Death at Solstice
by Lucha Corpi

Arte Publico Press, 2009. ISBN 978-1-558-85547-2.
Reviewed by Penny Leisch
Posted on 03/23/2010

Fiction: Multi-Cultural; Fiction: Historical; Fiction: Mystery

Death at Solstice by Lucha Corpi blends an exciting combination of inexplicable accidents, thefts, ghosts, a ghost horse that belonged to an infamous bandit named Joaquin Murrieta, and a woman thought to be a saint. The story builds quickly and moves faster and faster. All the while, Gloria Damasco must attempt to figure out where her latest vision fits into the puzzle. Whose dark eyes are watching her? Who is the phantom horse and rider? Why does she feel as if she's trapped underwater?

Gloria Damasco is a private investigator with enough clairvoyant ability to help her solve cases and just enough doubt not to trust her intuition entirely. In Premonitory Predispositions, she explains that most people don't understand clairvoyance, which she refers to as her dark gift.

...My visions weren't a tidied bunch of related scenes laid out, like a classic story, in a linear narrative. They varied from images to smells and sounds that bombarded my dreams. My subconscious somehow sorted them out and stored them until, if ever, I worked on a related case.

Nevertheless, life is relatively normal most days, for someone who is shot at from time to time. Her new husband, Justin, is also a PI, and their relationship is mature, healthy, loving, and realistic. In fact, all of the characters behave credibly and even have credible faults—including the heroes, witches, and smugglers.

The first thing that impressed me about Corpi's writing is that I didn't feel lost, even though this is the third Gloria Damasco mystery. There was no need to go back and catch up. You won't miss all the fun of the wedding in a previous book either. Just wait until you read about the Baker from Hell that ran away with the wedding cake. You'll feel like you are among the guests watching the bride chasing the cake and the mariachis chasing the bride, while the Rockin' Jalapeno Band continues to play. No one would want to miss that!

The second thing I noticed is intriguing California Gold Country cultural history and picturesque descriptions of California's Shenandoah Valley, woven around a protagonist who is a strong, successful woman. She is also self-employed in a challenging non-traditional career. What's more, Gloria Damasco is recently married, physically active, and heading into menopause. Some reviews refer to Gloria as Hispanic. Others say Chicana. Either way, Gloria is a woman to admire. This book has all the features of the latest boomer lit without excess drama, which means men will also enjoy it.

Death at Solstice is an excellent story, and I look forward to reading more by Corpi. The one area that will give some readers a problem is the frequent use of Spanish. Many long passages have no translation, and that's a major interruption in the story for those who don't speak Spanish. Of course, the same is true for Spanish speakers, who may find constant translation to be intrusive. For the audience with Spanish language skills or a Hispanic heritage, the story offers familiar language and cultural behavior, along with an intriguing mystery. For those without Spanish language skills, you can still enjoy the story. It's also an entertaining way to learn more cultural history.

Texas readers may be interested to know that Arte Publico Press at the University of Houston published all five of Corpi's books. Death at Solstice is possible because of grants from the City of Houston through the Houston Arts Alliance and the Exemplar Program, a program of Americans for the Arts in collaboration with the LarsonAllen Public Services Group, funded by the Ford Foundation. You can read more about the mission of Arte Publico Press on Facebook.

Lucha Corpi taught school in Oakland, CA for over 30 years. She also writes poetry, novels, and children's books. In addition to the Gloria Damasco mysteries, she introduced Dora Saldana and Brown Angel Investigations in 2004. Corpi is a Berkley graduate, and another novel, Delia's Song, takes place during the tumultuous days of the Third World Liberation Strike at UC Berkeley. She has won numerous awards, including a National Endowment for the Arts fellowship. Learn more on her website.

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