Bram Stoker Award and International Latino Book Award-winning author Cynthia Pelayo crafts an uncanny and unique blend of dark speculative horror through her range of fiction and poetry.
Throughout her rapidly expanding catalog of novels, collections, and more, Pelayo’s prose layers complexly plotted thrills and procedural techniques—similar to what one might see in the work of Thomas Harris. Interwoven with those thrills are ample dashes of fairy tale and fantasy. Cynthia Pelayo's is quickly carving her own niche in the horror and dark fiction landscape, building an impressive canon of tales that are eerie, emotionally complex, and downright unique.
Cynthia Pelayo is a fast-rising star in the horror world and if you're been sleeping on her work—the time is now.
For readers new and familiar looking for where to start or what to read next, we have gathered the pillars of Pelayo's must-read books, charting a path through her captivating speculative world.
Children of Chicago
The first in her trilogy of novels set in her native Chicago, Children of Chicago is a cutthroat novel that blends the vividness of a crime thriller with the mythical darkness of the Pied Piper fairy tale. Readers are introduced to Lauren Media, a troubled and tenacious detective who goes headlong into the unknowns of every unsolved homicide.
After a teenager is found brutally murdered in Humboldt Park, Medina traces the similarities between her own sister’s murder many years ago. Children of Chicago quickly sets the tone for a sinister menace, all the while showcasing Chicago through a hardened lens.
Pelayo’s harrowing yet heartfelt poetry collection Crime Scene takes readers, much like the title suggests, into an unabashed dive into a sequence of crime scenes. The poems in the collection all are donned a “report number” akin to case files by detectives, and the poems themselves spin a sing-song starkness as bodies are examined, murders are deconstructed, and the haunted memories of the dead provide glimpses of human cruelty.
The collection also is an evident work of a master of the poem, the cleverness of rhythm and enjambment. Taken in full, Crime Scene feels like a love letter to the lost.
The Shoemaker's Magician
The second entry in Pelayo’s Chicago trilogy, The Shomaker’s Magician continues the twin balance of crime and fairy tale, offering a narrative that blends mystery, noir, and fantasy into peak speculative thrills.
Readers are introduced to Paloma, a film expert, and her husband, a detective who is tasked with making sense of an odd murder at the Chicago Theater, the body adorned with a movie poster. The layered narrative fluctuates between Paloma and the detective, all the while her own influence and importance in the mysterious case becomes integral.
The Shoemaker’s Magician is every bit an enchanted blend of film fascination, the supernatural, and the world rendered raw and mysterious.
Her debut short story collection, Loteria consists of 54 stories, each paired with a card from the Mexican game of chance, “Loteria.” The inventive structure offers an exhilarating amount of range, with stories of varying length, some flash, some lengthy, yet in every story readers are transported into its own unique horror myth, everything from ghastly ghosts, hungry vampires, and even Chupacabra.
Pelayo’s collection feels so much like a modern tome of dark lessons and wonder, something not unlike Grimms Fairy Tales and other collections of the like. In Loteria, readers can expect to see Pelayo experimenting and having fun with all methods and measures of narrative.
Into the Forest and All the Way Through
This stunning collection of dark true crime poetry was nominated for a Bram Stoker Award for a 2020 Superior Achievement in a Poetry Collection. The brutally beautiful poems in this collection explore over one hundred real cases of missing and murdered women in the United States. It is not to be missed.
The forthcoming novel Forgotten Sisters acts as the capstone, the third entry in her Chicago trilogy. Containing her trademark blend of fairy tale and crime thrills, Forgotten Sisters goes many steps further, showcasing Pelayo’s interest in mystery and the supernatural.
Two sisters, Anna and Jennie, live off the Chicago River in an old building. Their own present is layered by a palpable, haunting past, and in many ways the sisters remain in their home much like they remain together, to be together, rather than alone, in the face of so many unknowns. And then there’s the city of Chicago’s own past and the inexplicable and mysterious drownings.
Forgotten Sisters is highly anticipated and will add another unique entry into Pelayo’s vast, speculative world.
We Came From an Island
Though out of print, I'd be remiss not to mention We Came from an Island, a limited-edition chapbook published by Thunderstorm Books.
In every way, a shining example of Pelayo’s ability to draw from any feeling or experience and conjure a rendition of such that is relatable, often gut-wrenching, and even ponderous. The chapbook consists of three stories, each offering insight and whispers of nonfiction, a sendoff, and an homage to Pelayo’s Puerto Rican heritage. The stories all deal with themes of family, tradition, culture, and more. If you happen to stumble across a copy it's worth picking it up for the story, “Boricua Obituary” alone.