I went nearly to the end of 2005 before picking up Lucha Corpi’s 2004 detective novel, Crimson Moon. Having enjoyed Corpi’s Gloria Damasco series, Eulogy for a Brown Angel, Cactus Blood, Black Widow’s Wardrobe, and noting Crimson Moon’s subtitle, “A Brown Angel Mystery”, I was disappointed that this latest novel turns out not to be another Damasco yarn.
On the other hand, that’s good news, too. Crimson Moon marks a new development in the novelist’s career. Corpi uses Damasco’s absence to introduce the Brown Angel Detective Agency, and develop two characters, Justin Escobar and Dora Saldaña.
Crimson Moon continues Corpi’s clever mixing of Chicanismo with her mystery plots. Eulogy for a Brown Angel sprang from the Chicano Moratorium. Cactus Blood from farmworker labor organizing. Black Widow’s Wardrobe found la Llorona in San Francisco and a Mexican tunnel.
In Crimson Moon, 1960s movimiento activism provides the backdrop for a story involving FBI moles, rape, a dying child, a mysterious voice on the telephone, and an obstructive client who is Justin’s former lover. All these threads hold together with an intricate interpersonal tension that is the hallmark of Corpi's fiction. Not all the threads get played out, in exchange for a fast-moving story.
Corpi pulls off a neat trick. When clues lead from Oakland to Denver, Dora hooks up with Luis Montez from Manuel Ramos’ detective series. Constrained by a female author, the randy Denver dick doesn’t fall into bed with the beguiling Dora, to their mutual regret. It will be interesting to watch how Corpi and Ramos continue this detective story syncretism.
Crimson Moon is a Dora Saldaña novel. And a good move on Corpi’s part. The Gloria Damasco series has been engaging, but, as we saw in Black Widow’s Wardrobe, age is catching up to Gloria Damasco. She’s still recovering from her meeting with la Llorona, and Gloria needs some time off. Throw herself a cinquentañera, maybe.
A long layoff did V.I. Warshawsky a lot of good. Let Damasco fare as well. Dora Saldaña will be keeping Corpi’s material contemporary, if the writer elects to carry the characters through a new mystery series. Then there's the Luis Montez conecta. Dora’s all right. And now that we’re past the introductions, readers can look forward to the next time Dora catches a case.