Assigned to her first case, the death of reporter Diego Saenz, rookie homicide cop Romilia Chacón, hired by the Nashville Police Department more for her bilingual skills than her investigative experience, decides it was not suicide but murder, possibly the work of the serial killer who had recently dispatched a physician and a nurse. The problem is, the partner assigned to her, department hero Det. Jerry Wilson, has already collared Benny Bitan, now languishing in jail, as the murderer. Trying to find a link between the victims by pecking away at Saenz's computer files, Wilson and Romilia discover one labeled "Kaibil," a word all too familiar to Romilia's Latina mom, who explains that it means "Guatemalan Death Squad." Did Wilson nab the wrong perp? Will he admit it? And why is he making so many trips to the bathroom? More bodies pile up while Romilia, nudged by Wilson, reassesses past political atrocities, considers the possibility of Central American assassins flooding the Tennessee countryside, then goes on her own to focus on drug-runners, including the lethally charming Rafael Murillo, a.k.a. Tekun Uman. A stakeout turns gory, but ultimately leads to a commendation for Romilia—as well as a disturbing farewell love letter.
Grisly, well crafted, and unique in its choice of red herrings. Villatoro, who expertly mined Guatemalan atrocities for material in his powerful nonfictional study Walking to la Milpa (1996), adroitly combines the best and worst of Latino culture in his first mystery. And Romilia, her mother, and her son would be welcome again.