Book Review: Death’s Way by Christopher Valen

Death's WayDeath’s Way
A John Santana Novel
Christopher Valen
Conquill Press, March 2014
ISBN No. 978-0-9800017-7-8
Trade Paperback

John Santana, St. Paul Homicide Detective, is called to a death scene in a downtown hotel room. The case at first glance appears to be a case of autoerotic asphyxiation gone wrong. She was choked by the plastic bag over her head that evidently was to serve as a safety device but the victim passed out before she could get the bag off. There was a silk scarf around the waist of the corpse and hooks of a red bungee cord bound around her waist was attached to a second strap that stretched up her back, around her neck, and down to the waist strap again. From all appearances, this death was an accidental suicide but Santana always considered death by strangulation a homicide until proved otherwise.

The hotel room was actually a spacious, private suite. Santana searched the purse left in the room and found a driver’s license identifying the deceased as Catalina Diaz, twenty-two years old. The purse contained no keys or cell phone which was unusual since most people carried a cell phone and keys of some type to an apartment, house or car. He also found a small envelope containing five one hundred dollar bills and a business card for a Dr. Philip Campbell.

John’s partner, Kacie Hawkins, checks and finds that Catalina Diaz had used the same hotel two weeks earlier. Hawkins has her car towed to the impound lot. According to the key log, Diaz entered the hotel room at 9:32 p.m. the previous night and never left. Philip Campbell checked out at 6:00 a.m. this morning. Santana and Hawkins search the victim’s condo in downtown St. Paul and Santana finds a couple of items commonly used in Day of the Dead celebrations in Mexico. He also found a picture of Diaz with a woman he thought was probably Nina Rivera, Diaz’s roommate. Santana also finds a list of the names of three men hidden in a drawer.

A woman brings her daughter to the police department with a story of a similar death six years before. This strange story captures Santana’s interest and he searches for connections between call girls and their involvement with powerful men. This is just a brief summary of the beginning of the case.

The story is very exciting and is a fast read and many of the details will be shocking and hard to imagine. Detective John Santana is a complex character and the reader gets to know him better with each novel. I’m looking forward to the next one.

Reviewed by Patricia E. Reid, March 2014.