Every Detective Emilia Cruz novel uses unique aspects of Mexican culture to create crimes and situations that would not be possible anywhere else.

In PACIFIC REAPER, Emilia confronts the cult of Santa Muerte, the saint of death embraced by drug cartels. Someone is killing gang members and leaving altars to Santa Muerte next to the victims. Emilia doesn’t believe in the power of the Skeleton Saint, as some call her, but when something bad happens to everyone who is important to Emilia, she jumps at the chance to go undercover as a worshipper.

Related post: Coming soon! PACIFIC REAPER

Who or what is Santa Muerte?

Condemned by the Catholic Church, the popularity of Santa Muerte continues to grow. She’s the personification of death but wears many hats: angel of death, miracle worker, love doctor, supernatural healer, protector of believers.

In 2013, as US law enforcement saw more evidence of Santa Muerte associated with narco crimes in the US, the FBI published a 3 part report on Santa Muerte, with the warning that  “Law enforcement professionals who encounter Santa Muerte artifacts and related narcotics cult paraphernalia at crime scenes should not dismiss them hastily.”

Read the whole report. Intended for law enforcement officials, it is a bit dry but fascinating reading nonetheless.

Santa Muerte gallery

The cult of Santa Muerte is rich in visual drama. The saint is usually depicted as a skeleton holding a sythe in one hand and a globe in the other and wearing a hooded robe akin to the West’s Grim Reaper figure.

Photo credit FBI — A white Santa Muerte statue surrounded by candles and liquor

Photo credit AP Photo/Guillermo Arias — Santa Muerte charm found along with a weapons haul from a cartel-related crime scene

Colors have different meanings in the Santa Muerte universe. In PACIFIC REAPER, Emilia first encounters a black altar, which is intended for power against enemies. Later, undercover as a worshipper, she carries a yellow robed Santa Muerte statue to a ritual event. Emilia’s cover is that she is there to ask for her mother to be healed.

Related post: Book Review: Devoted to Death

Business insider had a great gallery of Santa Muerte photos when it reported on Pope Francis’s trip to Mexico.

Dr. R. Andrew Chesnut’s website has a blog on the home page with the street view of Santa Muerte, including this post about a shrine in the state of Michoacan.

Photo credit: Reuters/Claudia Daut — Tequila is poured over a white (for purity) Santa Muerte statue carried in a young girl’s pink backpack.

Emilia’s undercover adventure as a Santa Muerte worshipper is part evangelical happening, part criminal mastermind at work. The result is shocking, to say the least and a milestone for both reader and writer . . .

FYI: Carmenamato.net uses Amazon Affiliate links.

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I'm author Carmen Amato. I write mystery and suspense, including the Detective Emilia Cruz police series set in Acapulco. Expect risk, power, corruption. And relationships with heat.  More

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