Charles Kerns: Oaxaca Chocolate
Stanford Libraries veteran Charles Kerns has recently published Oaxaca Chocolate, the second novel in his "Santo Gordo Mystery" series. (We reviewed the first book in the series, Santo Gordo: A Killing in Oaxaca, a few years ago in this same space.)
Not only is the new Santo Gordo mystery a great read: it was also recently chosen by the prestigious Kirkus Review as one of its "Indie Books of the Month" selections, accompanied by an appreciative review.
Like the previous novel, Oaxaca Chocolate is narrated by ex-pat Robert Evans, a long-time gringo resident of Oaxaca who can't seem to shake either his local nickname "Santo Gordo" or his reputation as a corpulent, holy, and uniquely gifted crime-fighter.
As much as Evans would prefer to live a quiet, anonymous life of coffee, doughnuts, and retirement in the Mexican paradise he calls home, circumstances conspire against him, and they hit him where it hurts; this time, his favorite bakery is blown up -- with him inside.
The circumstances are mysterious, of course, but they're not limited to the explosion; shady NGOs, corporate "do-gooders" with no feeling for unique Oaxacan culture, and even Evans's once-estranged daughter are all connected in ways that only the reluctant detective can unravel.
In addition to all the mysteries, Charles's novel is a woeful plaint against the post-NAFTA proliferation of carbon-copy U.S.-style strip malls that threaten "old Mexico," as well as a love letter to the people, the colors, the smells, and of course the food and drink of his beloved adopted city and country. There's even hint of Charles's long library career in his hero's appreciation for the new sleuthing partner he hires:
I was lucky to find him. Serendipity happens sometimes, like finding his note.... Serendipity is important, maybe more important than anything else. In the library you come across books. In travel you stumble into places. In life you bump into a new friend or maybe a wife. It works well in mysteries, too.
He had been doing this work eight months. He was a real paid detective, not a bumble-into-it like me.
You can read the first chapter of Oaxaca Chocolate on Charles's Santo Gordo blog, where you'll also find a discount code to buy the book.
Our congratulations to Charles for the attention his new novel is garnering, and our thanks to him for giving us another tasty Mexican mystery!