El Viejo saved Sin’s life back when the boy was a 12-year-old punk hellbent on shooting up the school bus with his daddy’s .357. And now the old man’s gone missing. So Sin straps on his guns, grabs his go-bag, and hikes into the desert to find him, only to uncover a nest of killers with ancient vendettas waiting out there with the king snakes and coyotes. —MW
Shelf Unbound: You’ve created a modern minimalist Western noir style, with a Breaking Bad kind of cool bad guy protagonist. How did you develop your style and what influenced it?
Matt Ingwalson: My characters tell me how to write their stories. The Owl & Raccoon books are all clipped cop talk. Regret Things was as unrestrained and ambitious as its heroine, Nicki. And Sin Walks Into the Desert is empty and haunting because the main character is an empty, haunted human being.
There are Western plains where the horizon is so far away it’s meaningless. The world is a flat surface without any walls to hold you. That sense of infiniteness, that’s what I wanted to achieve with the language in Sin Walks Into the Desert. It’s a story about scary men searching vast spaces, trying to decide what their humanity is worth.
Shelf Unbound: The young Sin is similar to the archetypal shooters we see in the news today—a bullied, disaffected kid who gains access to a gun. But his parents take action and send him off to live with his uncle, who teaches him an old school “law of the West” good guy/bad guy moral code. What is the reader to make of Sin’s obsession with guns?
Ingwalson: It’s a good question. I purposefully resisted giving easy answers in the book. On the one hand Sin just has a lot of normal teenage angst but without any buddies to help him through. But on the other hand, something is seriously broken inside him. His idolization of his big sister borders on obsession. And he was born with a homicidal urge he doesn’t have the social skills to repress or the mental dexterity to understand. He’s constantly suppressing his nature, and as a result he’s a bit of a shadow, living right on the edge of something terrifying. Guns are the only things that give Sin a sense of control. And he’s not just good with them. He’s a natural killer.
Shelf Unbound: In addition to Sin Walks Into the Desert and its prequel Regret Things, you’ve written a series of police procedurals. What interests you about crime?
Read an Excerpt:
The voice on the other end of the phone sounded like sandpaper would sound if it whispered and was a woman. Every other word, she had to pause and breathe, shallow breaths that took forever to happen. Sin was used to it, waited patiently for her to get the words out. “Thanks.” Wait. “For calling.” Wait. “Kiddo.”
To which Sin said nothing.
“Seen el Viejo recently?”
“About a week.” When Sin spoke, it was at some volume just barely above silent. Catrina waited a bit to make sure he’d actually finished before she went on.
“Not since he went to the place?”
“No, he’s at that Denzhone place for a few days still.”
“He’s got a situation.”
Anybody else, Sin would’ve laughed. El Viejo didn’t have situations, except the arthritis that kept him in his rocking chair and off the streets where he belonged. But the voice on the other end of the phone, the voice that talked instead of texted, it belonged to la Calavera. Catrina Limon. Special Agent Catrina Limon.
Special Agent is one of those titles like Senator. Once you have it, you get to keep it forever.
El Viejo’d met Catrina when she moved out to do border security with the ATF many years ago. He’d consulted with her unit on strategy, tactics and local customs, and eventually they got around to pulling triggers.
Anybody el Viejo pulled triggers with didn’t screw around much.
That went double for la Calavera, even if she, like el Viejo, was stuck in a chair these days. She was one of the first and best female agents the federal government ever had training anti-terrorist units along the Mexican border. She was old even then, older than el Viejo, but they both had family in the same area of Wyoming so they shared that in common. Or maybe el Viejo fell in love with the idea of an elderly female out in the desert commanding a tactical team. He’d taken her under his wing, taken her drinking, taken her out to the desert to show her how the cartels set up mobile staging sites to get guns, drugs, workers and slaves across the border.
Turned out she’d chalked up three kills as a sniper back in her time someplace she couldn’t really talk about or maybe didn’t want to. Nicaragua? Cambodia? She wouldn’t say. But three. No shit. Most guys couldn’t say that, could they?
El Viejo could say it a few times over, but he was a different topic altogether.
“Why do you say that?” Sin said.
“We got.” Wait. “A photo.”
“OK,” he said and he hung up his phone. No need to be polite or say goodbye. You couldn’t offend someone like la Calavera.
Sin stood up and slipped his phone back in his pocket.
Even though it was just about fall, it was still seventy degrees at night and he had no jacket. He shook his shoulders a bit and let his t-shirt arrange itself over his belt.
“You going?” Sindy asked.
“You coming back?”
Sin didn’t know how to say goodbye, especially since he’d just got there. Finally he leaned down and kissed Sindy where she’d kissed him, on the skin up underneath her ear. She had a little rose there that trailed down the back of her neck, the stem ending somewhere near her spine.
He didn’t really make eye contact with her as he slouched towards the door.
From Sin Walks Into the Desert by Matt Ingwalson. Reprinted with permission. All rights reserved.