Desert Blood

by Alicia Gaspar de Alba

Desert Blood: The Juárez Murders (2005)

This page showcases the mystery novel I wrote to bring attention to the epidemic of serial sex crimes taking the lives of poor, brown women and girls on the El Paso-Juárez border, which is also my hometown.

Award-Winning Mystery Novel Explores the Violent Deaths of Young Women Along the US/Mexico Border

Since 1993, over 600 young, poor, brown women have been found brutally murdered in Ciudad Juárez, Chihuahua, across the border from El Paso, Texas, not including hundreds of others who have been reported missing and still have not been found. Desert Blood: The Juárez Murders (2005), by Alicia Gaspar de Alba, is a mystery novel about this more than 20-year crime-wave. The book has won both a Lambda Literary Foundation Award for Best Lesbian Mystery and a Latino Book Award for Best English-Language Mystery. The book has been translated into Spanish, Italian, and French.

This page provides more information about the author’s research for Desert Blood and the economic and socio-cultural conditions that have made the El Paso/Juárez border one of the 10 most dangerous places in the world, especially for poor, young, immigrant women from the interior of Mexico. Femicide is the murder of women for being women, or as in the case of the Juárez victims, the murder of poor young Mexican women for being poor young Mexican women, i.e., young fertile bodies trying to make a living in the maquiladora industry, the domestic and child-care industries, or the sex work industry. 


It is the summer of 1998. For five years over a hundred mangled and desecrated bodies have been found dumped on the Chihuahua desert outside of Juárez, México, just across the river from El Paso, Texas. The perpetrators of the ever-rising number of violent deaths target poor young women, terrifying inhabitants of both sides of the border. El Paso native Ivon Villa has returned to her hometown to adopt the baby of Cecilia, a pregnant maquiladora worker in Juárez. When Cecilia turns up strangled and disemboweled in the desert, Ivon is thrown into the churning chaos of abuse and murder. Even as the rapes and killings of “girls from the south” continue-their tragic stories written in desert blood-a conspiracy covers up the crimes that implicate everyone from the Maquiladora Association to the Border Patrol. When Ivon’s younger sister gets kidnapped in Juárez, Ivon knows that it’s up to her to find her sister, whatever it takes. Despite the sharp warnings she gets from family, friends, and nervous officials, Ivon’s investigation moves her deeper and deeper into the labyrinth of silence.

From acclaimed poet and prose-writer, Alicia Gaspar de Alba, Desert Blood is a gripping thriller that ponders the effects of patriarchy, gender identity, border culture, transnationalism, and globalization on an international crisis.

“… Ivon found herself in a new development behind the industrial park, Campos Eliseos, it said on the brightly lit billboard up ahead, The Elysian Fields. A clone of the Champs d’Elysée arch had been erected at the entrance to the development on Victor Hugo Street, and behind that were streets called Versailles and Concorde and Saint Germain…A tree-lined park ran the length of Elysian Fields Boulevard…She noticed the yellow warning signs … that prohibited digging in the ground or building fires, a skull-and-bones image to warn off those who couldn’t read that this verdant oasis was not a safe place for picnics or barbecues.”
–from Desert Blood: The Juárez Murders, pp. 269-270 © Alicia Gaspar de Alba, 2005


2005 Lambda Literary Foundation Award for Best Lesbian Mystery

2006 Latino Book Award for Best English-Language Mystery

2009 Latino Book Award for Best Spanish-Language Mystery (for Spanish translation)


In a genre populated with strong women, Gaspar de Alba’s Ivon Villa stands out as unforgettable. A visiting professor at an L.A. college, Ivon is smart, beautiful, and gay. She and her partner, Brigit, decide to adopt a baby from Mexico, and Ivon travels to her native El Paso to see the child. On the plane, she reads an article about the murdered bodies of more than 100 women found in the desert outside Juarez. The crime wave hits home when the mother of the baby she was to adopt becomes one of the victims. Then Ivon’s little sister, Irene, goes missing after an evening in Juarez. With the help of her cousin and a nervous priest, Ivon desperately searches for Irene while dealing with their accusatory mother and corrupt border patrol officers. Gaspar de Alba not only crafts a suspenseful plot but tackles prejudice in many of its ugly forms: against gays, against Hispanics, against the poor. An in-your-face, no-holds-barred story full of brutality, graphic violence, and ultimately, redemption. Jenny McLarin 
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

From Library Journal 
Ivon Villa, a women’s studies professor who needs to finish her dissertation in order to keep her job, travels to her hometown of El Paso to arrange for an adoption for herself and her female lover. Just across the border, however, the pregnant Juarez factory worker who agreed to give up her baby becomes the latest victim in a long string of unsolved murders of Mexican women in the area. Ivon vows to get past the secrecy, coverups, and conspiracy surrounding the terror-inflicting murders while dealing with her mother’s disapproval, her cousin’s alcoholism, and a renegade priest’s activism. Offering a powerful depiction of social injustice and serial murder on the U.S.-Mexican border, this is an essential purchase for both mystery and Hispanic fiction collections. 
Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information. All rights reserved.

PRAISE FOR Desert Blood: The Juárez Murders

“Gaspar de Alba brings a scholar’s mind, a fine writer’s sensitivity, and the open heart of her heritage. The result is a novel that takes your breath away, page after page, and grabs your heart.” 
–James Crumley, author of The Last Good Kiss

“Gripping, heart-wrenching, set against the tough, lacerating reality of border-town Ciudad Juarez … Desert Blood is a mystery unlike any other … Villa is the perfect match for the border itself. Brava!” 
–Lucha Corpi, author of The Gloria Damasco Series

“Desert Blood is an intricately plotted and engaging mystery, but it is more than well-written entertainment. It is an important book that sheds light on the Juárez murders–the ongoing slaughter of young Mexican women in the border city of Juárez by persons unknown. Desert Blood weaves together its fictional tale and the known facts of these notorious crimes in a way that reveals the cultural and political attitudes that have allowed these murders to continue with the indifference–if not the outright complicity–of Mexican authorities. Bravo to Alicia Gaspar de Alba! 
–Michael Nava, author of the Henry Rios mysteries

“. . .a page-turner of frightening speed … Let me say something loud and clear: Desert Blood: The Juárez Murders deserves the widest readership possible. In fact, copies of the novel should be delivered to the El Paso Police Department, La Migra, and the FBI with a post-it saying: ‘mandatory reading.” 
–Helena María Viramontes, author of Under the Feet of Jesus


Book Review by Rigoberto González (El Paso Times)

“Novel Explores Strings of Juarez Killings” by Elaine Ayala (San Antonio Express News)

“En el desierto corre sangre” by Laura Isensee (Rumbo) (en español)

Book Review by Patricia Trujillo (San Antonio Express-News)

Book Review by David Steinberg (Albuquerque Journal)

A report from the L.A. Times Festival of Books (by Ruben Moreno in Spanish in La Opinion)

Book Review by Alejandro Pérez (San Antonio Current)

Books To Watch Out For (scroll down to page 16)

Brand new review by Darla Baker from

Review by Mary Sarber in SouthWest BookViews. Summer 2005.

Online Review. K.I.T. Blogspot. 2/9/2007 (Scroll down to middle of page)


KPFA, “The Morning Show” (April 29, 2005) – San Francisco. Note: Search the show’s archives for April 29th; my interview begins at 7:30.

KUHF, “The Front Row” (May 5, 2005) – Houston

Available in Print or Kindle

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