Letty Valdez Mysteries
Desert Jade, first in the Letty Valdez Mysteries series, launched November 18, 2017.
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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
Book Club Discussion Questions
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.