The Jaguar Hunter

The Jaguar Hunter

by Lucius Shepard

Four Walls Eight Windows

This collection of short stories is an exciting and exotic experience. Every single one is set in an unexpected locale — from the heights of Katmandu to the jungles of Guatemala, Lucius Shepard manages to not only paint a vivid environment, but carefully weave it into the tale he spins. And if the strange locales aren’t enough to pique your interest, Shepard’s knack for the subtly supernatural is a formidable force; as a reader, you feel like a tourist finding yourself way over your head in a place where you’re not exactly on sure footing. Take for example “The Night of the White Bhairab,” where a disaffected American expatriate in the Himalayan foothills finds himself enmeshed in a battle between the native spirits and a foolishly imported poltergeist. Shepard’s description of Aimée Cousineau’s possessive spirit — “her eyes were dead-black ovals” — gave me shivers I haven’t felt since I first read Lovecraft.

Which is an apt touchpoint. Like Lovecraft, Shepard’s spirits are more than just supernatural — they’re terrifying and unearthly. A vicious elemental wind becomes infatuated with a young writer in Cape Cod, brutally disposing of an entire town in order to guarantee its unwilling master’s attentions. A pair of parallel-universe Nazi experiments not only disrupt the cozy indolence of a Mediterranean resort town, but unleash a horror far worse than could be expected of this universe’s Third Reich. I lost a couple nights of sleep pondering the alternate reality of “A Spanish Lesson,” which features a Hitler not quite dead and not quite alive, commanding a squadron of implacable ghasts.

Though all the stories here are unsettling, not all is gruesome and horrific. The title tale is a beautifully rendered parable of man against mythology, as a dispossessed indio is forced to hunt a supernatural black jaguar in order to pay off his rootless wife’s debt for a battery-powered television. “The Man Who Painted the Dragon Griaule” is a fantastic story about a con man whose swindling art becomes real art, unfortunately at a great cost to the world. Finally, “Radiant Green Star,” a novella which won Shepard a Nebula award, is a masterful blend of human frailty and cyberpunk, something I haven’t read since William Gibson’s early days.

Every single story here will imprint vivid memories in your mind — some will be gut-wrenching sensations of fear, others masterfully-painted visions of exotic places and unnatural forces. No matter what, you’ll turn the last page with no doubt of Shepard’s mastery.

Four Walls Eight Windows: http://www.4w8w.com

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