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Cal East Bay Biology Professor Receives Acclaim for Second Suspense Novel

  • February 29, 2016

“The Water of Life Remains in the Dead,” the second novel by Cal State East Bay Professor Maria Nieto, has been ranked one of the top 10 Best Fiction Books for 2015 by The Latino Author, a forum for Latino and Hispanic literature. In addition to writing fiction, Nieto has taught biological sciences at California State University, East Bay for 27 years and published extensively in her field.

Released in December 2015, “The Water of Life Remains in the Dead” is a stand-alone sequel to Nieto’s first book, “Pig Behind the Bear.” Both novels take place in 1971 and center around a fictional character, Los Angeles Times junior reporter Alejandra Marisol, who employs the art of deduction and forensic science in her reporting as she becomes embroiled in murder, political corruption and shady real estate transactions. Along the way she also must deal with an obstructionist LA Archdiocese church hierarchy. 

The title of Nieto’s latest book refers to the ability of medical examiners to discover where a person was born and where they recently lived by examining the ratio between two types of oxygen isotopes in their teeth and long bones. This ratio has been determined and mapped for many locations around the world, allowing investigators to match the person with their birthplace and where they grew up with a high degree of accuracy.

“As a scientist myself, I wanted to incorporate scientific methods into the book, and this forensic procedure seemed like a good way to do it," Nieto said. "The water of life can also refer to the idea that we carry our history in our bones throughout our lives.” 

In addition to the scientific aspect, Nieto weaves social issues and real events into her narratives. “I wanted to talk about weighty issues in my books, but I wanted to do it in a way that was both palatable and entertaining for the reader,” she explained. “Many of the things that Alejandra faces are rooted in reality. The forced eviction of Mexican Americans from Chavez Ravine in the 1950s is just one example. That really happened to make way for Dodger Stadium. But I also use magical realism to further the theme of finding one’s inner strength. When Alejandra is confronted by Jesus and the Virgin Mary in a church, we’re not sure if she is in a dream state or reality. But she later discovers a lipstick in her pocket that was given to her by Mary, and she uses it as a talisman to bolster her own inner strength when she needs it most.”

Nieto plans to continue her Alejandra Marisol series and is already at work on the third book. For more information about the books or to schedule a reading, contact her at maria.nieto@csueastbay.edu.

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