When Detective Emilia Cruz Meets Santa Muerte

When Detective Emilia Cruz Meets Santa Muerte

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 . . .

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CARMEN AMATO

Mystery and thriller author. Retired Central Intelligence Agency intel officer. Dog mom to Hazel and Dutch. Recovering Italian handbag addict.

 

Wicked Culture

A stroll through an outdoor book fair lining Mexico City’s Paseo de la Reforma boulevard a few months ago gave me the inspiration for the third novel in the Emilia Cruz mystery series. Most of the vendor stalls offered beautiful art books but what caught my eye was a cheaply printed pamphlet adorned with a drawing of a muerte skeleton figure wearing a long robe and holding a set of scales and a globe.

The dark side is alive and well . . .

Mexico’s Santa Muerte

Santa Muerte has become a cult figure in Mexico and is increasingly hailed as the patron saint of drug gangs, cartels, and violence. The saint is always a muerte, or skeleton figure, in a long robe with a hood. Sometimes Santa Muerte has a halo or a crown and carries either scales or a long scythe akin to the Grim Reaper. There are also images that meld Santa Muerte with the Virgin of Guadalupe. Murders associated with the cult of Santa Muerte made headlines last month when three people were killed in a ritual dedicated to the saint in northern Mexico.

The little pamphlet that I found was a collection of prayers to the Saint of Death, including a prayer to bring in money, a curse against jealous people and a prayer to dominate a husband, an invocation for a man not to look at any other woman, and a prayer to make a man forget another woman. In the next book,  Emilia will read the wrong prayer, of course . .

Papua New Guinea’s Sanguma

A spiritualism known as sanguma in this remote Pacific nation is widespread and most homicides in the country are thought to be related to it. 85% of the population lives in rural communities where belief in black magic is especially strong and passed down through generations through storytelling. Illnesses, sudden death by natural causes and other unexpected developments are often thought to be the result of sanguma. As a result, to erase the black magic, villagers often kill someone accused of being a sorcerer. Check out this report from ISP for more.

Haiti’s voodoo

Voodoo was acclaimed as a real religion in Haiti and revolves around in a distant and unknowable creator god, Bondyè. According to Wikipedia, Bondyè doesn’t intercede in human affairs but has a set of lesser dieties called Iwa who direct specific aspects of life.  Adherents to voodoo “cultivate personal relationships” with the lwa through offerings, personal altars and devotional objects, and elaborate ceremonies of music and dance, which are the means for possession by an Iwa. Supposedly being possessed by a diety is something to be desired.

Hmm. Creepy stuff. Time to go to church and light a candle.

Mystery ahead

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