By Diane Welch
Local Emmy Award-winning filmmaker and author Glenn Palmedo-Smith has recently launched what he plans to be a series of detective novels featuring a Latino protagonist.
Manny Valdez, P.I., makes his world debut in “Castro City,” which was just released through Dini Products, Palmedo-Smith’s publishing company.
The action takes place in Mountain View, Calif., a former Spanish land grant that would later become the heart of Silicon Valley. It’s internal barrio, Castro City, “a city within a city,” provides the setting for a sinister plot born from kidnappings and murder.
It’s a familiar haunt for Palmedo-Smith who now lives in Solana Beach, but was raised in Mountain View.
“I always wanted to challenge myself to write a novel,” he said, “and it’s often suggested to write what you know, so I thought why don’t I write about my youth?”
The storyline is set in 1967 – when Palmedo-Smith was 15 – against the backdrop of California’s love and peace movement contrasted with a hidden world of bikers, drug cartels and gangs. Valdez’s luck changes when he is hired by Bernard Balsford – a fictional lawyer with expansive real estate holdings – to find his missing daughter.
Much like the movie “Chinatown,” the back story is almost more interesting than the characters, said Palmedo-Smith. He weaves in accurate historic facts that take the reader from the era of the Spanish Dons to the 1960s when Mexican laborers worked the local agricultural lands held by Del Monte, with the aroma of pickles, artichokes and beets infusing the air as train loads of produce were shipped to points beyond. This detail comes from first-hand experience.
“I wanted to talk about this agricultural area which would later become the center of high tech. In fact, I went to school with Steve Jobs who lived a few blocks away from me,” Palmedo-Smith said.
But as the neighborhood became more diversified, middle-class families moved out and Latinos moved in. They represented half of the residents by the 1960s. The action moves from the barrio to San Francisco as Valdez follows leads to find the missing girl. It is the era of radical groups that Palmedo-Smith was aware of during his teen years. “This was the kind of world I was living in. My father was a socialist, my sister founded a commune, my brother – a beatnik – frequented Haight-Ashbury and my mother taught yoga. I experienced this world and, quite frankly, I couldn’t wait to move to San Diego to get away from it,” Palmedo-Smith said.
But looking back, Palmedo-Smith realizes how rich that experience was and is able to express it in his novel by portraying a Latino private investigator “exploring the white man’s world.”
The unique approach of his story lends itself to a series much like Ross McDonald’s who wrote about his protagonist Lou Archer. The reader relates to the leading character and wants to follow his exploits. “I’ve been toying around with some ideas that maybe Manny Valdez has a reason to come down to San Diego,” said Palmedo-Smith. “I can see a series where I explore more interesting places showing the underbelly of more communities.” And naturally a screenplay is in the works for a possible future movie, he added.
Palmedo-Smith’s filmmaking credits include “The Hungry Woman,” a feature film depicting a local true-life murder mystery. This is Palmedo-Smith’s second book and is available via his website at www.castro-city.com.