It seems mystery is more mysterious and thrills more thrilling if set in a foreign place and time. Anyone who doesn’t believe that hasn’t read Joe Gannon’s impressive debut novel, NIGHT OF THE JAGUAR.
The novel is set in Nicaragua in 1986, the mid-point for the Sandinista revolution. That volatile environment shaped Captain Ajax Montoya, homicide detective and classic man-without-a-country. Montoya, the novel’s investigator protagonist, was conceived in Nicaragua but born and raised in America. So even after fighting for years with the Sandinista revolutionaries he was still neither Nicaraguan nor American. Neither, yet both, and as Gannon explains, a classic noir hero.
“Like all such detectives he has a flawless moral compass,” Gannon says. “It always points true north, but that is both curse and, well, pretty much just curse. But he is the last one on earth who would view himself a hero. In fact, much of what others see as heroic he sees as a source of shame: killing and sending others to their deaths.”
Much of that killing was for a good cause, the overthrow of tyranny, but that is no solace to a man living with the damage done to his soul from so much sustained violence. So when a corpse turns up in a poor barrio it shakes Montoya to his core.
”Murder in Nicaragua in the 1980’s was very rare,” Gannon says. “There was a lot of political violence, but comparatively very little murder. The murder depicted would’ve been major news.”
The case is Montoya’s to solve, but this no ordinary police procedural thanks to the unique setting. This murder is connected to a war and an insurgency sponsored by a foreign power. And at the time Nicaragua was an under-developed country with few forensic tools and one medical examiner in the whole nation, so little scientific police work was done.
Gannon knows the landscape, and the time period about which he writes. He was a freelance journalist in Nicaragua during the Sandinista Revolution. He also covered the civil war in El Salvador and the U.S. invasion of Panama. He admits that the transition to fiction was a long one, beginning while he was in Central America.
“I began writing letters home in which I would fictionalize some of my experiences for my friends,” Gannon says. “In the beginning none of them realized I was making it up. They mostly responded, ‘Damn, the shit that happens to you!’ But moving from letters to a novel took many years, mostly due to a long apprenticeship writing screenplays, which never paid that much so I turned to fiction for the joy of it.”
Gannon is fully a novelist now, so you’ll want to get in on the ground floor of this unique detective series. The next Ajax Montoya novel will take him to El Salvador, the one country whose death squads are so homicidal they scare even him!
But if you enjoy the worlds of John LeCarre, and like to follow the adventures of Jack Reacher, you’ll want to start at ground zero of this hot new series. Read NIGHT OF THE JAGUAR.
Joe Gannon, writer and spoken word artist, was a freelance journalist in Nicaragua during the Sandinista Revolution. He also covered the civil war in El Salvador and the U.S. invasion of Panama. Since then his writing has appeared in the Los Angeles Times, The Independent (London), The Valley Advocate, and the Daily Hampshire Gazette. He spent three years in the army, graduated from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, and earned his MFA from Pine Manor College. After a stint teaching high school in Abu Dhabi, he now lives in Western MA, at work on his second installment of the Ajax Montoya Series.
To learn more about Joe, please visit his website.
Photography credit: Paul Shoul