In the depths of the jungle lie mysteries drenched in blood. Before the night is over, blood will be shed, and only one man—or monster—will survive.
If you were to run down a checklist of pulp adventure clichés, you'd get a perfect score with the opening to the book. Dr. Jennifer Pascal, the sole woman on the expedition, is both stunningly beautiful and ridiculously oblivious to the fact. Her father, Dr. Heathcliff Pascal, is the ailing, elderly scientist enjoying one last expedition before his retirement. His loyalties divided between the two Pascals, Ethan Foster is the dashing young action hero who is destined to win the day and the girl.
With that said, the settings here are fantastic, with just enough detail to make them come alive. We begin the story in the jungle, at night, surrounded by beasts heard but unseen. It creates a perfect atmosphere for the arrival of the massive jaguar, but Ethan's heroic triumph is almost immediately softened by an awkward stab at romance with Jennifer. Our first look at the Temple de Sangre is well done as well, and I loved the fact that Faherty had one of his anthropologists asks the same question I was asking - “How come nobody’s ever found this place before?”
Getting back to the idea of clichés for a moment, Hector Veracruz is the “ignorant savage” who leads the white men into danger, and then gleefully turns traitor and proposes sacrificing them to his angry Jaguar gods. Of course, you can't have a clichéd pulp sacrifice without it being a proper virgin sacrifice, but I will give Faherty full credit for legitimately surprising me with how that element played out.
Where the story abandons those pulp clichés and makes its transition into some very effective supernatural horror is with the arrival of the High Priestess. It's a legitimate turning point for the story, with multiple monsters layered into the tale. It all leads up to what we expect to be a clichéd pulp adventure climax, but which incorporates some nice twists, a genuine surprise, and an unexpected triumph. In a sense, I'm actually glad Faherty played it straight for the first half, because I don't think the ending would have worked so well were it not for the shift/twist.
Cult of the Black Jaguar isn't a classic by any means, but it's shift into supernatural horror definitely won me over in the end.
Expected publication: March 3rd 2015 by Samhain Publishing Ltd Horror