ALAMEDA -- Charles Kerns loves to read mysteries and calls Oaxaca, Mexico, his second home. He's been visiting the beautiful colonial city for 35 years and knows well its streets, foods, people and complexity.
So it's not surprising that he choose Oaxaca as the setting for his first mystery, "Santo Gordo: A Killing in Oaxaca" (Create Space, $15).
"I decided I wanted to write a mystery about Oaxaca because I love the city," Kerns said. "I know it so well now I feel like I go home when I go there."
One day, the Alameda writer heard about the assassination of a government official in the marketplace near his home in Oaxaca. The official had been in his car with his 7-year-old son when he was shot. "What happened is they left the little boy in the car next to his father," Kerns said. "I always wondered what I would do if I went by there."
This was the germ for the book.
And mystery was the natural genre to present this story and all its ramifications. Kerns wanted a way to describe the city he loves as more than a travelogue, instead he wanted a way to present the feel of the city and its people. "I wanted something that moves and that looks around so you see the city. So it's a story, there's a plot and things happen and I've been told it has a "socko" ending," he said.
In the book Robert Evans, a retired American, witnesses an assassination as he leaves his neighborhood marketplace. He gets caught up in the political
Kerns' story and characters represent a construction of all he knows about the city and stories he's heard. Robert Evans resembles the author in some ways, and in others he's someone else. Though Oaxaca is a city full of expats, not all are sensitive to and appreciative of the native culture. Evans, like Kerns, is. "Evans cares about the people, the city, the expats and he tries to make things better," Kerns said. "He ends up becoming Santo Gordo because many people think he saved the little boy from the assassins."
When Kerns finished "Santo Gordo" he realized that food played a very important role in every chapter and that his protagonist was always looking for food. So it's not surprising that each of the 22 chapters is named for food or drink, including churro, huevos rancheros, cerveza and doughnuts. "In one chapter Evans is being chased. He doesn't have time to eat so he only gets a snickers bar, so that chapter I named snickers," Kerns said.
Kerns thinks the book will appeal to mystery readers who enjoy reading about other places, like to read about well-developed characters and like Oaxaca. He hopes his readers will take away an appreciation for the complexity of the city, its politics and the influence Americans have there.
Pleased with the dual themes of mystery and food, Kerns is already at work on his next book "The Oaxaca Chocolate Wars", which will feature the same characters and, probably, an exploding bakery. The author admits he doesn't always know where his writing will take him. "I have a couple of places I want the story to go, but it's surprising how things get resolved and I didn't even plan it," he said. "Things just seem to come together."
"Santo Gordo: A Killing in Oaxaca" is available at Books Inc., 1344 Park St. in Alameda, and through Amazon.