cover image Rio Grande Fall

Rio Grande Fall

Rudolfo A. Anaya. Warner Books, $30 (368pp) ISBN 978-0-446-51844-4

Albuquerque PI Sonny Baca, still tormented by his cousin Gloria's ritual murder in Zia Summer (1995), turns to the old healing ways of Southwestern Latinos. During a limpieza, a cleansing ceremony, Sonny envisions someone falling from the sky. It really happened: a murder trial witness was pushed from a hot-air balloon piloted by Raven, the bloodthirsty cult leader who vanished at the end of the earlier book. When Raven kills a balloonist with drug connections, directors of Albuquerque's colorful balloon fiesta hire Sonny. He suspects many--federal agents, local police and perhaps the fiesta's beautiful manager, Madge Swenson--of smuggling drugs, using the balloons as cover. Raven raises the stakes by kidnapping Sonny's true love, Rita. Sonny seeks spiritual strength in the Native American tradition, taking on qualities of the coyote (his nagual, or animal spirit) for a feral rematch with Raven. Sonny is a distinctive narrator, speaking with passionate eloquence about old New Mexican lore and the loss of Hispanic traditions amidst pop culture and Anglo money. While Anaya (Bless Me, Ultima) still struggles with the mystery genre, lumbering through a choppy plot and sometimes submerging the story in preachiness, he nevertheless smoothly incorporates the rich legends of the area's heritage into this tale, particularly in Sonny's final, dramatic crisis. (Sept.)