A sophisticated murder mystery that explores identity issues and Santeria traditions.
Thompson (Sailing My Shoe to Timbuktu, 2003, etc.) gifts readers with a memorable, larger-than-life character in protagonist Archer Barron. A couple of years after Archer left the Santeria religion, he has yet to find a new spiritual home. He’s completed law school but hasn’t taken the bar, working instead as a night watchman on a college campus. He’s comfortable with being gay and has come to terms with his HIV-positive status, although past hurts still linger. His uneasy stability is undermined when his former madrina (or Santeria godmother) is brutally murdered, and he finds himself drawn back to old acquaintances—and confronted with old ambivalences. When a second Santeria practitioner is killed and others, including Archer, are threatened, he allies with a police detective who’s unusually sensitive to Santeria customs. The novel’s deft pacing is slow enough to allow emotional nuances to develop but fast enough to maintain reader interest. Its subplots generally contribute to the main story, although its shifts in place and time period may not always initially be clear. Thompson expertly sketches characters of different ages, ethnicities, sexual orientations and religious backgrounds, and she imbues even minor characters with individuality and scrupulously avoids caricature. Her dialogue is natural and credible, with Archer showing humor (“Okay, it’s true, I prefer opera to hip-hop, one more way that gay trumps black. Get over it.”) and insight (“Guilt was my fellow traveller and always had been, a life sentence and a soulmate all in one, my dark familiar.”). The novel offers an intriguing inside look at Santeria rituals and customs, but some readers may get bogged down in the specific terminology. Overall, however, the author delivers a suspenseful, intelligent tale.
Thompson is back with a flourish, entertaining and challenging readers with an engaging mystery.