Welcome to FIVE QUESTIONS. In this feature on my blog, you'll learn about new and exciting books from the author's themselves. You'll hear about the book, their characters, the inspiration behind the book, and other insider details. All through five simple questions.
Today, we are hearing from award-winning author James L'Etoile about his new novel DEVIL WITHIN, which is available now.
What is your new book about?
DEVIL WITHIN is the sequel to Lefty and Anthony nominated DEAD DROP. It’s set in the desert southwest and deals with border politics, border violence and those caught in between. Detective Nathan Parker finds a connection between what was thought to be series of random shootings plaguing the Phoenix area. Each of the victims had a role in an organization founded to help undocumented migrants make the dangerous crossing. The deeper Parker investigates the group the more he’s certain everyone isn’t who they pretend to be. Unless he can unmask who’s behind the organization, innocent lives are at risk. There’s the devil you know and the devil within—when to two collide, no one is safe.
What makes your protagonist unique?
You learn early on that Detective Nathan Parker’s partner was murdered during a smuggling run by a coyote trafficking undocumented migrants over the border. Parker’s living with survivor’s guilt. He wonders what he could have done to change the outcome that night? Parker’s attitudes toward the undocumented population have softened as he realizes they didn't cause his partner’s death—they were victims too. He’s promised his partner’s wife that he’ll find the killer. DEVIL WITHIN brings him face to face with the murderer and Parker is faced with a difficult choice.
What was the inspiration behind the book?
Working in the prison/parole/probation world for the better part of 30 years, I witnessed what happens when desperate, undocumented men are caught up in cartel-run drug trafficking. Looking for any avenue to buy their passage across the border, some end up in prison for crimes they commit on this side of the border. They consider themselves the lucky ones.
There were two events that have been in the back of my mind for years. The first was at a prison in San Diego. The prison is so close to the border, you can see the fence from the main yard. I was at the prison, and they couldn't clear their count—which means the warden didn’t have the number of inmates he was supposed to have in his prison beds. Kind of a big deal and it usually means all sorts of grief is coming down on that warden and his administration. But this time it wasn't an escape. It turned out there was one more body in the minimum facility than they were supposed to have. After several counts and going bed-by-bed, they found him. An undocumented migrant was so cold and hungry making the crossing that he snuck into prison for a place to sleep. It says something about his desperation, thinking breaking into prison was a better option.
Years before that event, I was a juvenile court referee hearing cases of young people arrested or cited for criminal behavior. One was a 15-year-old girl cited by the local police for shoplifting. Typically, shoplifting would result in a reprimand, or a community service project. The first thing the girl’s mother did was to hand me their “green cards,” the documents that verified their legal immigration status from Mexico. Because of the girl’s behavior, they were certain I was going to take their green cards and deport them. I didn’t of course, but what struck me was, here was this woman and her daughter—here legally in this country—and that status was so fragile, they both believed that they were about to be deported.
The two events, years apart, stuck with me and served as a foundation for the book and the series.
What's the most interesting or unusual thing you learned while researching for this book?
One of the most important things I found while researching the subject of undocumented migrants is an organization called the Pima County Missing Migrant Project. It’s a private group partnering with the Pima County Medical Examiner’s Office to track an identify migrants who don’t make it over the border. Their families have no answers. Since 1998, at least 7,805 migrants died making the crossing and an additional 3,527 have disappeared.
Which is your favorite minor character and why?
Billie Carson isn’t a minor character. She’d be pissed if she heard me utter the words. Billie is a unique one though. She’s a loner who prefers to live in a broken-down rust bucket of a trailer in the middle of the desert. She ekes out a living collecting scrap metal along the highways in the remote parts of the valley. People underestimate her. She’s tough. She’s a survivor. She left witness protection after the cartel threatened a Mexican family if she testified against them. Billie was a coyote bringing migrants over the border and knows where the cartel bodies are buried—literally.
DEVIL WITHIN is available now, and can be purchased at the following retailers.
Bookshop.org - Supporting Local Bookstores
James L’Etoile uses his twenty-nine years behind bars as an influence in his award-winning novels, short stories, and screenplays. He is a former associate warden in a maximum-security prison, a hostage negotiator, and director of California’s state parole system. BLACK LABEL earned the Silver Falchion for Best Book by an Attending Author at Killer Nashville, and he was nominated for The Bill Crider Award for short fiction. DEAD DROP garnered a Lefty and Anthony Award nomination. DEVIL WITHIN is his most recent novel. Look for FACE OF GREED, coming in 2023.You can find out more at www.jamesletoile.com.