Authors: Christopher Valen
Named Best Mystery of 2008 By Reader Views Winner of the Garcia Award for Best Fiction
“… Christopher Valen addresses a very wide range of extremely relevant social issues in White Tombs, and this book goes well beyond being just a detective story. The characters are fantastically well developed … the writing is solid an elegant without unnecessary detours. Any lover of solid writing should enjoy it greatly. White Tombs also screams out for a sequel — or better yet sequels.”
… Valen’s debut police procedural provides enough plot twists to keep readers engrossed and paints a clear picture of the Hispanic community in St. Paul.”
“John Santana of the St. Paul Police Department is a man you will not forget…. The book is a great read, and Santana is destined to become one of my favorite detectives. Truly a five-star read from this author.”
“… Santana is an intriguing character. St. Paul readers will enjoy Valen’s sense of place.”
“… In this page turner, Christopher Valen presents a clear picture of a modern, urban Hispanic community — plus the horrible Minnesota winter weather.”
“… White Tombs is a well crafted who dun it I enjoyed immensely. It’s action packed. On a scale of 1–5, I give it a 5.”
The Black Minute
Named Best Mystery of 2009 By Reader Views Winner of the Lynda Goldman Award for Best Novel
“The second John Santana St. Paul police procedural is a terrific thriller…. Christopher Valen provides the audience with his second straight winning whodunit.”
“… Santana is an appealing series lead, strong and intelligent … Readers who enjoyed White Tombs will settle easily into this one; on the other hand, it works fine as a stand-alone, and fans of well-plotted mysteries with a regional flair … should be encouraged to give this one a look.”
… The Black Minute grabbed me from the first page on, and pulled me into a complex world of evil, violence, deceit, bravery and search for justice … While the plot is complex and anything but predictable, his storyline stays comprehensible and easy tofollow. The characters are well developed, very believable and constantly evolving. The setting of the story is vivid, detailed and engaging …”
“… There is not one reason why this book isn’t a winner! Everything about it screams success. The book is masterfully written with a tightly-woven plot, visually detailed settings and well developed characters …”
“… Valen does a super job of keeping the suspense going as the action reaches a crescendo …”
If you purchased this book without a cover, you should be aware that this book is stolen property. It was reported as “unsold and destroyed” to the publisher, and neither the author nor the publisher has received any payment for this “stripped book.”
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents either are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Certain liberties have been taken in portraying St. Paul and its institutions. This is wholly intentional. Any resemblance to actual events, or to actual persons living or dead, is entirely coincidental. For information about special discounts for bulk purchases contact
Copyright © 2008 By Christopher Valen
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including information storage and retrieval systems, without permission in writing from the publisher, except by a reviewer who may quote brief passages in a review.
Book design by 1106 Design
Library of Congress Control Number: 2007938630
White Tombs: a novel / by Christopher Valen – 1st edition
Conquill Press/March 2008
Printed in the United States of America
10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1
eBooks created by
Te quiero mucho.
The author would like to thank Bill Kraus of the St. Paul Police Department, and the officers and staff of the Ramsey County Sheriff’s Citizen’s Academy.
Special thanks also to Abigail Davis, Linda Donaldson, Lorrie Holmgren, Archie Spencer and Peg Wangensteen for your help and support, and to Bart Baker for bringing us together. You are deeply missed. My deepest gratitude to my wife, Martha, whose love, encouragement and stories of Colombia inspired me to write this book.
This book would not exist in its present form without special contributions from Amy, Frank, Diane, Ronda and Michele at 1106 Design.
“Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For ye are like unto whited sepulchers, which indeed appear beautiful outward, but are within full of dead men’s bones and of all uncleanness.”
— Matthew 23:27
ÉREZ SAT IN A SWIVEL CHAIR
behind the mahogany desk in the study of his house on St. Paul’s West Side. His eyes were closed and his left cheek was resting on the desktop. Were it not for the bullet hole in his head, one could have assumed that he had merely fallen asleep.
“What time did the call come in?” Detective John Santana asked.
He and his partner, Detective Rick Anderson, were talking with the first officer on the crime scene. The nameplate above her breast pocket identified her as Larkin.
“Just after five this afternoon,” she said. Her uniform was pressed and starched and looked like it had just come out of a box.
“Who called it in?”
“Mrs. Pérez. She met me when I arrived. Told me she left her husband alone to do some shopping. When she returned, she found him like this.” Larkin gestured toward Pérez’s body without looking directly at it. “I called dispatch immediately.”
“Shit,” Anderson said. “The news media monitor police radio frequencies. No wonder they’re streaming around this place like squad cars at a Krispy Kreme grand opening.”
Larkin’s face colored with embarrassment. “Sorry. I’ll remember it next time.”
“I know you will,” Santana said. “Did Mrs. Pérez say anything else?”
“Only that she couldn’t believe someone would do this to her husband.”
Santana could hear sobs coming from another room. The warm, stuffy air in the house smelled like garlic, cumin, oregano and chili peppers.
Anderson said, “Anyone with Mrs. Pérez now?”
“Okay, Larkin. Keep your hands in your pockets so you don’t touch anything on the way out. And be careful where you step.”
Despite Anderson’s warning, Santana knew it was impossible for anyone to enter a crime scene without changing it in some way. It was the reason he used gloves at a crime scene only if blood was present and AIDS was a concern, or if he needed to touch something. Gloves led to carelessness, which could destroy fingerprints.
“I don’t see a gun,” Anderson said. “But there’s a shell casing on the floor near the desk.”
He squatted near the shell casing. “Head stamp reads REM. Looks like the bullet came from a twenty-two caliber, Remington. Makes me wonder though.”
“Why leave the shell casing?”
Anderson stood up. “Exactly. It can be traced to the gun.”
Santana drew a rough sketch of the crime scene in his notebook showing the location of Pérez’s body and the shell casing. Next to the drawing of the shell casing he wrote a question mark. Then he examined the gunshot wound in Julio Pérez’s head.
Powder grains expelled from the muzzle of a gun had caused tattooing on one side of the angled wound indicating that it wasn’t a contact shot. The reddish-brown color showed that Pérez was alive when he was shot. The tattooing would have been gray or yellow in appearance had he been dead beforehand.
Santana looked at Pérez’s arms and legs without moving them, then at the hands and fingers. He detected no defensive wounds and nothing was visible under Pérez’s fingernails. He saw no folds or rolls in the clothing that would suggest the body had been moved.
“No sign of a struggle, Rick. No fear in Pérez’s face.”
“I figure he knew the shooter,” Anderson said, reading Santana’s thoughts. “Maybe he was expecting company.”
It was like that with a partner after awhile, at least a good partner. Santana imagined it was like being married for a long time.
“They come into the study together,” Anderson said. “The shooter is behind him. Pérez sits down at his desk and gets capped in the head.”
Santana noted that the powder tattooing was darker and denser behind the right ear, indicating the muzzle was near the ear when the gun was fired.
“I’ll get some uniforms to help me canvas the neighborhood,” Anderson said. “Find out if anyone saw or heard anything.”
“Make sure you run the names of all the neighbors, Rick. See if anyone has a criminal record.”
“Sorry about giving you the hard part, John, but you’re better at dealing with the family.”
Talking to relatives and friends of a murder victim was often the most unpleasant and difficult part of the job. But Santana knew at some point in the investigation he could tell those same relatives and friends that he had caught the perp who had caused them so much pain. It might be a small consolation for the victim’s family, but he derived great satisfaction from knowing it was the murderer’s turn to suffer.
He concentrated on the floor and the ground around the body next, looking for any stains or marks. He took a small flashlight out of his pocket and focused the light toward the ground at an oblique angle, checking for footprints or drag marks in the thin layer of dust on the oak floor. Then he let the beam play across the walls and ceiling as he searched for blood spatter.
When he was satisfied there was nothing of evidentiary value, he put away the flashlight, slipped on a pair of latex gloves and opened the folding door on a large closet that covered one wall. Inside it he found Pérez’s summer clothes, a pair of leather sandals and a pair of Reebok walking shoes. The clothes smelled musty after months on hangers and yielded no clues. Mahogany bookcases lined a second wall to his right. The authors were mostly Latino writers. Gabriel García Márquez, Federico García Lorca and Pablo Neruda, one of Santana’s favorites.
Framed photographs of Pérez with his wife and daughter hung on the wall behind the desk. Organized in clusters according to periods of time, they represented a visual record of a family’s history. The daughter had black hair and looked to be in her early to mid-twenties when the most recent photographs were taken. She had piercing ebony eyes and reminded Santana of the Mexican actress, Salma Hayek. Mrs. Pérez appeared to be in her late forties. Her dark hair had begun to gray, and she had put on a few pounds over the years. But she still retained the high cheekbones and luminous dark eyes that were clearly evident in the earlier snapshots of her. Santana wondered how her husband’s death would change the peace and contentment he saw in her face.