Omnimystery News is pleased to welcome Clark Lohr, whose debut mystery, Devil's Kitchen (Dark Oak Mysteries, June 2011 Trade Paperback, 978-1-61009-012-4), introduces Arizona detective Manual Aguilar.
Today, Clark writes about the border environment in which he has set his book.
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Photo provided courtesy of
Manuel Aguilar, my detective hero in Devil’s Kitchen, is, ethnically, what is sometimes called a Mexican-American — a misnomer, considering that most of his ancestors have lived in Arizona, not Mexico, far longer than any Anglo-American. Aguilar would not care to be singled out for his ethnicity, nor does he spend any time worrying about it. He is a middle-class person. He thinks like the American detective that he is — and yet he has a disowned part of his psyche into which only Reina, his passionate, intuitive lover, can guide him.
Manuel Aguilar’s story begins with what he thinks is a routine murder investigation, a human head found in a Pima County landfill. This investigation will lead Manuel Aguilar to the doorsteps of powerful men, lords of the border, who expand their fortunes and protect themselves from consequences by purchasing politicians and police, enslaving other human beings, and destroying those who oppose them.
I began the process of writing Devil’s Kitchen after reading about a human head found in a Pima County landfill, left there by a killer who hoped to get the victim’s retirement checks. A decapitation — an unusual news story at the time. Not now, though. Not in the 21st Century world of the US-Mexico border, where, on the Mexican border and in Mexico itself, there have been some 40,000 drug related murders over a five year period. Mutilations accompanied many of these murders.
In fiction, Place is Character and the Arizona-Mexico borderlands answer to that dictum. Southern Arizona is a landscape of deserts and mountains and it is famous for the Saguaro Cactus. In southwestern Arizona, where elevations go below 1,000 feet, the ground temperature can hit 130 degrees in summer. In south-central and southeastern Arizona, mountain ranges called Sky Islands rise 10,000 feet above the hostile desert floor and are so isolated from each other that animal species, unique to only one sky island, sometimes appear. If you live in an Arizona city like Tucson or Phoenix, you may never know any of this — but you will know the crime that moves from these borderlands to your cities.
In the totality of this environment, we have a war. Casualties include not just US law enforcement officers and drug and human smugglers, but so-called “crossers”, people walking into the US to get work. The Coalicion de Derechos Humanos currently lists over 2,192 “recovered remains” found in the Arizona borderlands since the year 2000. Robert Krentz, whose family has ranched the borderlands for a hundred years, was a recent American victim, shot on his own land by an unknown person. The killer’s tracks led into Mexico. Opinions vary about who is to blame for this war. Either way, it’s brutal, Americans are largely unaware of it, and there’s no end in sight.
This is the milieu in which my heroes operate. Manny Aguilar, the detective; Reina, a whip smart, wisecracking paralegal; Jeff Goldman, a ponytailed criminal defense attorney whose cynical manner belies his outrage at corruption and injustice; and Johnny Oaks, a Cherokee private investigator who knows his way around a sniper rifle. Together, they take on the bad guys, unravel a complex conspiracy, and ride to a border showdown in Arizona’s remote Skeleton Canyon.
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Clark Lohr comes from a Montana farm and ranch background. He attended a one-room school through the eighth grade. Most of his friends were old men who told good stories. He is a Vietnam vet and a member of Veterans for Peace. Lohr has drifted considerably in his life, working a variety of dead end jobs. He has traveled in Asia, Europe and Central America, and is trained as a photographer.
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About Devil's Kitchen: Pima County Sheriff's Detective Manuel Aguilar investigates an apparently routine murder and soon finds himself in the middle of a hellish conspiracy spanning both sides of the border.
Devil's Kitchen is published as a Trade Paperback.