Perhaps it’s because I read this book in the week leading up to Halloween, or maybe it’s just because I was struck with a strangely morbid mood, but I’ve decided to perform a book autopsy instead of a standard review. A booktopsy? Yeah, I like it.
Wearing my standard booktopsy gear (camouflage lounge pants and my favorite Relay For Life hoodie) and snuggled in my comfy reading chair I gaze at the specimen before me. Any good autopsy starts with a general inspection, so my booktopsy will do the same. “When the Jaguar Sleeps” by J.A. Kalis is an adventure tale (a genre departure for me) with great potential. But the book-body on the slab appears to be missing it’s head! Decapitation? How does that happen to a book? Never fear, intrepid readers, I’ll come back to that in a moment.
The body of this book is healthy. It’s robust, well fleshed out and the bones of the story are strong. The main character, Didier, is on holiday in the Amazon, traveling by plane to a remote part of the rainforest with three other tourists, a guide and (obviously) the plane’s pilot. When their small plane crashes Didier finds that only he and one other tourist have survived, yet they’re stranded in the middle of the unforgiving rainforest and must try to reach the safety of civilization. Along the way they encounter gun-toting grave robbers and wild Indian tribes well-known for their murderous tendencies toward outsiders.
As I make the Y incision, I get a good look at the book’s heart. The author’s narrative is strong. I really felt like I was right there in the jungle with Didier and Florent. If J.A. Kalis hasn’t spent some quality time in the Amazon I’d be shocked. The descriptions were just so real! The oppressive greenery, the hot mists and the heavy jungle air… The jungle (and the author’s way of bringing it to life) are the lifeblood of this story.
So, how did this book die? Well, you might recall the little matter of its missing head? That’s the only excuse I can come up with for the stilted and stiff dialogue. An example: “We should mark this place, try to remember its location so that we can tell later other people where to look for it.” Initially I tried to tell myself that the quirks in the dialogue were intentional; English isn’t the native language for most of the characters in the story after all. But later, when the one American character makes his entrance and he speaks in the same fragmented voice, I knew my excuse wasn’t valid.
All autopsy puns aside, this is still an enjoyable read: 3.25 out of 5 stars. As I said, I loved the book’s body and it’s heart. I felt invested in Didier’s journey. It was really just the dialogue that detracted from the whole. With a little fine tuning it could be truly great. One additional warning: the ending was a little abrupt. It’s not quite a cliff-hanger, but you get the sense the author is planning the next saga and so the story is left hanging in limbo. Guess I’ll just wheel the tray over to cold-storage while we await the next book? Now, time to scrub up and prepare for my next patient…
Want to read it for yourself and decide? Check it out here.
**I received a copy of this book from the author which I then chose to voluntarily review**