Friday, May 3, 2019

Forgotten Books: ZORRO AND THE THE JAGUAR WARRIORS by Jerome Preisler (1998)

Back in 1998, with the Fox so Cunning and Free about to make his big screen return in The Mark of Zorro, one of my favorite heroes was enjoying a renaissance. Topps was publishing a comic book series penned by Don McGregor, a couple of non-fiction books came out, there was a new Big Little Book, a series of juvenile novels started up, Johnston McCulley's original novel was reprinted . . . and Forge introduced a series of new paperback adventures.

The first of these Forge paperbacks (there would be three) was Zorro and the Jaguar Warriors by Jerome Preisler. I knew nothing of Preisler then, or three days ago, when I started the book, but have since learned he had several other books under his belt - tie-ins with the TV series Homicide: Life on the Street, Mortal Kombat and the Bruce Willis film Last Man Standing (which was supposedly loosely based on Hammett's Red Harvest). In the years since he has written CSI and NCIS tie-ins and a bunch of books about Tom Clancy characters. Based on my experience with Zorro and the Jaguar Warriors, I do not plan on reading any of them. 

This book is a very mixed bag. Sure, it was the first new Zorro novel published in more than fifty years (aside from a 1958 juvenile), which is an enormous plus. Also on the plus side, it's based on the Disney version of the character. His true identity is Don Diego de la Vega (Johnston McCulley called him merely Don Diego Vega), and it features Sergeant Garcia (a Disney staple absent from the early pulp stories). Comandante Monasterio is also on hand, and dumb-but-not-deaf Bernardo is presented as he appeared on TV. Don Diego's relationship with his father, Don Alejandro, is also nicely done, and Zorro/Don Diego's dialogue (at least early in the book) seems well-suited to Guy Williams. And the book has a fine (but underutilized) cover painting by Julie Bell, accompanied by a shiny Disney-style Z.

Actually, the first half of the book was reasonably enjoyable. After that, I started finding faults, then more faults, and by the end it was an extremely tedious affair.

Part of the problem was point of view. Anyone buying this wanted to read about Zorro, not a bunch of bit-players. But out of 215 pages only about fifty are in Zorro/Don Diego's close POV. A few more are technically in that category, but are practically omniscient, with the thoughts of other characters inserted willy-nilly. And even in the closest POV passages, our hero is two-dimensional and remote.

Meanwhile, we delve far too deeply into the psyche of the damsel in distress, and spend way more time than we want in the wine-sotted head of Sergeant Garcia. And the villain. And one of his henchmen. And. And. And. 

In the beginning, the prose seemed okay, and there were some nicely-turned phrases. But it became increasingly purple, and eventually so convoluted that much of the action was dang near impossible to follow. I had to re-read several passages to figure out what was going on (and in some cases whose point of view we had drifted into). The poor execution gave me a headache. 

The story, too, got sillier as it progressed. The Jaguar Warriors' only role was to strut around and pose in garb made from jaguar skins. The villain, who employed some kind of mystical Asian mind-control to make the peons build him a pyramid, had a master plan that almost made sense for a while - and then it didn't. At all. 

Thankfully (I hope), the other two Forge books were written by different guys, David Bergantino and John Whitman. I'll just have to cross my fingers and give them a try.


Cap'n Bob said...

Didn't one of the Zorro serials feature cat men?

Evan Lewis said...

If so, it didn't have the real Zorro in it.