By Judith Yates Borger
Alright, I admit it. One of the reasons I like White Tombs by Christopher Valen is because it's set in St. Paul but it's not because I live in Minneapolis. It's because Valen's tale introduced me to a section of town that was fully foreign to me, Hispanic West St. Paul. For all I knew about this part of the Twin Cities, not 10 miles from where I live, it could be Kuala Lampur.
White Tombs is full of detail about the Twin Cities' burgeoning Hispanic
community. He even drops in a fair amount of Spanish, which he either
translates to English, or gives enough context that translation is
He has one of the better first paragraphs I've read in a while: "Julio Perez sat in a swivel chair behind the mahogany desk in the study of his house on St. Paul's West Side. His eyes were closed and his left cheek was resting on the desktop. Were it not for the bullet hole in his head, one could have assumed he had merely fallen asleep."
Valen's protagonist is Detective John Santana, who obviously is looking for the killer, but just as important has his own demons to exorcise. So as not to have to issue a spoiler alert I won't go into more detail, but suffice it to say, Santana's motivation works well with Valen's plot.
My only complaint about this, Valen's first mystery, is that he uses too many similes. On those occasions he lets writing get in the way of his story telling. That said, he gets off some lovely phrasing, such as he "navigated the slippery sidewalk like a soldier crossing a minefield." And, "the headmaster's secretary, a heavy-set, fifty-something woman who had probably settled for her second choice after considering the nunnery." And "eclipse had turned the full moon into a drop of blood lying on a dark sheet." He also has a white-knuckled chase scene at the end.
I look forward to reading more of Valen's work. White Tombs is published by Conquill Press. Go to www.christophervalen.com for more information.