Monday, November 14, 2011


Darrell James

When I first set about creating the Del Shannon series of mystery/thrillers, I troubled over the setting, where to establish the character’s home base. At the time, I was living primarily in L.A. and the obvious choice seemed to be to set the stories there, in a city known for crime and volience. The idea, frankly, left me a little bored. L.A. has more than it’s fair share of fictional cops and investigators, crime heroes and heroines. Everyone from Connelly to Ellroy to Wambaugh to Crais, all have set their stories there.

I was convinced I didn’t want to write just another “L.A. story”.

For that reason, I decided to place my lead character on the landscape I have long romanticized and loved—Arizona, the Sonoran Desert, the Great Southwest, Tucson.

It’s a place I know well. My wife and I first arrived there together in the late eighties, and since that time we have crossed deserts, climbed mountains, driven every highway and hiked nearly every trail. We’ve explored mine shafts, chanced ghost towns, learned the names of indigenous species, studied the lore... It’s an awe inspiring land. (Don’t believe me? Just pick up any copy of Arizona Highways and I think you’ll have to agree.) For that reason, it became the most likely next choice for my protagonist’s home setting.

There was just one problem.

Tucson (my Tucson) just didn’t inspire much of a sense of mystery and suspense with me. Really, how can anything particularly villainous take place in a town populated mostly by retirees. Where golf resorts and country clubs are around every corner. Where majestic mountains rise to meet an endless blue sky. Where the travel guide boasts 323 days of sunshine per year. I mean… murder, mayhem, madness… these things are supposed to take place in dark alleys aren’t they? Brooding bars. Rundown tenements. Where’s the noir?

Well, I suspect it’s there. And Tucson does have its share of crime. But, more appropriately, I’ve learned to adapt Del’s fictional life to the setting. The series, has taken on a somewhat different tone than I’d first envisioned. The stories themselves have turned more adventurous than noir. More thriller-ish than mystery. (And for the better, I believe.)

And, Del Shannon, well.. she fits right in. From the Baby Eagle she keeps tucked into her waistband at the small of her back, to the red Jeep Wrangler that has become her trademark vehicle, Del fits the mold of the rugged individualist that Arizona is known for.

While her missing persons cases may sometimes take her afield, it is planned that each story in the series will start and end in Tucson. It’s where Del lives and loves, finds happiness and heartbreak. And there’s plenty of villainry to go around.

NAZARETH CHILD, book one in the series, released this past September, takes Del into the Appalachian region of Kentucky in search of the mother she’s never known. But the blazing climax takes place right there in her old home town of Tucson.

Book two, SONORA CROSSING, finds Del closer to home, on a quest into the senderos, the dangerous drug corridors between Arizona and Mexico, to retrieve a kidnapped child who many believe to be clairvoyant. Will Del survive the crossing? And what secrets might this strange little girl reveal? This book, like it’s predecessor, finds it’s climax in Arizona. SONORA CROSSING is scheduled for release in September of next year.

Whether sunny or dark, warm or cold, Del has made the Arizona desert her home. I hope you’ll give one of her adventures a try.


Kathleen Ernst said...

I love books with a strong sense of place! Interesting to hear how the book & character evolved.

Darrell James said...

Kathleen, Del Shannon's career is interesting to me, as it takes her into different settings. I have traveled all across the U.S. and have familiarity with many cities. It's nice to be able to explore and research different locations. It helps to keep me fresh.

Shannon said...

I really enjoyed Nazareth Child. We like to camp in the Sonoran Desert, starting about this time of year. We like the isolation and the temps, but the desert can be pretty unfriendly.

Alan Orloff said...

I can't wait for the next Del Shannon adventure, in the desert or wherever. I'm sure she can kick butt no matter where the locale.

Beth Groundwater said...

As another Midnight Ink author who sets both of her series in the West (Colorado, specifically), I'll chime in by saying that not only is the setting beautiful, adventuresome and interesting, it contains all sorts of opportunities for murder and mayhem! ;-)

LV Cabbie said...

I am absolutely awed by the pictures! They are as close to the actual scenery as I've seen in a long time.
As for the setting, I find myself smiling as my novel, Sonora Symphony, a tale about a disable Cherokee warrior seeking to recover his past to regain his future, takes place outside Tuscon in the Tonto O'Odham Reservation.
Nice that we have a similar love of this little understood part of our great nation.

Vicki Doudera said...

I've been a fan of Arizona writer JA Jance for a long time and she inspired the structure of my Darby Farr Mysteries. Arizona has a beauty all its own and it sounds like you're taking full advantage of it, Darrell.

Darrell James said...

Cabbie- Great to hear there's another one of us out there. I came close to calling mine Sonora Sonata, but the publisher made the final decision.

Vicki- J.A. Jance has a house just a couple of miles from us. But I understand she spends her time in Seattle there days? (Not sure why anyone would do that, but...)

Keith Raffel said...

Darrell, wouldn't it be great if the ebook versions of your Del Shannon series included photos/videos of the Tucson environs the synched with the story.