This is the second of two installments in recognition of Hispanic Heritage Month. The annual celebration, from Sept. 15 to Oct. 15, acknowledges the contributions of Hispanics to the United States, including those in the literary arts. Here are three Hispanic writers – Manuel Ramos, Diana López and Zoraida Córdova.
Ramos is a veteran Chicano mystery writer whose latest book is “Angels in the Wind: A Mile High Noir.” It’s Ramos’ fourth in a series featuring Agustín “Gus” Corral, an ex-con, now a no-nonsense Denver-based private investigator. Family is central to “Angels in the Wind.” Gus heads to Colorado’s Eastern Plains to meet with a cousin, George Montoya, about his 17-year-old son Matías, or Mat, who has run off. Again. Mat usually disappears for a few days, then returns home to the small community of Melton, Colorado. Not this time.
What worries George is that Mat has been gone for a month and there’s still no word from him. Melton’s part-time police chief has already put out an alert for Mat but has come up empty-handed. Gus talks with George, George’s sister Essie and police chief Rob López to get the lay of the land and he interviews some of Melton’s residents about Mat. There’s Yvonne Cleary, whom Mat had dated, con man Wes Delgado and high school teacher Susan O’Brien. Almost everyone has kind words to say about Mat except Yvonne’s parents, whose attitude toward Mexican Americans is veiled in racism.
Soon a moment of positive news pops up in a cell phone message, apparently from Mat, to his sister Alicia and his buddy Connor: “HEY, WHAT’S UP? I’M ON THE ROAD STILL. BE HOME SOON.”
The Montoyas – George, Essie, and their mom Felisa – are relieved and elated. They think the message is from Mat. Gus is smart enough to be skeptical.
Soon Gus follows up on a tip that Mat may have fled to a shelter for runaways in Pueblo, Colorado. He learns that Mat had been helping victims of a cross-border human trafficking operation. Mat’s good deeds may be putting himself in jeopardy. A frustrated Gus still can’t locate him in Pueblo, though he himself gets into trouble with the traffickers.
Ramos packs plenty of action and snappy dialogue that drive the story.
He also has a knack for inserting compact physical descriptions of characters. Here’s one of Felisa: “The wrinkled yellowish woman snored slightly. Broken front teeth and the tip of a pale tongue peeked through a smile the old woman wore while she slept.”
The book’s title comes from an observation by Toni, Gus’ fleeting love interest, who runs the Pueblo shelter. She tells Gus that Mat had stayed a few days at the shelter and left in a hurry: “Said he had places to be, people to see. I assumed he was going home, but who knows? These kids move around like angels in the wind.”
Gus returns to Melton to sniff for more answers about Mat. His doggedness eventually lead to a tense and surprising coterie of bad guys.
Ramos’ “The Ballad of Rocky Ruiz” was an Edgar Award finalist and his “My Bad: A Mile High Noir” was a Shamus Award finalist.
Growing up in small-town Colorado, Ramos remembers reading the classic crime writers – Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett, James M. Cain and others.
“Since then, I’ve tried to keep up with the mystery genre as I can,” he said.
Earlier in his writing life, Ramos talked with Albuquerque’s Rudolfo Anaya, who was himself the author of a mystery series, about what it meant to be a Mexican American writing crime in the United States. “He was a very generous man, helpful to writers. He was there if you needed to talk to somebody,” Ramos said in a phone interview about the late Anaya.
Ramos was also the recipient of Anaya’s generosity in another form: He spent seven days, free of charge, at Anaya’s cabin retreat in the Jemez while working on an early draft of a novel. Ramos, a Denver resident, was recently inducted into the Colorado Authors Hall of Fame. He is also a retired lawyer.
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Diana López is the author of “Sing with Me/Canta conmigo,” a book, published in English and in Spanish, about the famed singer Selena Quintanilla.
The picture book, for ages 4-8, is about the rise to stardom of the late Queen of Tejano music.
The book shows Selena, known by her first name, with an uncanny social skill to connect with people and bring them together through her performances.
López has written many novels for middle graders. A retired professor of English, she lives in Corpus Christi, Texas. The book’s illustrator is Teresa Martinez, who resides in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico.
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Zoraida Córdova’s novel “The Inheritance of Orquídea Divina” is about a family’s search for the truth hidden in its past and the supposed magical powers family members have inherited. Orquídea invites them to her funeral to collect their inheritance. But when Orquídea is transformed, the family is left with her buried secrets and broken promises. Córdova, a native of Ecuador, lives in New York City.
The book, her adult fiction debut, is being promoted to fans of Alice Hoffman and Isabel Allende.
A review by Kali Fajardo Anstine described the novel as “an immersive and enchanting treat.”Córdova also writes romance novels as Zoey Castile.