The Path of the Tapir by Michael Jarvis is a novel of suspense exploring grief and the fatal consequences of the wrong paths crossing.
The majority of the narrative follows Phil Millege, a private investigator, hired by a Palm Oil company to settle the issue of the mysterious deaths of two American tourists on their property in Costa Rica. From Millege’s perspective we are introduced to the Sierpe area of Costa Rica thrown into secrecy after two young women died and an expat, well known to the area, vanished. All interested parties are quick to draw a link between the disastrous fire and the missing expat and this is where Jarvis begins to interweave and interplay multiple narratives encompassing the past and present.
And so, we enter a game played across a vast area in which Millege and the colleagues he finds in the locals, a rogue third party agent and the expat all fight for both the truth and a result. For one, this is an eye for an eye, for another it is the truth and for the last, it is the hope to live with some semblance of freedom again. Unlike many contemporary thrillers, Jarvis is not afraid to centre human complexity. The Path of the Tapir is not about the action, senseless death and the swift serving of justice but, as paralleled in the tale of a ‘danta’ (a tapir and her baby), Jarvis’ novel focuses on our wish to save the world and yet destroy it simultaneously through our wants, actions and regrets.
Even with suspense and action at its forefront, this novel is really about grief and our desire for answers – seen in both a father’s cut-throat decision to find the person he believes responsible for his daughter’s death and Millege’s visit to the Circle of Light, a new-age institution promising its visitors the chance to reach peace with their inner demons. Therefore, although I approached this novel as one of mystery and action, by the end, I revelled in Jarvis’ exploration of humanity and how it prompts both death and new beginnings.