The Skull of Pancho Villa and Other Stories


by Manuel Ramos

ISBN: 978-1-55885-808-4
Published: March 31, 2015
Pages: 181
Price: $17.95


Legend has it that Pancho Villa’s grave was robbed–and his head stolen–in 1926. A gringo is credited with the theft, but Gus Corral’s great-grandfather was there too. As often happens to Chicanos, his role was given short shrift. But the Corral family has taken care of the skull for as long as Gus can remember. It’s a jolt when “Panchito” is stolen from his sister’s house. He knows he will have to get to the bottom of the disappearance, even if it means tangling with thieves and thugs.

A variety of characters–writers, attorneys, Vietnam vets, cops, soldiers–populate these stories in which situations frequently aren’t what they seem. An old man knows more about the disappearance of a neighbor than he lets on. A barber is involved in something that brings a ski-mask wearing, gun-toting hoodlum into his shop. And a cop accused of using excessive force hasn’t told his family the whole truth.

Many of these gripping stories feature Mexican-Americans struggling with their circumstances as an ethnic minority in the United States. Others cover historical events, from the Mexican Revolution to an encounter with Jack Kerouac. All spotlight Ramos’ artistry and dexterity as he shifts from noir to historical and even flash fiction. Spanning his acclaimed writing career, this volume includes Ramos’ first story published in 1986, which features an attorney who served as the prototype for Luis Móntez, the protagonist in five of his award-winning novels.

“Ramos puts Latinos back in the picture. He is known as a crime writer, but that doesn’t quite capture what he does. His books are love stories, political dramas, mordant cautionary tales. Characters who are Latino, black and white, artists, professionals and laborers, are described in staccato chapters, like a catchy corrido.”
—Los Angeles Times

“Manuel Ramos has a well-earned reputation for writing gritty stories about Latinos, stories that grab you by the throat. The stories are clever and sometimes funny, but their real strength is the way they capture today’s Latinos — the talk and humor, the swagger and irony. The stories bring to life the contemporary culture of north Denver, the Southwest and Mexico. Ramos has a rich voice. He nails it.”
—The Denver Post

“Ramos revisits significant themes of Chicano literature and gives them an ironic twist oftentimes disguised as tragedy. Poets, drunkards, veterans and ranchers are some of the characters that pass through the pages of this enjoyable collection. The story selection covers almost three decades worth of literary creation, which is evidence of the place Ramos has consistently held in Chicano lit.”
—Agencia EFE

The Skull of Pancho Villa and Other Stories is the first collection of short fiction from the Denver-based writer Manuel Ramos, often called the ‘Godfather of Chicano Noir.’ Almost without exception these stories involve crime, law enforcement and desperation. Ramos is a master at creating atmosphere, especially a 1940s private-eye feel, moodily cinematic in black and white and more than 50 gritty shades of gray. He tells the stories of ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances, their lives often complicated by prejudice, just doing the best they can in los Estados Unidos.”
—High Country News

“Ramos’ stock-in-trade is noir and hard-bitten fiction, so there’s a rich variety of losers and chagrined saps in these pages. Not only does he have the storyteller’s DNA, he’s visited by a marvelous agglomeration of characters who want their story out there. The quick writes are gems and it’s good seeing them get some ink. From point of view, to character and ethos, to plot and twist, what Ramos does with such a tight space is a model for all writers.”
—La Bloga

“Award-winning author Ramos has tapped into a style of writing that seamlessly blends the beauty and rhythm of Spanish with the savvy wittiness of English. There are love stories, hate stories, stories about systemic abuse of people in general and Mexican Americans in particular, and stories of hope both fulfilled and dashed, sometimes all at once. While there are short stories, they do not fall short of offering full immersions into Ramos’ inspired take on characters and their worlds.”

MANUEL RAMOS is the recipient of several literary awards and the author of numerous novels, including Desperado: A Mile High Noir (2013), King of the Chicanos (2010), Brown-on-Brown: A Luis Montez Mystery (2003) and The Ballad of Rocky Ruiz (1993: 2004), an Edgar Award finalist. He graduated from Colorado State University with honors in 1970, and received his law degree from the University of Colorado in 1973.

Manuel lives and works in Denver, Colorado.