Author:M. C. Tuggle

Publisher:The Novel Fox, LLC

ISBN: 978-1-68042-002-9 (ebook, epub)

ISBN: 978-1-68042-004-3 (ebook, mobi)

In the world of Dr. Jonathan Barrett, a professor of archaeology at the. University of Texas at Austin specializing in pre-Columbian weapons, whether a shiv is produced by flint knapping percussion or pressure flaking with oak sticks is a matter on which reputations and lives depend. Dr. Barrett deals with this and other less academic matters during his brief trip to Mexico on assignment by the U.S. State Department for the purpose of tracking down Emperor Ahuitzotl’s sacrificial knife, a weapon thought in certain quarters to possess supernatural powers. As the doctor will be billeted in Cuernavaca, a relatively posh and secure oasis in the Mexican dystopia, he feels comfortable bringing along his wife Susanna, who will spend her time crash-coursing Spanish.

Do not think for a moment that Dr. Barrett is some absent-minded professor horn-rimming his way among the ruins. During the course of M.C. Tuggle’s fast-paced novella, our doctor displays a degree of daring-do and physical prowess that Tom Cruise would be hard-pressed to portray on his most impossible missions. Barrett’s antagonists include a motley mixture of drug dealers (Hermanito and the Chapos, not a rock band), vigilantes, and official fuzz.

As it is against the club rules for a reviewer to spill beans about the plot of a book that consists of very little else, let me say that fans of the Dick Wolf “oeuvre” (Law & Order and its several offshoots) will feel comfortably at home with The Aztec Midnight. Indeed, the length and depth of the story could be grist for the TV mill. Tuggle skillfully ends most his sections with hooks redolent of the weekly movie suspense serials that provided filler between Saturday matinee double features.

Another advantage of having this first-person, past-tense, story presented visually is that some of the novel’s more tired vocabulary choices (stomachs knot, hearts skip beats, cold tremors run down the back, skins crawl, the hero stops in his tracks, etc.) would be lost in media translation. Fairness requires identification of exceptions, e.g., “Thick vines dripped from the trees like eels.” Not bad.

Of questionable importance in a work orientated more toward action than in-depth character development—the sexual relationship between husband and wife is limited to “he drew her close”—is the observation that in some instances, rudimentary rules of grammar are compromised. For example, consider the following:

A nervous finger poked at the wad of white cotton gloves until it partially unraveled. His mouth opened involuntarily at the sight of it.” One has to read on to learn what “it” is. Almost as puzzling as what “is” “is.”

Similar problem with: “A public trashcan sat on a corner, and I hurried to it and hid both under some papers.” Of course we know that trashcans and corners can’t be hid under papers, but the correct antecedents are too far away.

That’s when I decided I couldn’t afford to mess around any more and poke him one.” Clarity requires either adding “to” before “poke” or changing “poke” to “poked.”

But, quibbles aside, for those who are either tired of familiar action film fare or who are having trouble with their cable connections, The Aztec Midnight provides a quick and easy adventure in an exotic locale.