1. What is Devil’s Kitchen about? What’s the premise?
Devil’s Kitchen is about a Mexican American homicide detective named Manny Aguilar and his crazy Yaqui grandmother who gives him advice— even though she’s dead—and his brainy pagan girlfriend, Reina, who keeps telling him to listen to his dead grandmother. When he gets fired for being in too many gunfights and goes to work as a private investigator for a smartass, pony-tailed criminal defense attorney named Jeff Goldman—and when a teenage female disappears—Manny Aguilar hooks up with another PI, Johnny Oaks, who specializes in finding runaways. These four underdogs—Manny, Oaks, Goldman and Reina, go up against the two most powerful forces in Arizona: land developers and Mexican drug lords.
2. What’s Manuel Aguilar’s “character arc”? How does he change in the course of the novel?
Manuel Aguilar begins his life in Devil’s Kitchen as an honorable, well-adjusted man. He’s not an independent thinker and experiences which are considered “paranormal” do not matter to him. His mindset works well in his law enforcement career and up to a point—a breaking point—in his life. When he begins to obsess on a particular murder case and begins to suffer what he discounts as stress-induced hallucinations, he must learn a new way of being.
3. What kind of person is Reina, Manny’s love interest?
Manny’s girlfriend, Reina, is a tall, beautiful whip smart redhead who has made her mistakes and won out over her demons. She’s loving, intelligent, slightly manic, loyal, and she’s very comfortable with the paranormal, which surrounds her, particularly in her home. Only Reina can guide and love Manny as he’s thrown into confrontations with his unconscious power and the disowned parts of himself.
4. What does Devil’s Kitchen say about contemporary Arizona society?
Devil’s Kitchen sets up certain viewpoints about contemporary Arizona society. Ethnically, Tucson and its environs is a tripartite society made up of Latinos, Anglos and Indigenous peoples.
Arizona in general is an unsophisticated sunbelt state, suffering from overdevelopment and overuse of its natural resources. Political leaders are frequently opportunists who are often carpetbaggers in league with ruthless land developers. The so-called Drug War is a constant in southern Arizona.
5. What is unique about the southwest borderlands between the US and Mexico and how does this environment contribute to the story?
The borderlands between the US and Mexico consist of desert, all of it hostile, some of it remarkably so. These deserts are fragile ecosystems, containing a great variety of unique plants and animals. Drug and human smuggling is a multibillion dollar a year industry and this border is its area of operations. The rise of violent Mexican drug cartels have put American border dwellers at risk and made Phoenix, Arizona, which is located 180 miles north of the border, the kidnapping capital of the United States.
Many Americans will try to shout me down but the facts are that American businesses, large and small, profit from cheap Latino labor and that millions of American drug users need or want drugs which the American government refuses to decriminalize. There is no way to win the Drug War except to take the money out of it and no way to deal with illegal immigration except through great effort at reform.
Typically, the border has been and still is largely a place of peaceful mingling between Mexicans and Americans—but always with a dark side that can’t be denied. My detective hero, Manuel Aguilar, is a Tucson native, bilingual in Spanish and English, very much an American in his outlook and background, but also a product of a tricultural environment. He is part Yaqui Indian and has a Mexican Yaqui grandmother.
6. Can you describe the type and amount of research you did for "Devil's Kitchen?"
I started my research for Devil’s Kitchen by attending lectures sponsored by the Arizona Mystery Writers club, a local Tucson organization. I did a ride-along with a Pima County Sheriff’s Officer and visited the Pima County Forensic Science Center, which is our Medical Examiner’s office. Arizona, known as a racist, backward state, is ahead of the game in this regard because we have Medical Examiners who are specially qualified medical doctors. We do not have coroners. Coroners may be very competent, but they are elected officials and may not be required to possess any special forensic knowledge.
I made many calls to law enforcement, listened to a lot of talks by same, read, and generally learned enough to write convincingly in both the procedural and PI subgenres of crime fiction. I have military and security services experience as well.
A friend who is a teacher and editor looked at an early draft of Devil’s Kitchen and urged me to amplify the environmental aspects of the novel. I then began to read about water and water politics in Arizona, as well as reading about the history of development in Arizona. I learned more about desert botany and geology. I studied some Native American history, too. The Tohono O’odham Nation, near Tucson, is the third-largest Indian reservation in the United States. All of this made for a deeper novel, relevant to present day Arizona life.
7. How do the differences between P.I work and detective work affect the way Manny solves cases?
Private Investigators are easier to fictionalize than sworn enforcement officers. A crime writer can get a PI to do just about anything. In reality, PI’s are licensed and the legal establishment at least attempts to hold them to a standard. But PI’s can’t serve warrants, they don’t have powers of arrest, and they depend on deception to a greater degree than sworn law enforcement officers. In order to write “procedurals,” where we build our plots and characters around “real cops,” we crime writers must know enough about law enforcement methods to convince our readers that they’re experiencing something close to the real thing.
8. There is an element of supernatural in "Devil's Kitchen." How does this belief affect the story and characters?
Manny Aguilar, the hardnosed detective hero of Devil’s Kitchen must learn to accept, even integrate, so-called paranormal phenomena into his life. It begins, for Manny, with his love for Reina, who manifests some kind of energy that may be viewed as supernatural. She herself assures Manny that the things he sees and feels aren’t “magic,” they’re just images and sensations rising up from his subconscious mind. Reina, for all her mysterious trappings and neo-pagan rituals, simply believes that there is more to our own minds than we know and that we sometimes tap into it.
9. Who are your favorite authors?
My favorite author is Cormac McCarthy, who writes literary fiction in a mythic style and to mythic scale. He closely observes and poetically describes nature. He writes “Westerns,” following his characters across hellish landscapes in Arizona and Mexico. Anybody who says he’s excessively violent hasn’t been keeping up with current events on the US-Mexico borderlands.
Another favorite author is Charles Bowden, known as the guru of border writers, author of a massive body of environmental writing and border reporting.
The crime fiction writers who inspired me and made me realize that I could put both my soul and my message into this often disrespected genre are Dashiell Hammett, James M. Cain, Raymond Chandler, and a number of other classic crime writers.
10. Can you tell us about any other books or future projects?
I’m currently working on a second Manny and Reina novel, hoping to successfully engage readers as I take my heroes and my heroine to the western Arizona deserts and to Arizona’s Highway 85.
Thanks so much to Clark for taking the time to answer these questions and give us a little more background on Devil's Kitchen. You can stay up to date on Clark's writing through Facebook.