Valley of Shadows was WOW, a great slow burn paranormal mystery. The ghostly element really kept me on my toes, you never could tell which way something was going to go. I was hooked from the first page!
There are so many reasons I love this novel. First, the historical landscape had nuance and depth; the perspective decolonized the past, highlighted the transnational experience of the American-Mexican borderlands through the eyes of the Mexicans and the indigenous peoples who lived there. Ruiz did not shy away from the racial tensions, the ethnic conflicts, and the histories of colonization that were part of the fabric of life on the borderlands in the 19th century — and I deeply appreciated that. Indeed, much of the plot revolves around those very transcultural tensions. This grounded this paranormal western/mystery/horror in a historical reality that made the events all the more horrific; they were real. The violence of this time was real, not a fiction of Ruiz’s imagination.
Second, Ruiz’s use of linguistic and ethnic markers is significant. Yes, this is a novel, but it is also a work of decolonization. Ruiz disrupts the whiteness of the Western genre with Valley of Shadows. The primary protagonist is Solitario Cisneros, a Mexican man who used to be sheriff — and could still be. Onawa is a young half Mexican, half Apache woman who assists Solitario in his investigation of a series of murders. The living and the dead show up in various parts of the story, some from Solitario’s past which is never far behind him. History in this novel is very much a dynamic, fluid factor in this novel; it is almost as alive as the characters.
There is a mix of white, Mexican, mixed-race, and indigenous characters in this novel, mimicking the historical and contemporary reality of North American borderland communities; nothing is ever cut-and-dry, black or white in such places, then or now. This diversity of identities makes the characters more recognizable; their ethnic and historical diversity mimics our own multiple identities and ways of being. Race, ethnicity, class, and history shaped these characters, making them palpable, their decisions and actions authentic and borne out of subjective needs and ambitions as much as they were shaped by social and historical factors.
Third, Ruiz unfolded the story with skill. Tension and mystery were embedded in the plot, compelling me to read on, but it was the way in which Ruiz slowly unravelled the plot. At the end the reader will see that all the threads of the mystery were there, almost from the very start, waiting for us to weave them into fabric. The story revolves around a series of gruesome, brutal murders. There is very real, physical horror here; the idea that these could be done by a human being on another is scary enough — but there’s the possibility this could be something more supernatural. Which is more sinister?
Valley of Shadows is Solitario and Onawa’s adventures in this realm and the next as they speed against time to save the other potential victims, apprehend the murderer(s), and deliver justice to the victims and their surviving families.
This was a fantastic Halloween Horror read, perfect for any time of year, really. If you’d like to see my others, check out: A Fig For All The Devils: A Novel by C.S. Fritz, The Ghosts That Haunt Me: Memories of a Homicide Detective by Steve Ryan, Gallows Hill: A Novel by Darcy Coates, A Fig For All The Devils: A Novel by C.S. Fritz, Anybody Home? A Novel by Michael J. Seidlinger, and Ghost Eaters: A Novel by Clay Mcleod Chapman