Monday, May 02, 2005

Death of an Aztec Princess by Martin Limon

“Death of an Aztec Princess” by Martin Limon, Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine, June 2005

A young woman, a high-school senior, is missing. Her mother calls Gonzo Gonzales, a private eye in East L.A. Gonzo is the mother’s cousin, but the girl is like a daughter to him. The girl, Juanita, is pretty and smart. She’s a member of a folk-dance troupe and a Chicano activist. She’s late coming home from a rehearsal, and her mother is worried.

Gonzo finds her by following the police presence in El Cinco de Mayo Park, a place that is a haven for drug dealers. Now Gonzo is no longer looking for her, he’s looking for her murderer.

Gonzo searches Juanita’s room and finds about $500 in small bills along with a small notebook with cryptic entries of initials and dollar amounts. Juanita’s mother tells him that Juanita has been dating a drug dealer.

The police arrest Henry Carranza, an ex-boyfriend and leader of Los Diablitos, an East L.A. gang, on the testimony of a witness. The witness, Chuy the Squirrel, is a hanger-on, not a gang member but someone the gangs find useful to run errands.

Gonzo suspects that Henry is telling the truth when he says he didn’t kill Juanita. Gonzo finds Chuy and questions him. But Chuy is afraid of something. Gonzo gets knocked out and wakes up the center of attention for a number of the vatos of Los Diablitos. They tell him to meet Chuy alone and unarmed in the park and warn him to stay away from El Cinco after that. Then they make sure Gonzo knows they are serious.

During the meeting Chuy is killed by an unknown shooter who then chases Gonzo through the sewer system. Gonzo gets away.

While having breakfast the next morning, Gonzo figures out what the notebook and money mean. They are contributions to Juanita’s dance troupe from local businesses. This discovery leads him to Juanita’s murderer.

This story is well-written and well plotted with a big twist at the end. The atmosphere of East L.A. is so vivid that you can smell the albondigas cooking. This isn’t just a mystery story, this is Chicano literature. Mr. Limon immerses the reader so thoroughly in the East L.A. culture that returning to my gringo world on finishing the story was something of a shock.

In short, read this story.


At 7:21 PM, Blogger Aldo said...

When I read this, I too, felt the East LA thing. I worked in East LA for 10 years and Limon got it right. Yeah, wasn't that ending something????

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