Desert Jade: A Letty Valdez Mystery
Desert Jade, first in the Letty Valdez Mysteries series, launched November 18, 2017.
Paper: $ 12.99
watch for discounts and freebies coming soon!
Desert Jade has been named a finalist in the Thriller-Suspense category of the 2018 New Mexico-Arizona Book Awards.
Next in the Letty Valdez series, Dragon's Revenge, coming November 2018:
Reviews of Desert Jade
I was feeling sad because I'd read all the Sara Paretsky and Tony Hillerman books I could find, and I needed my fix of a good, thoughtful, mystery novel - and then along came Desert Jade and it ticked all the boxes. It has such a strong sense of place. The Arizona landscape plays a big role in the story, both the natural landscape of the beautiful and relentless desert, and the social and political reality of living near the Mexican border.
But really it's the characters I enjoyed most. CJ Shane writes a really diverse set of people from very different backgrounds, and each one rings true. Zhou the Chinese cop, a deadly fighter, but also polite, curious, and gentle. Esperanza, the young Mexican girl, innocent in her knowledge of the world, but brave and determined to help her family. Will, the Native American teenage boy, obsessed with bikes and girls. Then there's Letty Valdez, the main investigator in this mystery. She's capable, caring, and loyal, but also deeply scarred by her past in the Iraq war. The kind of person you'd want in your corner, when things go wrong. And of course, Millie the pit bull. A minor character, but with an important role to play, and like the human characters, utterly believable and vivid....
I appreciated that the story, while not shrinking at all from the reality of its subject matter, which includes Chinese Triad gangs, human trafficking and prostitution, also does not glorify this violence. The danger is real, but the book doesn't dwell on the grim aspects for their own sake, so the story stays human and hopeful.
I'm looking forward to reading more about Letty Valdez. I hope that there's another book soon! Amazon reader
An enjoyable and suspenseful book! Desert Jade is the first Letty Valdez mystery. It's a fast moving and richly textured book set in Tucson, Arizona. I was pulled in immediately by well crafted characters and fine descriptions of the southwest and local culture. The heroine, Letty Valdez, is a veteran of the Iraq war and private investigator. She finds herself involved with a multitude of crimes including murder, kidnapping, missing persons, gun and sex trafficking. An international mystery embroiled with the border between Mexico and Arizona and the Chinese underworld. Letty is nobody's fool and with her at the helm I found myself in anticipation of what happens next. The book held my interest throughout. I enjoyed the addition of a lifesaving rescue dog named Millie and a bit of romance thrown in. A wonderful first Letty Valdez mystery. Amazon reviewer
What a pleasure to read a well-crafted, wonderfully sensitive, totally engaging mystery that has deftly nuanced characters and a well-paced set of plot twists. As a resident of southern Arizona, I found C. J. Shane's artful details and the unmistakable flavor of the Southwest infused into this story a welcome break from slick, big-city dramas that don't always respect the diversity and depth of other regions. C. J. Shane captures the essence and the complicated idiosyncrasies of the Borderland region and presents us with a woman who is as spicy and complicated as the plot! Amazon reviewer
This is a good read for anyone who appreciates Tucson or the Sonoran Desert. If you love mysteries, strong female characters, Tucson culture and pit bulls, you will want to read this book. It has an intriguing plot, is fast-paced, full of interesting local details and leaves you wanting another installment. Amazon reviewer
i was very entertained by this story. while the writing was not complicated, the story lines were exciting and, at times, pulse pounding. i was able to appreciate the southwestern setting, the issues of illegal immigrants and the fear of getting the law involved in any matters they have seen as crime for fear of deportation themselves, spanish and spanglish being spoken, indian reservation life, and illegal activity by cartels. extended family life, by blood or bond, is a big theme, as is the pain of losing someone (one whose fate is not certainly known for most of the book). Goodreads reviewer
Claire Sheridan's review in The Tucson Dog. Click to enlarge
This has a strong southwestern flavor, a reminder of the Tony Hillerman books about the Navajos and the Hopis north of here. This is because of the details the author puts in as she moves the story along. The diversity of the characters may surprise you as the author pulls in a Chinese connection that is unexpected. It will be interesting to see if this develops into a series. I think it has great potential for that as there is a strong and unusual cast of characters that hold ones interest. Amazon reviewer
What initially drew my attention to Desert Jade was the setting, Tucson, Arizona, the county seat of Pima County located in southern Arizona. With so many mysteries and thrillers set in the usual places like New York City, Washington, D.C., Boston, and the like, I find it enjoyable to read mysteries set in less common environs. ....
In Chapter 1, the reader is introduced to Eduardo Ramone, a young man riding his horse home across the desert when he comes across an unconscious teenage female Mexican migrant. The girl had become separated from a group of migrants abandoned by the "coyote" they had paid to guide them across the border into Arizona where they planned to find work. The girl, Esperanza Morales was near death due to exposure and heat exhaustion. Eduardo takes her to the home of a relative where she is nursed back to health. Eduardo later takes her to the home of a man who has promised her work, but afterward, Eduardo loses contact with her. When he returns to the man's house searching for the girl, the man claims he knows no such person and orders Eduardo off the property at gunpoint.
It's an exciting start to the novel that immediately hooks the reader, leaving you eager to find out what happened to the young girl. However, there is a bit of surprise when beginning with Chapter 2, the reader is introduced to a whole new set of circumstances and cast of characters. There is the ominous presence of a Chinese criminal gang plying their trade along the U.S. and Mexican border, and a woman named Jade Lopez whose husband had mysteriously disappeared a year earlier and never found. It isn't until Chapter 3 that readers finally meet the leading character, Letty Valdez, a private investigator and the namesake of the series....
Beyond the setting, another thing I really liked about this book was that many of the current issues that we routinely see in news headlines today—drug smuggling across the border with Mexico, Mexican immigration issues, PTSD symptoms suffered by American soldiers returning from the war zones of Afghanistan and Iraq, and human trafficking. All are worked into this well-crafted story to good effect. These bits of added realism help to effectively define the characters and produce a credible story that you can easily imagine happening in real life....The book offers some unexpected twists and intriguing side-plots along the way which I found strengthened the overall story and made for an interesting read. Amazon reader
More About Letty Valdez and Desert Jade:
When I started writing the first in the Letty Valdez mystery series, Desert Jade, my goal was to create an interesting and fun-to-read page-turner in the mystery genre. Much to my surprise, the characters started talking to me from the very beginning. They had their own ideas about what goes into this story. Yes, it’s a fast-paced exciting thriller and a fun read, or so I’ve been told by those who’ve read an early draft. But it’s a lot more than that.
Letty Valdez told me that she represents the three cultures of the Borderlands: Mexican American, Native American (Tohono O’odham), and Anglo American. She wants us to know that as an Iraq War veteran, she struggles every day with the trauma of the war and loss. Yet she persists valiantly in her work both as a private investigator and in her role as the youthful de facto matriarch of her family. Her devotion to her parentless younger siblings cannot be overestimated.
Despite her initial wariness, Letty joins forces with a Chinese cop named Zhou (sounds like “Joe”). Zhou has been sent by his Beijing boss at the advice of Interpol to Tucson, Arizona, to investigate the suspected activities of Chinese Triad gangsters. He is also tasked with finding the abducted daughter of a Hong Kong official. Zhou knows the lethal character of the Triad gangsters and how they will go to any length to achieve their goals, including chopping off limbs of anyone who gets in their way. Zhou has to find the abducted girl quickly before she is murdered or sold into sex slavery.
What Zhou does not anticipate is the intense attraction he feels for Letty’s friend Jade whom he meets shortly after arriving in Tucson. The attraction is mutual. That means there’s a touch of romance in this mystery-suspense story!
Letty has another problem. She’s been hired to clear the name of her new client’s nephew who has been accused of murdering a local woman. Letty quickly learns of a connection between the murder and the Chinese gangsters Zhou is seeking.
There’s Eduardo, Letty’s little brother who rescues a migrant girl named Esperanza whom he finds dying in the desert on the Tohono O’odham reservation. And Will has a say in this story, too. He’s Letty’s 17 year-old baby brother who is interested in three things: long-distance bicycling, a fellow bicycling enthusiast named Clarice, and his dog Millie – that is, until he gets in the way of one of the Triad gangsters.
Then there’s Milagro (aka Millie), the runt-sized female pit bull who was made into bait for a dog-fighting ring, then dumped in the hot desert sand to die when her wounds were too severe to go on. Letty finds and rescues Millie. The cheerful little rescue dog then devotes herself to two goals: being allowed to sit on the couch with the humans, and Letty and Will’s well-being – which includes dealing personally with a gangster bent on killing Will. Dog lovers especially will enjoy Millie’s contribution to this story.
There’s one more character in this story: the Sonoran Desert – intense blue skies during the day, inky darkness and a billion stars at night, coyote and hawk, saguaro and ocotillo – the desert is a place filled with more beauty than anyone can imagine.
Coming in 2018, the next Letty Valdez mystery: Dragon's Revenge
Tohono O'odham Nation
where Letty spent her childhood and where her siblings Eduardo, Elena and Will grew up
Excerpt from Desert Jade
"Okay, so you're on the roof and then you woke up?" Letty asked.
"Yes...and I heard something down below in the backyard on the patio, and I looked and there was this man coming out of my house!" Jade's voice got all squeaky and breathless.
"Who was he?"
"I don't know!"
"Did he take anything?"
"No, I don't think so. I don't know. He didn't seem to be carrying anything."
"Okay. So then what happened?"
"I ducked down so he couldn't see me, but I was watching as best I could. He just came out of the back door, looked around, and then went out the side gate."
"So now he's gone?"
"No! I mean yes, but there's the other man. Let me explain. I decided to go down the ladder and go into the house to see if he'd stolen anything. And I sort of slipped and fell off the ladder."
In her mind, Letty saw the heavy mesquite branch ladder that usually rested up against the back of Jade's adobe house. Letty thought it was just for looks. Many affluent folks kept things like that around as decoration, especially the snowbirds who came only in winter to escape their northern winters. But apparently this wasn't just for decoration if Jade was using it to climb up on the roof. Letty wondered if anyone knew this about Jade, that she was spending time on her roof. They were all worried about Jade. She didn't seem as sad as she had been, but she still wasn't the same since Carlos disappeared.
Jade's breathing got really shaky now.
"I slipped, and I was going to fall but he caught me."
"Who caught you?" Letty was alarmed now.
"This Chinese dude. Well, really I don't know if he's Chinese. He just looks Chinese. Or something Asian anyway. Japanese. I don’t know."
"This was the man who was in your house?" Letty gritted her teeth. Get to the point, Jade.
"No! The second man! He held me for a just a second, and then he set me down on the patio."
"What's he doing now? And who is he?"
"He told me that he's a cop. His name is Joe."
“Joe? That doesn't sound very Chinese. Is he an American, a Chinese-American I mean? And where are you now?"
"I'm on the patio. He's standing here. I don't think he's American. He speaks with an accent. He said he's a good guy."
"A good guy?" Letty snorted. Jade was a real sweetheart but amazingly naive.
"I'm sorry, Letty. I didn't know who to call."
"It's fine for you to call me, Jade, but if your house was broken into, you should call Tucson police."
"Well....not exactly broken into."
Letty sighed again. How many times had she and Maggie and Seri warned Jade that she really should lock up her house and lock the side gate leading to the backyard when she left for school?
"Besides all that," Jade said in a low voice, "what good are the cops anyway. They don't do a damn thing."
Letty understood Jade's cynicism and felt a stab of guilt. Jade had no faith or trust in law enforcement. They hadn't been able to find Carlos, so they were useless in Jade's eyes. And Letty reminded herself that she hadn't found Carlos either, despite the fact that she was normally very good at finding people.
"Okay. Go in the house. Tell this Chinese good guy to stay outside in the back, and you lock the doors and wait for me,” Letty told Jade. “Don’t open the door again. Okay?”
“Okay,” Jade agreed. “Okay. I'm in the house now. He’s out there now on the patio. He just sat down on one of the patio chairs.”
Oh, great, Letty thought. Making himself comfortable.
"I'll be there in fifteen minutes," Letty said.
"Oh, thank you, thank you, Letty."
The drive across the city went fast despite the Friday five o'clock traffic Letty caught every green light, which she considered a minor miracle. Night had fallen when she pulled up in front of Jade's house. Letty could see that Jade had turned on every light in her house and outside, too, on the front porch and along the side of the house where the unlocked gate stood open.
Letty walked along the side walkway and came around the back of Jade’s house. She saw the Chinese man immediately. He had been sitting on a patio chair, but at the sound of Letty’s footsteps, he rose to his feet and faced her. He nodded politely. Letty said nothing. She knocked on the back door without turning her back to the man. She called out to Jade.
She could hear Jade moving around in the kitchen…cooking, no doubt. Their friends Seri and Maggie had teased Jade about what a little homemaker she was, always cooking and decorating for holidays and loving on those little third-graders that she taught every day. That is, they teased her until Carlos disappeared. Jade didn’t have anyone to keep a home for anymore. Letty thought maybe Jade cooked now to deal with her anxiety. It's a wonder she wasn't hugely fat, but somehow Jade had stayed slender, even thin. It occurred to Letty for the first time that Jade might be cooking, but she might not be eating.
Letty looked directly at the man standing about ten feet away.
“My name is Letty Valdez, and I am a private investigator. And you are?”
“I am Zhou Liang Wei. I am a Detective Inspector from the Ministry of Public Security, People’s Republic of China.”
Letty noticed immediately that the man spoke English quite well. His accent was Chinese, but also faintly British.
By this time, Jade had opened the back door. More light spilled onto the patio. Letty took a closer look at the uninvited foreigner. She guessed Zhou was about five feet nine inches tall in his bare feet, maybe even five feet ten inches. He was a couple of inches taller than Jade – but not slender like Jade. He was all muscle. He looked very fit in an athletic way, like someone who worked out regularly. He wasn’t so much a pumped-up muscle builder but more someone who focused on the agility and strength needed to accomplish specific tasks, like taking out an opponent in hand-to-hand combat – the kind of skills a cop would need, Letty guessed. He probably outweighed Jade by thirty pounds but every pound was muscle. Although Zhou had to look up to Letty’s six feet, Letty intuited that she would have a hard time bringing this man down despite her size and her training in martial arts. She was sure that he was a martial arts practitioner, and a good one, too. The man looked relaxed, but she knew he was sizing her up as well.
Letty gestured for Zhou to enter the house before her. Once in the kitchen, Letty and Zhou pulled out identification at the same time and traded documents with each other. Letty looked closely at Zhou’s red leather passport with the seal of the People’s Republic of China on the front. It looked real enough. His police identification – or at least that’s what she guessed it was – also looked like a typical cop’s badge and ID, but all the words were in Chinese characters. Like most passports and other official documents, his photo was bad. It barely looked like the man in front of her. He seemed indistinguishable from any other Chinese man in his age group, which Letty guessed was early 30s. His clothing was average – khaki pants, a navy blue t-shirt under a long-sleeved light blue cotton shirt rolled up at the sleeves. His clothing was chosen to not attract attention.
Jade said, "Your name is Joe?"
He nodded yes with a short, sudden downward movement of his head. "Not American name Joe, but Chinese name Z-H-O-U." He spelled the word, using the British "zed" instead of "Z". "I explain. My name sounds like your “Joe”, but in pinyin, it is spelled Zed-H-O-U. Zhou is my family name, and LiangWei is my individual personal name. Reverse of western names."
"Zhou," Jade repeated. “Joe.”
Letty and Zhou traded identification again, and both slipped badges back into pockets.
"Why are you here?" Letty asked sharply.
"Interpol informed the Ministry of Public Security in Beijing that possibly a Hong Kong triad criminal gang is moving into the Arizona region. I have experience working with Interpol. I was chosen to investigate."
"Interpol?" Letty sounded dubious even to herself. Interpol was short for International Criminal Police Organization. She had read about it on the web just because she was curious after seeing a film with Interpol agents. She remembered that Interpol was headquartered in France, and its purpose was to help the police of member countries to cooperate on problems such as organized crime and terrorism. Most countries in the world were members of Interpol. The organization did not make arrests, but it kept extensive databases on criminal activity and provided that information to police to help them cooperate in bringing down criminals. She’d heard of triads but knew little about them. About the Ministry of Public Security in China, Letty knew absolutely nothing. In fact, this was the first she'd ever heard of it.
"So you are a detective?”
"Yes. I am one of the Detective Inspectors. Allow me to explain. I arrived at Tucson International Airport today. I arrived one day early. I expected to follow the triad gangster who is scheduled to arrive tomorrow. At the airport I saw the triad member. Not tomorrow. He came today. His name is Bao. I followed him. He did not lead me to see others in his gang. Instead he came to this woman's house.” Zhou gestured to Jade. “Bao looks for something or maybe looks for someone."
Zhou turned to Jade. "Now I want to know why this man comes to your house," He looked at Jade directly. "Do you know this man? Do you have a business or a personal relationship with him?"
Letty noticed that Zhou's eyes had narrowed. His voice was quiet yet firm, and his body was an odd combination of relaxation and tension. Letty had a sudden memory of a rattlesnake she'd seen once across a dry wash in the shade of a scrawny mesquite tree. The rattler was relaxed into a coil, quiet, watchful, and yet ready to strike at the least provocation.