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Tropic of Night
Michael Gruber
William Morrow, 416 pages

Marc Cohen
Tropic of Night
Michael Gruber
Michael Gruber has a Ph.D. in marine biology from the University of Miami. He has held many jobs, virtually all of which have involved writing, usually anonymously. He lives in Seattle and is currently at work on another novel.

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Past Feature Reviews
A review by Cindy Lynn Speer

Jane Doe is on the run from forces that most of us can't comprehend. She's running from her husband.

Once, she was an anthropologist who studied an elusive tribe whose women practiced magic and slept with spirits. After an incident made her feel as if she were losing her mind, she fled for home where she met the handsome and promising poet, Witt Moore. They marry, and live an enviable lifestyle. Her family is very nice and he is enough of a literary success that they can live the expensive wine and intellectual conversation type of life that seems so alluring. She gives up on anthropology, at least until they are offered a trip to Africa to study the Yoruba. What they find is so much more. Witt, wanting to immerse himself into his African heritage is all too eager to go.

That's one part of the story, told by Jane's amazing journals. We see how he changes, how he... and soon she... learn magic. The other part of the story has Jane is living in a small apartment in Miami, with a little girl she has taken for her own. She lives as simply as possible, never going anywhere near magic for fear her powerful sorcerer husband will know that she is still, in fact, alive. Cut off from her family's money, she wears the ugliest clothes she can find and works her job quietly, keeping as low a profile as possible. When she hears of the first murder, she knows that her husband is behind it, for it is done in a ritual way: a pregnant woman sliced open, her fetus taken out and carefully butchered for certain significant parts. She knows that he needs to kill three more to make his power complete, and knows that her end is coming.

Enter Detective Jimmy Paz. Even though everyone expects him to be into these types of magics because of his heritage, Paz has no interest, and so thinks that the killer is simply some nut case. He and his partner Barlow have a hard time tracking down clues. The witnesses can recall nothing, their only lead is a seed pod and a shard of obsidian. Still, they manage to find a trail. One that leads right to Jane Doe's door. But will he believe the terrible story she reveals? Will they be able to stop her husband before he manages to gain the power he craves?

Tropic of Night is a book of so many levels, building carefully on each other to create a tremendous reading experience. You have the mythology. Santerķa and African sorcery flavor this book heavily, adding not only to the excitement of the read, but to the feel. It seeps into the pages like smoke, giving you the feeling that on a very basic level, magic is happening all the time, spirits are watching and judging our every move. You have the police procedural, as these two really different but very likable characters take on a mystery that would have stood perfectly well on its own. Finally, you have some very intense racial themes. In an interview, Michael Gruber says that the point of the book is that race is a hallucination. So, we have to consider what that means -- hallucination, not stereotype. It is a hallucination, that skin tone matters at all, that it makes a difference in who or what we are. It is a hallucination suffered by all of us. Those living inside the skin as well as out. Hallucination denotes sickness. That our head is befuddled, and this sickness is what eventually infects an affable, charming, handsome, intelligent man and destroys him. The illusion feeds the sickness, as he sees his rich, white wife in nastier lights. When she uses her money to help them, he grows resentful, and the resentment he feels towards her eventually erupts into violence despite his love for her. The hallucinations effect a lot of people in this book, blinding them, making them do nasty things.

A richly woven book, satisfying and exciting and impossible to put down.

Copyright © 2003 Cindy Lynn Speer

Cindy Lynn Speer loves books so much that she's designed most of her life around them, both as a librarian and a writer. Her books aren't due out anywhere soon, but she's trying. You can find her site at

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