Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Defiance: The Inspiration for "Lake of Fire"

Not since Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid had the West seen such a manhunt.

It started on the morning of May 29, 1998 when Cortez Police Officer Dale Claxton died in a flurry of gunfire when he tried to pull over a stolen water truck. 

The ensuing pursuit of Jason McVean, Robert Mason and Alan “Monte” Pilon mobilized more than 75 law-enforcement agencies and the U.S. Army’s Special Forces. The chase pitted three outlaws who had trained in wilderness survival against an entire army of officers—500 in all—and all their sophisticated tracking technology.

The outlaws won.

Well, maybe 'won' is too strong a word. They managed to avoid being captured. Their bodies were found one week later, five months later and many years later.

Dan Schultz’s gripping account, Dead Run, The Murder of a Lawman and the Greatest Manhunt of the Modern American West, is fascinating in peeling back the issues that thwarted a better search, including poor coordination and leadership among the many law enforcement agencies.

But what grabbed me about the book, when I was researching ideas for the fourth Allison Coil Mystery, was the portraits of the three individuals and their vehement anti-government stance.

Schultz’s portrayal of the three strong-willed individuals is what really got my juices going—and I started to think about all the standoffs out west, including the tense war of words between Cliven Bundy (and a militia) and the Bureau of Land Management. Bundy owed over $1 million in fees and penalties for trespassing on federal without a permit for over 20 years.

Currently, a similar type of battle has been brewing over the Sugar Pine Mine in Oregon; there are really no shortage of stories and situations like it—with underground networks of civilian militia ready to pop up and defend those they feel are being preyed upon by the government.

Of course, Dead Run was only the source of inspiration for the type of villain—villains—that I wanted to write about. Lake of Fire includes no murdered police officer, but there is (I think) a sinister plot that that requires hunting guide Allison Coil to confront those very close to her inner circle.

Anti-government extremists are everywhere including, sometimes, in your own backyard.

The west is a fascinating place. There are plenty of places to hide, plenty of places to run. Ask Butch Cassidy. Ask the Sundance Kid. But the question remains, are we a civilized society—or not?


Lake of Fire comes out Tuesday, Sept. 8. Kirkus Reviews has already called it “thrilling” and “irresistible.” 

I hope you enjoy it. 

If so, it's number three in the series following Antler Dust, Buried by the Roan and last year's Trapline, which won the Colorado Book Award in 2015 for best mystery.

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