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Tropic of Night: A Novel

Tropic of Night: A Novel

3.9 25
by Michael Gruber

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Jane Doe lives in the shadows under an assumed name. A once-promising anthropologist and an expert on shamanism, everyone thinks she's dead. Or so she hopes.

Jimmy Paz is a Cuban-American police detective. Straddling two cultures, he understands things others cannot.

When the killings start -- a series of ritualistic murders -- all of Miami is terrified


Jane Doe lives in the shadows under an assumed name. A once-promising anthropologist and an expert on shamanism, everyone thinks she's dead. Or so she hopes.

Jimmy Paz is a Cuban-American police detective. Straddling two cultures, he understands things others cannot.

When the killings start -- a series of ritualistic murders -- all of Miami is terrified. Especially Jane. She knows the dark truth that Jimmy must desperately search to uncover. As their lives slowly interconnect, Jane and Paz are soon caught in a cataclysmic battle between good and an evil as unimaginable as it is terrifying . . .

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
“A blockbuster....Gruber creates a hallucinatory atmosphere as unsettlingas it is exciting.”
Martin Cruz Smith
“A dark, brilliant book with as indelible a central character as Smilla from SMILLA’S SENSE OF SNOW.”
Ridley Pearson
“WOW — what an incredible talent!... A superb read that draws you down into its spell of murder and magic. Astonishing.”
Washington Post
“An astonishing piece of fiction, one that expands the boundaries of the thriller genre.”
People Magazine
"A blockbuster....Gruber creates a hallucinatory atmosphere as unsettlingas it is exciting."
New Orleans Times-Picayune
“A fresh, intelligent thriller ... one of the most absorbing and original novels I’ve read this year.”
USA Today
“Bold, provacative, and frightening ... An extraordinary debut.”
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
“Dramatic [and] addictive....every character is fascinating ... a dark, thoughtful, original mystery that...makes the impossible believable.”
Cleveland Plain Dealer
“Absolutely mesmerizing.... Equal parts literary novel and thriller.... Gruber has an astonishing way of pulling in the reader.”
St. Petersburg Times
“No ordinary thriller....Brilliant.”
Daily News
“An engaging thriller with a conscience — providing insights ... and social commentary.”
Seattle Times
“Gripping ... Gurber has written an undeniably strong book.”
Book Magazine
"A phenomenal debut thriller."
CNN Online
“[An] inventive and deeply engrossing book ... absolutely gripping and thought provoking. In a word, “Tropic of Night” is magical.”
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.”
Capital Times (Madison
“Even better [than The DaVinci Code]. Scary, fascinating ... shakes modern notions of reality. A haunting book.”
Capital Times (Madison))
"Even better [than The DaVinci Code]. Scary, fascinating ... shakes modern notions of reality. A haunting book."
Capital Times (Madison)
"Even better [than The DaVinci Code]. Scary, fascinating ... shakes modern notions of reality. A haunting book."

Product Details

HarperCollins Publishers
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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.

What People are Saying About This

Martin Cruz Smith
“A dark, brilliant book with as indelible a central character as Smilla from SMILLA’S SENSE OF SNOW.”
Ridley Pearson
“WOW — what an incredible talent!... A superb read that draws you down into its spell of murder and magic. Astonishing.”

Meet the Author

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

Brief Biography

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

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Tropic of Night 3.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 20 reviews.
harstan More than 1 year ago
A far cry from her wealthy, Long Island roots, anthropologist Jane Doe hides in Miami after faking a suicide. Instead of studying magic practices in remote global sites, Jane pretends to be an unassuming drab medical records clerk. The last person Jane expected to ever have to avoid is her spouse Witt Moore, but that is whom she hides from if she wants to remain alive. On their recent trip to Africa, Witt became involved in nasty powerful magic that has taken control of him. Jane recognizes descriptions of serial killing rituals as that from the lore of the Olo tribe that she and Witt visited. Her husband is probably the deranged killer and she knows she is the only with the skills to stop him but fears trying. The police including Detective Jimmy Paz search for the maniac too. However, clues are difficult to find when the witnesses contain whiteout memories except that the culprit seems to them to look like Paz. TROPIC OF NIGHT is an intriguing mystical police procedural in which black magic interferes with the investigation. The story line engages the audience as if Michael Gruber cast a spell on his readers. The support cast is a delight as they enhance the strong plot. The villain is clearly out of control by the dark force has engulfed him. However, what keeps the tale focused and centered is Jane starting to comprehend that she can run but she can¿t hide. Harriet Klausner
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The opening lines of this book grabbed me & pulled me right in. One of the best, touches on subjects ignored by most authors.
Guest More than 1 year ago
A little dark, but I kept turning the pages so fast my fingers had paper cuts.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I could not put this book down. It has everything... intrigue, espionage, mystery, murder, love, etc. I 'must' read. I have never read anything by Michael Gruber but intend to read everything he has written now.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I enjoy a good mystery and Florida is full of authors who can provide a variety of approaches to the genre. Although this author is apparently not a Florida native, he seems to know the Miami area well. More importantly, he has created a real thriller with well drawn characters and a complex plot. This book ranks near the top of crime novels I have read recently. Although the background and character development result in a slow start, the convergence of characters and time frames results in a well-crafted book that is a real page turner after the halfway point. Two of the central characters have narrative roles while the villian is identified but not seen in present tense until late in the book. I was pleased to find that one of the protagonists returns in later novels by this author and I look forward to reading them.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The story was good but it took so long to get to it! Just too many words that did not need to be there. A lot of flipping from past to present, did not care for that to much. Heroin is not particularly likeable. Hope the next couple of books are better.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This was not the 'page turner' it was marketed to be. It is, instead, a slow moving procedural told from alternating points of view, one of which is an anthroplogist who spends way too much time describing the spiritual practices of indigenous peoples in West Africa and Siberia. Slow moving, dull, and quite simply not interesting.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Rich American white girl anthropologist Jane Doe (sic!) was raised a serious Roman Catholic by her old wealth Yankee parents. Her sister is a gorgeous model who is ritually murdered just before giving birth. By that time Jane had studied anthropology and done field work in Siberia studying folk magic. After a job-related physical collapse and recovery, Jane had married black American poet De Witt Moore. Moore hates 'cracker' America and searches for ways to become a black Hitler to avenge Africans everywhere. Jane had brought him to Nigeria and Mali on an anthropological study trip where they both fell under the spells of conjurers and mysterious wise men. Her guru was good. De Witt's was evil. He committed ritual murder, after which Jane fled and survived another physical and psychic collapse. *** Jane Doe later fled to Florida after her sister's ritual murder, for which she is a suspect. But first she blows up her father's boat and fakes suicide. In multi-cultural Miami Jane assumes the lay identity of a Salesian nun who died in Africa, disguises herself and takes on menial work in a hospital. She fears that her husband will seek her out and require her to be an audience to future atrocities. Meanwhile the husband has in fact reached Miami and is going through ritual slayings and cannibalism of pregnant women and their babies. Detective Jimmy Paz, a black Cuban-American begins to put together clues that point to Jane. All is made clear in a very violent, witchraft-filled ending. *** This is not a classic detective story. There are not enough clues early on for readers to solve anything on their own. It is a pleasantly didactic novel, full of lore about primitive peoples and their encounters with gods and spirits. It is cross-cultural, too. Faith versus science. Africans versus Americans. It is also a mystery. There are drugs and deeds explored which modern rationalism is not up to. Jane Doe is an implausible character: well educated, solidly grounded in Christianity, but easily blown away by exposure to ghosts, dreams and magic. Intensely erotic, she manages in occasional flirtations with holiness to sound like Graham Greene. Thus when the detective wonders why she doesn't just dump her Hitlerian husband, she says that marriage is forever. Anybody can love virtues. 'It's the unllovely stuff that makes love. We all have a little nasty wounded place in us, and if you can get someone to find that and love it, then you really have something.' (Chapter Thirty, p. 380.)
Guest More than 1 year ago
The beginning of the story is a very involved in set-up. You have to tune yourself into a new language and keep track of what time frame the main character is in. Once you realize the flow of the work the story draws you so deep that the language is not so important because you have picked-up the meenings of the most important words. The main character struggles with good and evil, not only as a part of the story, but her own beliefs and things she learned as a child. You travel with her to the various places in the world and the places within her mind that she sometimes finds herself. This is a mystery and you have to determine if evil should win and you try to determine who the real villian is. The search takes you into the dark world and back several times. This is a good read if you're not in a hurry to get to the end.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Really intreaging, interesting characters with depth. Really enjoyed this book as a fan of police novels. A different take on it.
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Guest More than 1 year ago
Even if the story WASN'T any good (and it is excellent), you would learn a lot about sorcery in this novel of African witchcraft transplanted and running amok in Miami. Jane Doe, aka Dolores Tuoey (yes, the REAL name is actually the first one) is an anthropologist hiding out in Florida. She hopes her husband, now a powerful sorcerer and mass murderer, will believe she is dead. Jane ultimately (and unwillingly) comes to the aid of Jimmy Paz, the detective assigned to the gruesome murders of pregnant women and their babies. Interspersed in the narrative are excerpts from Jane's African journal - which educate the reader as to the origins of the crimes along with many aspects of African sorcery. This is a book of gripping intensity, which is hard to put down once begun. My only criticism would be that, although a glossary of African words is helpfully provided at the end of the book, it does not cover all the words interspersed throughout the text. It was frustrating to turn to it when an unfamiliar word appeared in italics, then not find it there!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I looked at all the rascals looking dumbfounded at me, all besides that Jack Story. He's a charecter, isnt he? I asked myself. He is always so calm around me and new situations. He will do good. Great, as a matter of fact. I then dismissed them to their classes and after the last one left the door, i went imeadietly to the wallscreen. I voiced in to the admiral. He said they would be there in five days, maybe less. They had four starships remaining, all needing repair work, and one only has 100 men left to control it. Then admiral singed off without saluting. Star sat down and fingered the origami starship he had made and duplicated over the years to create the ones that fought fr him now. They were so sleek and beautiful, and at the same time menacing. He sighed and set it down, taking a blue peace of paper and played around with it to make a whale with a helmet, saddle, and lasergun mounted underneath. He had to remember to show this to the engimaters so they could stock a few of thesin the livestock hangar. He set it down and walked out of the office, letting the whale take in its surroundings, already alive in its own little markered-in eyes. Next part coming!!! Darksunstar