Tomorrow I will have to find a place to put her while I work. I have only a little sick time left and I need the money. She has been with me ten days. Her name is Luz ...

Tropic of Night. Copyright © by Michael Gruber. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
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