A genre-twirling western horror thriller


Valley of Shadows: A Novel

Rudy Ruiz 

Blackstone Publishing 

Hardback, 978-1-9826-0464-6, 350 pages 

September 20, 2022 


Solitario Cisneros, a former lawman who served as a captain in Mexico’s mounted rural police force, the Rurales, just wants to live out the rest of his life on his isolated, dusty ranch. Solitario seeks no more involvement with guns, badges, and crimes. He would rather be left alone with his cows, horses, memories, and family ghosts that have haunted him since childhood. 


New trouble, however, suddenly comes to him from Olvido, the small town near his ranch. Solitario previously served as the dusty settlement’s chief lawman. But the Rio Grande River suddenly changed its course, leaving Olvido and Solitario’s land now part of Texas, not Mexico. When three riders from the town—the mayor, the banker, and Solitario’s old Rurales sergeant, Elias—reach his house, they beg him to investigate a gruesome mass killing. Olvido’s Anglo sheriff and his entire family have been massacred. 


Reluctantly, Solitario takes the case and gets help from Onawa, an Apache-Mexican woman said to possess supernatural skills. Together, they track the suspects out into desert lands that are alive with apparitions, visions, and spirits, both good and evil. The suspects, meanwhile, have startling motives for their killings. And Solitario must face a life-or-death situation he has never thought possible. 


Valley of Shadows, San Antonio writer Rudy Ruiz’s fifth book, skillfully blends mystery, fantasy, and encounters with an array of borderland ghosts and curses. They haunt Solitario’s methodical and determined pursuit of the killers and their new kidnap victims. Law enforcement often was more direct and deadly for suspects when Solitario served in the Rurales. But now that he lives on the Texas side of the changed border, he is determined to follow American laws and have the criminals face a judge and jury. 


Ruiz’s previous novel, The Resurrection of Fulgencio Ramirez, received two gold medals at the 2021 International Latino Book Awards. A bilingual native of the U.S.-Mexico border area, the author builds up to his moments of horror slowly, often using taut sentences that reveal essential details about what Solitario is noticing or thinking. For example, when the ex-Rurales captain discovers that two more bodies have been left behind by the killers, Ruiz writes: 

“Solitario climbed gingerly along the inner edge of the stairs, clutching the banister to maintain his balance. As he ascended, he scrutinized the bloodstains on the steps. The intruders had stepped on the blood but left no recognizable marks.” 


Readers expecting a more straightforward borderland Western may not relish the author’s frequent reliance on supernatural events, apparitions, spells, and even sentient responses among horses and other animals during Solitario's pursuit of justice. 


Others, however, will find Valley of Shadows engrossing, thought-provoking, and even culturally and historically informative. Solitario runs headlong into questions about life, death, redemption, and even resurrection, and must figure out quickly how to respond. The strengths and roles of tradition and birthplace both help and hinder his quest. And, as revealed in occasional flashbacks, Solitario can escape neither the bad nor the good parts of the past that has shaped him. As his former sergeant, Elias, describes in a moment of reflection and realization: 


“Solitario was an authentic charro, and charros were gentlemen of noble Spanish ancestry trained and raised as the heirs to knights like Don Quixote and conquistadores like Hernán Cortez, Juan Navarro, and Diego Montemayor....[He] was a different kind of man, one on a trail of his own blazing.” 


Valley of Shadows offers fresh, enticing, and entertaining fiction set deep in a region where Texas and Mexican cultures merge, and ghosts, evil spirits, and human values are not stopped by borders. 

Rudy Ruiz is a writer of literary fiction, essays and political commentary. His earliest works were published at Harvard, where he studied literature and creative writing and was awarded a Ford Foundation grant to support his writing endeavors. In 2017, Ruiz was awarded the Gulf Coast Prize in Fiction. Ruiz’s novel, The Resurrection of Fulgencio Ramirez was named one of the “Top 10 Best First Novels of 2020” by the American Library Association’s Booklist.