Four suspenseful southwestern mystery novels featuring a Chicano PI in New Mexico, by the “extraordinary” author of Bless Me, Ultima (Los Angeles Times Book Review).
These four novels starring detective Sonny Baca are set against the lush terrain of the American Southwest, blending its Spanish, Mexican, and Native American cultures.
Zia Summer: Sonny Baca’s cousin Gloria is brutally slain, her body found drained of blood with a Zia sun sign—the symbol on the New Mexican flag—carved on her stomach. His quest to find her killer leads Baca across New Mexico’s diverse South Valley to an environmental compound and a terrifying brujo.
Rio Grande Fall: A woman plummets to her death from a hot air balloon during Albuquerque’s famous Balloon Fiesta—and Baca recognizes it as no accident.
Shaman Winter: Baca, confined to a wheelchair after a violent encounter, is haunted by chilling dreams, but has no other choice than to go to work when the Santa Fe mayor’s teenage daughter disappears and the trail leads to a charismatic and dangerous shaman.
Jemez Spring: A high-profile murder ignites a hotbed of political treachery and terrorist threats that take Baca to Los Alamos, pitting him against a formidable foe and a nuclear bomb.
Unrelentingly suspenseful, with vivid details of the physical and spiritual landscape of northern New Mexico, these mysteries are perfect for fans of Margaret Coel or James D. Doss.
About the Author
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The Sonny Baca Novels
Zia Summer, Rio Grande fall, Shamen winter, and Jemez Spring
By Rudolfo Anaya
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 2005 Rudolfo Anaya
All rights reserved.
Sonny awakened to the sound of a chain saw and felt it slicing through his leg. He kicked out wildly as the searing chain ripped through flesh and bone. A cry of pain tore from his throat, and as he jumped back to escape his tormentor, the nightmare faded.
"Chin-gaaa-o," he groaned, reaching down to massage his numb leg.
Outside the buzz of a chain saw tore through the morning silence. He sat up, remembering that don Eliseo had been talking all spring about cutting down the big cottonwood that grew in his front yard.
Sonny shook the cobwebs of sleep and rubbed his leg. It was okay, just a bad dream, but who was the woman? Lord, she was good-looking. A dark gown hugged her curves, revealing long legs, lots of cleavage, lips glowing ripe as cactus fruit, green eyes like hot jade, a seductive, alluring voice. But as he reached out, she raised a chain saw and whacked at him. Sonny had felt the slash and blood oozing from his leg.
It was his left leg, the foot he had broken while bulldogging two years ago. He looked down and expected to see blood, the scene in the nightmare had been so vivid.
Outside the gas saw sputtered then died. He had promised don Eliseo he would help cut down the old tree, but he had been too busy. Too lazy, he admonished himself, to help my neighbor. What's a vecino for?
The woman in the dream had meant to kill him; her lunge was forceful, aimed right between his legs. A spurned woman from his past? No, he wasn't that kind of guy. He always parted on good terms with women. And it had been years since he had rented the Texas chain-saw murder video. So why the hell a nightmare full of chain-saw gore and violence?
He didn't like it. A dream like that meant no good. His mother believed dreams predicted the future. There was the grim flash of death in the woman's eyes as she swung the saw at him.
"Too much party time," he mumbled as he looked out his window into the bright blue skies of a clear Río Grande morning. Soon the solstice would officially mark summer, but already the heat had been relentless. The clear light hung over the valley, scintillating on the cottonwood leaves.
"Marry me," Rita had whispered last night, "I'm tired of letting you have it for free. It's time you settled down."
"Yes. You're not getting any younger!"
"I'm only thirty. Too young to settle down."
They had gone to her place after dancing, and as they made love she whispered, "Eres un cabrón, but I love you."
She was great in bed, but it was more than that, he had to admit. Her love was the most satisfying he had found since his divorce. It was more than just sex; he worried he might really be falling for her.
Was it Rita who appeared in the nightmare? No, of course not, it was another woman, someone threatening. Pues, getting married could be threatening, he thought. If he married Rita he would have to give up the lady friends he had cultivated the past two years.
Sonny prized his freedom. It was the ability to call his own shots that had attracted him to take up with Manuel Lopez a few years ago and learn how to be a private investigator. Or perhaps it was the fact that Sonny's great-grandfather, El Bisabuelo, was Elfego Baca, the most famous lawman New Mexico ever produced. True, more people knew about Pat Garrett, the sheriff who killed Billy the Kid in old Fort Sumner on the night of July 14, 1881, but that was only because history wasn't fair.
Of the two sheriffs, Elfego Baca had been more interesting, more complex. Sonny felt a special kinship to his Bisabuelo.
Or, and this he didn't like to admit even to himself, perhaps he had become a private investigator because in his daydreams he saw himself as a hero. In his fantasies he was always doing something heroic, putting down the evildoer or rescuing women from perilous situations. His mind was always active, always creating stories, and he was the hero of each story.
Whatever the reasons, he endured the lousy take-home pay because that way he could be his own boss. He came and went as he pleased, took just enough cases to make a living, and had not given a thought to the future until Rita came along.
She wants me to marry her and help her run Rita's Cocina, he thought to himself. "I'm not a taco pusher! Sure, I like her cooking. ..."
Rita's image appeared before him. "That's not all you like," she said. "You like to make love to me."
She was brown, a soft, sexy tan, like the earth of the valley after rain. Her long, jet-black hair fell in cascades over her round shoulders. She put her hands on her hips and swung them slowly.
"Yes, but I like to make love to all the women," he answered with a gleam.
"You think you're a big stud. Mr. Macho Man" — she glared back — "but I'm going to tame you!"
"I'm not a horse!" he shouted.
"You're a coyote from the hills," she said as her image dissolved.
Sonny swung his legs free of the sheet. "Chingao," he said as he jumped up, stumbled to the window, and pulled up the blinds.
He sniffed the air. The calm, hot morning was heavy with the aroma of green leaves, alive with the twittering of sparrows outside the window, the darting flight of the swallows from the river. He smelled coffee brewing, tortillas cooking on a comal, beans boiling, and simmering green chile: the aromas of home and peace. Why, in the midst of tranquility, a horrible dream?
Across the narrow dirt street don Eliseo was directing operations as his grandson, who had restarted the saw, pushed it into the tough, gray bark of the old alamo. The giant cottonwood was over ten feet in circumference; its dark, gnarled branches rose high into the sky. It had been witness to the last hundred years of history in the village of Los Ranchitos in the North Valley of Alburquerque. Its spreading branches had shaded don Eliseo's family for many generations.
But over the years this old valley cottonwood had succumbed to disease, and now it was June and there were still no leaves showing in its age-worn branches.
"Trees get cancer, just like people," don Eliseo said, "or their livers and hearts grow weak. Just like people." So he mixed well-cured cow manure and bonemeal in water from the acequia, and each day he poured some of the healing solution into the holes around the drip line of the giant tree.
Sometimes Sonny would see the old man with his ear pressed against the tree, like a doctor listening to the heartbeat of a patient.
He stuck his head out the window and shouted, "Hey! Don't you know it's Sunday? A day of rest!"
Don Eliseo turned and waved. "Buenos días te de Dios, Sonny. It's not Sunday, it's Friday. Come and have some coffee."
Don Eliseo kept chairs and a small barbecue grill under the tree. He made coffee early in the morning, and in the summer he cooked breakfast and supper there.
"Be right over," Sonny called. "Soon as I shower."
The tough bark of the tree had kicked the chain off the bar of the saw, and don Eliseo's grandson was now taking the saw apart to fix it. No way was the young man going to make a dent in the tree, Sonny thought.
He groaned and stumbled toward his small kitchen, then paused in front of his hallway mirror. He smiled at his image and bared his teeth. He had a handsome set of teeth, even, made hard and white by the calcium-rich South Valley water. Good Mexican teeth, his mother said. He had been in his share of fights in South Valley bars after he graduated from high school, but he never lost a tooth, and his aquiline nose hadn't been broken. His eyes were dark chestnut in the light. Women liked his long eyelashes.
"You're tan all over," a gringa once exclaimed in surprise.
"What did you expect?" he answered.
The Nuevo Mexicanos had been in the Río Grande for centuries, so Indian blood flowed in their veins.
And lots of other genes, Sonny thought. Not only the history of Spain but the history of the Nile was his inheritance. In the summer when he tanned dark from swimming, some of his friends said he looked Arabic. Maybe he had a drop of Jewish blood, too, the legacy of the crypto Jews who came to New Mexico with the Oñate expedition centuries before. The Marranos, the Catholics called them. He probably also carried French-Canadian trapper blood, German merchant blood, Navajo, Apache, you name it, the Río Grande was the center of a trading route. Here a grand mestizo mixture took place. The Nile of the desert Southwest. All bloods ran as one in the coyotes of Nuevo Mexico.
The gabachitas loved his color, the Chicanas didn't find it unusual. He touched the dimple on his square chin. His mother said he had the square, no-nonsense chin of the Bacas. She was a Jaramillo from La Joya, Diana Jaramillo, a proud woman.
"You are a handsome devil," he said, smiling at himself. He also got the dark, curly hair from his father's side of the family. His father, Apolonio Baca, Polito everybody called him, was from the Baca family of Socorro County, the grandson of Elfego Baca.
The Chicanos of New Mexico knew the stories of Elfego Baca's escapades, and the story most remembered was when he stood up to a bunch of abusive Texas cowboys in the little village of Middle San Francisco Plaza, or Frisco, in southwestern New Mexico in 1884.
That was Elfego's first gunfight high up in the Tularosa Mountains. He put on a badge when nobody else would, and in a scene straight out of High Noon, he arrested Charlie McCarty. When Charlie's friends came to threaten Baca, he shot William Hurn and forced the wild gang of cowboys to back down.
El Bisabuelo had carried a .45-caliber single-action Colt, the same pistol that had been passed down to Sonny's father and that now belonged to Sonny. He had a license to carry the pistol, and since he'd started working as a private investigator he kept it in an old leather holster in the glove compartment of his truck. Unlike El Bisabuelo, Sonny had never had the occasion to use it.
In the bathroom Sonny glanced into the mirror again. Women told him he was handsome. Six feet, trim and muscular, he kept himself in shape by running as often as he could on the dirt trails along the acequia. Once a week he did weights at the gym. But thirty was nagging at him. He pounded his stomach, still flat, but he knew when he ate too much junk food it grew round and soft. Also when he partied too much or drank too much beer.
Got to watch the beer, he thought as he headed for the shower. Maybe it was time to settle down.
He showered and shaved, then slipped into an old black T-shirt, a pair of jeans, and a comfortable pair of work boots. Three years ago he had taken up rodeoing on weekends to kill time while the divorce was settled. The boots were a prize he won for steer wrestling. That was the sport that challenged him. He relished the excitement of slipping off the horse, grabbing the horns of the steer, and wrestling it to the ground. He liked to test his strength and agility.
One Sunday afternoon on the Bernalillo County sheriff's rodeo grounds, an ornery steer with a twisted horn had broken Sonny's hold, then turned and gored him. The horn ripped into Sonny's left ankle, broke bones and severed tendons. It had taken almost a year for the wound to heal. Sonny still limped slightly, and even now when he pulled on his boots he favored the foot.
When a storm system came over the valley or on cold winter days he felt the pain hidden deep in the bones of his left foot, a weather thermometer he tried not to notice. Aching bones were for old people, he scoffed, but there it was, reminding him he could not run as fast as he used to when he was scoring touchdowns at Rio Grande High.
"But I can still dance up a storm," he said to himself.
And he loved women, which is why his marriage to Angela never worked. He blamed himself for the divorce. He knew he had turned to Angie after his first true love left him. He had sought to repeat the lost passion in Angie and discovered not all women are alike.
He had partied a lot after he broke up with Angie. From the South Valley bars where he drank with his old high school friends to the North Valley, from the few bars up in West Central to the fancy places up in the Northeast Heights. It was all the same: young singles, and some married, looking for action. Looking for themselves.
After Angie, bulldogging had obsessed him. There was something about bringing down the animal that satisfied him. He thought that if he had been born in Spain or Mexico he would have been a matador, facing the bull on foot with only a cape.
But this was Nuevo México, land of no-bullshit vaqueros, and so he learned to slide off his horse, drop down to grab the steer's horns and twist the head until the six hundred pounds came down. He loved the sweet smell of horse sweat, saddle leather, his own smell after an afternoon's ride. The arena, the cowboys, and the horse shit were real.
"A lot of bulldoggers have had the steer come down on them," he thought aloud. "Many a cowboy walks with a limp."
Maybe that was another reason why his first marriage hadn't worked. He liked the extra challenges too much. He spent all his free time doing something physical, tuning his body, keeping it in shape, and drinking with the boys. Maybe that's why teaching didn't satisfy him. He had gotten his degree from UNM and taught a few years at Valley High, but he found the classroom too confining. So he had quit to learn what he could about being a private investigator from Manuel Lopez.
He had gotten into a few tight scrapes, but he had never felt the sting of mortality until the steer gored him. Then something new and strange crept into his thoughts. The pain at night reminded him that he was vulnerable.
Before that, he played baseball in the summer and basketball in the winter. He took up skiing, tried hang gliding off the Sandia Crest, volunteered to help kids through the Police Athletic League, and finally realized he was into too many things because the marriage just wasn't working.
He wandered into the kitchen and flipped through the day-old newspaper. The spring had been so dry that bears looking for food were wandering down from the Sandias into the Northeast Heights. They poached garbage in backyard trash cans.
He glanced out the kitchen window. He had heard noises last night, strange noises. Bears didn't come this far into the valley, they were usually caught up in the Heights and taken back up in the mountains. Maybe hungry raccoons from the river.
The hot weather was upsetting the balance of things. The anti-WIPP groups were threatening action if the Department of Energy went ahead with the proposed Waste Isolation Pilot Plant test: transporting waste material laced with plutonium from Los Alamos Labs down to the WIPP site near Carlsbad. The editorial supported the test.
A picture of the mayor adorned the city section. Marisa Martinez, the incumbent, was still ahead of Frank Dominic, his cousin Gloria's husband, in the mayoral polls, but the race was heating up.
He flipped to the sports page. José Valencia was pitching tonight. The Dukes were leading the league. He had promised to take don Eliseo and his friends to a game before the summer was over.
He thought again of the images in the nightmare. He would have to tell Rita about it. Somebody had tried to kill him in his dream. That wasn't good. Rita would know what it meant; she could interpret dreams. A woman wants to kill you, which means to get power over you, she would say. She went for your pingo. You better watch out, Sonny Baca.
"Coffee." Sonny heard his stomach growl. "I need some of don Eliseo's coffee."
He was just about to step outside when the phone rang.
"Sonny, I need you to come quickly!" a woman's voice said.
Sonny recognized his tía Delfina's voice. She never called.
"Qué pasa?" he asked.
"Gloria's dead. Somebody murdered her."
"Gloria —" He felt a tremor in his gut. No, it can't be. "Tía —" he began again, but she cut in.
"She's dead, Sonny, Frank just called me. They found her this morning. She was murdered last night. I want you to take me there."
"Murdered?" Sonny shook his head. What the hell was going on? "Did you call —"
"Yes, I called your mother. There's nothing she can do. I have to see my daughter. I want you to take me there."
"Yes, yes," he replied, still not believing the words he was hearing, but feeling the shock spreading through his body. His cousin Gloria dead? It wasn't possible.
"I'll be waiting," his aunt said, and the phone went dead.
Excerpted from The Sonny Baca Novels by Rudolfo Anaya. Copyright © 2005 Rudolfo Anaya. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
Rio Grande Fall,
Part I: The Shaman Dreams,
Part II: Solstice Time,
Part III: The Shaman's Guide,
A Biography of Rudolfo Anaya,