Bindle Punk Bruja by Desideria Mesa (book review).

The author Desideria Mesa helpfully provides an Epigraph that explains ‘Bin-dal Punk’. It’s an early twentieth century term for what we would probably call a tramp. It is of course a derogatory term. Broo-ha is a woman with magical powers. What we would most likely call a witch. Putting this together the title, ‘Bindle Punk Bruja’, would seem to refer to a tramp who’s also a witch.

Now that we have sorted out the title what is the novel about? Well, it is set in the Kansas City in the 1920s where prohibition and mob rule were the order of the day. This is the tale of Luna Alvarado, Rose Langley and Rose Lane who all happen to be the same person but with three very different public profiles.

In the 1920s, immigrant Mexicans were regarded as the lowest of the low with no social standing. When Luna Alvarado was born, her Mexican immigrant family saw her white pale skin and Caucasian features inherited from her father as a blessing. They sent her to the Guadalupe Centre to be schooled in white culture and supplemented this with private tutors. Eventually, the Luna Alvarado was erased and only emerged on the rare moments when she visited her Mexican immigrant family.

Rose Langley was a part-time journalist working for the Star newspaper. This was, of course, unusual as the majority of journalists were men. The only other female journalist was Margaret who also happened to be the niece of the paper’s editor. While normally doing ‘fluff’ pieces, the two team up for an interview with a prominent social figure (ie mobster) which is probably the last thing that Rose Lane would want to be doing.

Rose Lane comes out at night to run the River Rose speakeasy with its resident jazz band. Being an illegal operation, its best customers are criminals. Rose rents the premises from a local gangster who happens to work for a proper mobster who has his sights on the big time. Rose certainly doesn’t want to upset these people neither as Rose Langley or as Rose Lane.

Another aspect to this story is that some but not all of the female Mexican immigrants have magical powers to varying degrees. The magic has three branches Healing, Curses and Charm. While Rose’s grandmother Abula is an exceptionally powerful Bruja, Rose’s abilities seem to be limited to simple charms.

This is an intriguing story of how Rose uses everything she can to try and better her position and help her family. It has lots of 1920s lingo and characters like flapper girls and Al Capone. Even the Ku Klux Klan make an appearance. As Rose builds up her business, more and more people vie to control her and ensure they get their cut. When the threats and violence escalates, Rose has to use more and more desperate measures to protect those she cares about.

There’s a lot to like in this book which drags you into what the 1920s might have been like in Kansas but with a magical twist. The one thing I didn’t like was that, with just three exceptions, all the men are portrayed as monsters intent on subjugating women. As a male reader, I’m obviously in the monster character which can make for uncomfortable reading, although I’m sure everyone will root for Rose as she climbs the social ladder.

Andy Whitaker

September 2022

(pub: Harper Voyager, 2022. 400 page paperback. Price: $12.98 (US), £10.99 (UK-26 September 2022). ISBN: 978-0-06-305608-4)

check out website: www.harpercollins.co.uk/


I live in deepest darkest Essex where I enjoy photography, real ales, walking my dog, cooking and a really good book. I own an e-book reader which goes with me everywhere but still enjoy the traditional paper based varieties. My oriental studies have earned me a black belt in Suduko and I'm considered a master in deadly Bonsai (there are very few survivors).

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