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Literature / Bone Street Rumba

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Carlos Delacruz, Soulcatcher. This is his world.
Bone Street Rumba is an Urban Fantasy universe, described in novels and short stories by Daniel José Older, published by Tor.

Carlos Delacruz is what is known, in supernatural parlance, as a "halfie". What that means is "half dead, half alive." What that means is that he was dead once, was brought back to life, and now exists in a state that is partially in both worlds. His skin is grey and cold like that of a corpse. His heart beats — a little.

His peculiar state is a rare one and it makes him useful to the Council of the Dead, the ghosts who are in charge of the dead populace of New York City. As such, he works for them as a soulcatcher: one of those who either apprehends or dispatches ghosts who do not simply accept their lot but who try to mess with, commune with, or disturb the living; or who try to change the balance between the living and the dead.

Riley is Carlos' partner in the missions they undertake.

Sierra Santiago is a teenage girl in Brooklyn who discovers at the beginning of her summer vacation that she is the granddaughter of a Shadowshaper, and discovers her own gift: the very same ability to communicate with spirits through art.


Gordo is a fat man with a gift for music, who is able to see ghosts. Krys is one of Carlos' coworkers in the COD. Baba Eddie is a santero who runs a shop in Brooklyn — or, more, he lets his niece and intern Kia do it.

The series is interesting and unique in that while it is Urban Fantasy genre, it is not the usual melange of European-based supernatural creatures and stories. Carlos and Sierra's stories involve Afro-Latin and Afro-Caribbean supernatural entities and stories instead. The characters are diverse, but without being tokens. There are people of diffferent ethnicities, religions, and lifestyles, showing the diversity of New York very close to how it is in the real world, and keeping in mind that old adage about how many millions of stories there are in the naked city — and that each person has their own.


  • Collection:
    • Salsa Nocturna (July 2012): A collection of short stories all existing in the universe of the books. Various people and ghosts in Carlos' world interact with the supernatural. Whether it fits in with the timeline of the books remains to be seen. Available on Smashwords.

  • Short Stories:
    • Skin Like Porcelain Death (May 2013): Carlos to the rescue - a teen giving into hormonal urges gets himself into trouble. Originally part of Salsa Nocturna, readable on on Tor's website.
    • Victory Music (June 2013): A teenager kicked out of xir family and home for being different, lonely after the loss of xir best friend Krys, gets offered a touch of supernatural magic, but finds a different power in xirself.note  Readable here.
    • Anyway: Angie (March 2014): A short story about Reza, who finds the unfortunate truth of what happened to her lost girlfriend Angie. Readable on Tor's website.
    • Kia and Gio (January 2015): A short story about Kia, the young santeria intern of Baba Eddie, and a memory of a lost love. Readable on Tor's website.
    • Ginga (May 2015): Kia takes Capoeira lessons. Carlos hunts a murderous ghost. They run into each other. Readable on Tor's website.

Anyway: Angie, Kia and Gio and Ginga all end up being part of the larger story in Midnight Taxi Tango. The Salsa Nocturna stories all take place after the events of Midnight Taxi Tango.

  • Novels:
    • Half Resurrection Blues (January 2015): The first novel in the series. In which Carlos and Riley have to deal with an impish infestation and find it leads to something bigger.
    • Shadowshaper (June 2015): Teenage artist Sierra discovers her ability to commune with spirits through art, and must protect them from someone who wants them for his own ends.
    • Midnight Taxi Tango (January 2016). Carlos is trying to recover emotionally from the previous book's events. Kia and Reza are trying to cope with losses of their own. Their losses turn out all to have a common denominator, and they must join forces to stop a great evil from costing them even more.
    • Battle Hill Bolero (January 2017). Carlos and Sasha are a team once again. Along with all the friends and allies they have made, it is time to take on The Council of the Dead.

The series has been optioned as of January 2015 for TV or film.

Bone Street Rumba contains examples of the following tropes:

  • Action Survivor: Sasha, describing herself as such almost verbatim.
    • This turns out to be true for all the halfies in Brooklyn, collectively called the Survivors.
  • Added Alliterative Appeal: Carlos' description of Big Case:
    Carlos: But here I am, holed up in a weird little backroom on 32nd Street with this gargantuan gumshoe ghost.
  • Affectionate Nickname:
    • Dr. Tijou and Baba Eddie call each other by affectionate nicknames. Tijou calls Eddie "Dr. Voudou". He calls her "Dr. Bonecutter".
  • All Love Is Unrequited:
    • Kia was in love with Gio, who had eyes for someone else.
    • Dr. Tijou has at least a crush on Baba Eddie who has a steady boyfriend.
  • Amnesiac Hero: Carlos Delacruz only has memories of what he has learned since he woke up. Three years prior to the events in Half Resurrection Blues.
    • Amnesia is a trait common to halfies, but past life regression through hypnosis can in some cases restore the memories of the previous life.
  • Anyone Can Die: There are ghosts of people who died at all stages of life, from childhood to old age.
  • Back from the Dead: Several examples. Carlos is the most prominent but Trevor, Sasha, and Sarco all qualify as do several others.
  • Badass Bookworm: Dro, who is equal parts researcher and warrior.
    • Jimmy in Salsa Nocturna seems to be heading this way.
    • Nydia the library researcher in Shadowshaper parodies the trope. She is scared, doesn't mind saying so, constantly tries to get Sierra and team to turn back, but still carries half a broomstick into battle when they refuse to turn back.
    • Although she is a ghost, Mama Esther fits the bill. She has rules about her library, and woe betide any fool who breaks them.
    • Dr. Tennessee is a hard smoking night dwelling researcher.
  • Badass Family:
    • Baba Eddie and Kia are uncle and niece.
      • As of Midnight Taxi Tango we meet Kia's cousin Giovanni.
    • In Shadowshaper Lázaro and his wife Carmen, and Sierra and her brother Jose.
  • Bald Black Leader Guy: Riley, who is the senior in the Riley/Carlos partnership.
  • Big Applesauce: The Bone Street Rumba stories take place in New York; most notably in Brooklyn, though there are mentions of the other boroughs.
    • Book 2 takes the cast out to Queens and Long Island.
  • Black and Nerdy: Jimmy. Big glasses. Bookish. Playful Hacker.
  • Blood from Every Orifice: Happens to David from New Year's Eve and to every victim who was used as a horse by the Big Bad of Half Resurrection Blues. It's the body's reaction to the wrongness of being used in this fashion.
  • Brother–Sister Team: Trevor and Sasha before the events of Half Resurrection Blues.
    • An evil example is in book 2: The Fern twins, Jeremy and Caitlin.
  • Brought Down to Normal: A villainous example in Shadowshaper. Sierra didn't want to kill Dr. Wick because as a spirit he could still cause trouble so she took away his powers.
  • Buses Are for Freaks: Or broke teenagers who don't have their licenses yet. Ditto the subway. Sierra and her friends travel this way when they can't get a ride from her Uncle Neville.
  • Calling The Old Ladies Out: In Shadowshaper Sierra calls out her racist aunt Rosa and her mother for keeping secrets and writing off their own father as crazy when there was a lot more to it than that, which they were too afraid of to admit.
    • A played with example is Kia calling her older cousin out for disappearing on her and her father.
  • The Call Left a Message: In Shadowshaper, Sierra was Locked Out of the Loop by most of her family, but her grandmother who was also a 'shaper, defied the men and bestowed the power to Sierra from beyond the grave.
  • Canon Welding: Shadowshaper characters turn up in the Bone Street Rumba books, and vice-versa.
  • Cellphones Are Useless: In the mundane world, of course not. To Carlos, their utility varies.
  • Cluster F-Bomb: The F-bombs fly fast and furious whenever Carlos or anyone else feels like using it.
  • Crazy-Prepared: Reza and crew. Justified, because together they survived something they refer to as The Bad Years. As a result, they're always armed to the teeth and always in communication.
  • Creepy Doll: Doubles as Product Placement. One of the villains in Salsa Nocturna has a room full of frilly American Girl dolls, using each as an individual Soul Jar for the men who come to sleep with her daughter and granddaughter.
  • Cuteness Proximity: Carlos is overcome with how tiny and perfect and precious and cute his twins are the first time he gets to see them in person and hold them.
  • Dance Battler: Kia is showing beginnings of it as she takes capoeira lessons.
  • Dance of Romance: Shadowshaper has Sierra and Robbie begin to grow closer while dancing at a club.
  • Deader Than Dead: When a soulcatcher must execute a ghost, they go to what is called the Deeper Death and no longer exist even as a ghost.
  • Death of a Child: Little babies, toddlers, and children all have ghosts in the world of Bone Street Rumba.
  • Deal with the Devil: Sarco the necromancer has made something along these lines to get to work with the ngks.
  • Did Not Get the Girl: They love each other sure, but Sasha can't reconcile being with the man who killed her brother so Carlos ends up alone.
  • Disappeared Dad: Dro, who died of cancer and ended up as a COD ghost, unable to be with his family, but also unable to forget them.
  • Downer Ending: Yeah, the day is saved in Half Resurrection Blues, but things end on a bittersweet note.
  • Drives Like Crazy: In Shadowshaper, Sierra's Uncle Neville.
  • Drowning My Sorrows: Amanda, one of the roommates of someone Carlos met on New Year's Eve.
    • Also, to a less self-destructive degree, Sasha
  • Eaten Alive: or Eaten Ghostly. Either way, this is the fate that awaits you if you kill an ngk. Kill one, and a swarm will appear out of nowhere to consume the killer of their brother, flesh, blood, ectoplasm, etc.
  • Eye Scream:
    • Riley pulls out his own ectoplasmic eye and gives it to Carlos to put in his own eye so he can see what's happening in the Underworld since they have to separate and Carlos needs to stay in the land of the living.
  • Fire-Forged Friends: Jimmy and Carlos become such after Carlos saves his life.
    • Reza, Sylvia Bell and Squad 9, Giovanni and Rigo. Dr. Tennessee. Everyone who helped back Carlos up in Midnight Taxi Tango.
  • Flashback: They occur as it becomes important to mention in Carlos' narration.
    • The first is in chapter 1, wherein Carlos thinks back on how he came to be hunting on New Year's Eve.
  • Friend to All Children:
    • Gordo is self-admitted such. He teases them and pretends to hate them and they love him all the more.
    • Carlos has a definite soft spot for kids and teens; he is very protective of them.
  • Gate Guardian: The entradas, entrances to the Underworld, are usually guarded by Council of the Dead Soulcatchers. Usually.
  • Generic Graffiti: Inverted. The graffiti in Shadowshaper is beautiful street art, often homage to the dead, and for Shadowshapers, has great significance.
  • Ghostly Goals: There are many reasons that ghosts linger after their mundane death. Several are mentioned in the series.
  • Good Smoking, Evil Smoking:
    • Good guys who smoke:
      • Carlos smokes Malagueñas.
      • Gordo, Baba Eddie and Victor smoke cigarettes.
      • Dr. Tennessee likes cigars but has become partial to Malagueñas after Carlos offers her one. She and Kia also smoke joints.
    • In Shadowshaper, Manny and some of the other old men at the Junklot smoke Malagueñas as well.
    • Bad guys who smoke: To be determined.
  • Greasy Spoon: The diner the gang frequents.
  • Handicapped Badass: Carlos really does have a hard time walking without his cane, but with it, he moves almost like he doesn't have a bad right leg.
  • Healing Hands: Multiple examples.
    • In the ghost world: Mama Esther has unspecified methods of ghost healing.
    • The Council of the Dead use some sort of ghost technology
    • Baba Eddie uses santeria.
  • Hell Is That Noise: Any noise an ngk makes is painful to ghosts and/or half-dead. But their shrieking, screeching call is a whole other level of awfulness. Their noises also permeate to the living world at a subconscious level and drive the living away.
  • Hide Your Gays: Averted. There are people of all different orientations in the stories and novels.
  • I Call It "Vera":
    • Krys, from Salsa Nocturna, refers to her rocket launcher as "Greta".
    • Kia, as of "Ginga", refers to a weapon she receives from Carlos as "Ethereal Juniper".
  • Inelegant Blubbering: Carlos doesn't even try to front after receiving some information that hits him really hard emotionally. He puts his head down and sobs.
  • Ironic Nickname: Inverted.
    • Gordo is called Gordo because he's fat, as opposed to Tiny.
    • Big Case is not referred to by any other appellation, and he's a giant.
  • I See Dead People: Multiple cases. So far it appears that if a living person survives a supernatural attack meant to steal their soul or kill them, they end up with the ability to see the dead as a result.
    • Jimmy as of a traumatic experience in Salsa Nocturna
    • Gordo, who has not described how he developed the ability or has always had it.
    • As of Ginga, Baba Eddie's niece Kia.
    • As of Midnight Taxi Tango, Rohan.
  • Killed Off for Real: Commonplace in a universe where there exists a sort of police/military over the ghost population. Some humans end up just dead. Some end up as ghosts. If a ghost dies, they are Deader Than Dead.
    • Angie, Reza's girlfriend is seen as a body and no ghost has showed up as of yet.
    • Trevor B, Sarco's first pawn is dispatched with Carlos' sword.
    • Dro of the COD destroyed utterly for disobeying the "do not attempt to harm the ngks" rule.
    • Sarco, the Big Bad of the first book, who also killed an ngk.
    • Essentially, anyone who kills an ngk will die. If they are a ghost, they will die the deeper death.
    • In Shadowshaper everyone in the all-boys senior Shadowshaper club except its founder, Sierra's Grandfather Lázaro.
  • Last Request: Trevor, after Carlos shanks him, asks Carlos to protect his sister Sasha from the Council of the Dead. Carlos promises to honor it, even though his mind is not entirely on the moment.
  • Libation for the Dead: Jimmy invokes it while hanging out with Carlos, Riley and Gordo.
    Jimmy: [to Riley] I was gonna spill it on the floor, but you're right here.
  • Locked Out of the Loop: Sierra, by her male family members and her mother, but for different reasons.
  • Long-Lost Relative:
    • Not that long: Carlos knew Sasha was pregnant by him. He finally gets to meet his offspring.
    • Missing for so many years that the family presumed him dead, cousin Gio showed up alive, well, and in Brooklyn right after Kia finally accepted that he had to be dead
  • Love at First Sight: Played with. The first time Carlos lays eyes on Trevor's sister Sasha, he is taken by her beauty, and waxes rhapsodic about it internally for a bit, before bringing his attention back to Trevor, who is dying in his arms. He remains discombobulated a bit longer, much to the latter's annoyance.
  • Mama Bear: Sasha. Reza remarks several times on what strength Sasha is calling upon to not destroy everything once the bad guys kidnap her twins.
  • Manly Tears/Sand In My Eyes: Carlos' tears are described by both tropes at different times.
  • Meaningful Name: Carlos Delacruz. "Delacruz" means "Of the cross." Baba Eddie gave Carlos the name and said that the Cross of religious significance is not the only cross there is. Crossroads also count.
  • The Medic: Carlos' healthcare entourage. See also Healing Hands above.
    • Dr. Tijou and Victor use regular human medicine.
    • Victor's girlfriend Jenny uses holistic medicine.
  • Mortality Grey Area: Carlos Delacruz is referred to as a "halfie" because he's only half-dead: he and a few other characters were killed, but then brought partially back to life by another character, hence the first book's title Half-Resurrection Blues. He impregnates Sasha in the first book, and their twins are born fully alive.
  • Muggles: So far, Victor, Jenny, and Dr. Tijou are the nonpowered humans who have been drawn into the world of the supernatural.
    • In Shadowshaper, Uncle Neville, Aunt Rosa, Maria Santiago and her husband, and Nydia the librarian are all non-gifted.
    • Xiomara and Jackson, Carlos and Sasha's twins, are living and ordinary humans despite being conceived by half-dead/half-alive parents.
  • Multitasked Conversation: Carlos often has these when he is in the company of nothing but ghosts. It's a little more complicated when the group is living and dead both at the same table.
  • Must Have Caffeine: Several characters in the book are big drinkers of cofffee and tea.
    • Carlos prefers Spanish and Mexican coffee, but isn't particular in a pinch.
    • Dr. Tijou and Kia both prefer tea.
  • Near-Death Experience:
    • Carlos, more than once: the experience that caused him to end up as a halfie, and then again after his misadventure with Sarco.
    • Jimmy, after getting involved with the wrong girl in Salsa Nocturna.
    • Rohan after the big fight in Midnight Taxi Tango.
  • Necromancy: The Big Bad of the first book. He is capable of body hopping.
  • Never Mess with Granny: Sweet old ghost librarian Mama Esther? She literally occupies the entire building she haunts, and has centuries of power to bring to bear should anyone be so foolish as to piss her off.
    Mama Esther: There is no combat allowed in Mama Esther's library! [her hands, literally the size of the room's 19th century walls, clap the offenders between them]
  • Not-So-Phony Psychic: There's a tarot reader — Ol' Ginny — who has a tiny smidgen of ability, but is mostly fake.
  • Our Ghosts Are Different: Ghost types vary by manner of death, and age of ghost. The ghosts are intangible unless they will themselves otherwise.
    • Some ghosts keep their personalities and minds.
    • Some are just mindless poltergeists.
    • Some have greater ability to interact with the living than others.
    • The ones who can interact with the living world are capable of eating and drinking (but generally have to do so awkwardly so regular humans don't see floating cups and plates).
  • Our Zombies Are Different: The necromancer in Half Resurrection Blues can bring people back from the dead in different states:
    • with their personalities intact if not their memories like Carlos
    • having dumped out their personalities to use their bodies as simple mindless destructive grunts.
    • The Zombies in Shadowshaper are called corpuscules. They are corpses with somebody else's spirit forced inside to do the work.
  • Papa Bear: Carlos is, in general, protective of teens and children. But do not mess with his own family. Things will go very badly for you.
  • Playing Drunk: Carlos does this in "Half Resurrection Blues" to get closer to his first target.
    • He repeats the trick with some advice from Reza to make it stronger in Midnight Taxi Tango.
  • Power Incontinence: Carlos can cast his psychic net too wide so to speak, and overload his receiver. This results in him being tuned out to his environment and babbling gibberish about all the information overload he's experiencing until someone snaps him out of it.
  • Power Tattoo: in Shadowshaper, Robbie is covered in them from waist to shoulders. He can channel the spirits of his ancestors through them to fight for him.
  • Relationship Upgrade: Sierra and Robbie go from Fire-Forged Friends to this with The Big Damn Kiss.
  • Rule of Three: The Big Bad had three people he intended to use for his plot in the first novel.
  • Screw the Rules, I'm Doing What's Right!:
    • In Salsa Nocturna, Riley kills a ghost who is under the protection of the Council because the ghost is hateful and murderous.
    • In Half Resurrection Blues, Dro attacks an ngk despite the rules saying not to because one hurt Riley.
    • Carlos protects Trevor's sister Sasha despite the Council targeting the person for a kill.
    • Sylvia Bell and her loyal Squad 9 are on probation from the Co D when we meet them in Midnight Taxi Tango. She quits altogether after seeing the depths of their depravity.
  • Secret-Keeper: Shadowshaper has Sierra's Uncle Neville, who is a Muggle, but who knows about Shadowshaping. He is okay with being the mundane one and dealing with mundane obstacles.
  • Sharp-Dressed Man: Carlos prides himself on being dapper, and takes his time getting dressed in the morning so he looks sharp.
    • Reza is a sharp dressed woman, so much so that it gives her a sort of power. Carlos takes one look at her and declares that he has been out-dappered.
  • Shout-Out
    • In "Victory Music", Wes references Casper.
    • In "Half Resurrection Blues", The Dark Knight. Trevor, who is laughing like a maniac demands of the crowd, "Why so serious?"
    • In "Half Resurrection Blues" Alice in Wonderland. Carlos muses on what Trevor is up to: "Curiouser and curiouser."
    • In" Midnight Taxi Tango" Carlos smirks at Kia naming the weapon he gave her by remarking that they're not in The Hobbit
  • Smoking Is Cool: Carlos smokes Malagueñas, a type of cigar, though he does not chomp them.
  • Spell Blade: The COD all carry them, specially treated to be able to kill ghosts. They are still deadly in the mundane sense as well.
  • Stalker with a Crush: The Axe-Crazy bad guy from one of the stories in the collection.
  • Sword Cane: Carlos carries one. It was a gift from Riley, and is his most frequent Weapon of Choice. Due to Carlos having a limp, the cane part is not just for show.
  • Talking in Your Sleep
    • Carlos does this while delirious from an injury in Salsa Nocturna. It bewilders Jenny and gives details about his case when she teases him for talking in his sleep.
  • Talking to the Dead
    • Wes, in "Victory Music", talking to Krys (whom xie does not know is still around as a ghost).
    • Kia in "Kia and Gio", addressing the ghost in Baba Eddie's shop.
  • Telepathy: How the Council transmits orders to their agents.
    • Carlos can only receive but not send due to his partially living status. He can, however, see memories and emotions given off by humans when they're close to the surface.
  • Theme Naming:
    • The 'Verse itself and the Carlos novels all have dance and music style titles: Rumba, Blues, Tango.
  • Traumatic Ghost Sight Awakening: Jimmy is able to see and communicate with ghosts after a Near-Death Experience that almost cost him his soul.
    • This is also true for burgeoning capoeirista Kia after an attack in "Ginga".
  • The Unpronounceable: The ngks are little implike creatures. Carlos and Riley joke about how unpronounceable their name is. The author has described how to pronounce it for readers as: "like a snare drum on the last letter."
  • Throwing Your Sword Always Works: How Carlos kills Trevor B. when he runs. Carlos can't follow on his bad leg, so he unsheathes his Sword Cane and lets fly. Zing.
  • True Companions: As of Salsa Nocturna: Carlos has managed to adopt himself a family of people from both sides.
    • Sierra chooses hers from her friends and family, forging a new generation of Shadowshapers.
  • The Underworld: reached by way of entradas, entrances that exist in the mortal world.
  • Unstoppable Rage: Played with. Kia is able to stop Carlos with being right and common sense, but it is a near thing on more than one occasion.
  • Unwitting Pawn: Played with. The Big Bad picks three, but one is too obvious and the other two are too savvy to stick to the plan.
  • Why Did It Have to Be Snakes?: Reza has a visceral disgust and loathing of bugs and creepy crawlies, especially roaches. As a result the Arsenal in the trunk of her Crown Victoria contains insecticides in cans, bombs and grenades. To say they come in handy is an understatement.
  • Zombie Gait: Subverted by the zombie Sarco sets to chase Carlos. It's very fast, and Carlos has a hard time keeping out of its grasp.