This week on The Scariest Part, my guest is author Mark S. Bacon, whose new novel is Desert Kill Switch. Here is the publisher’s description:
A Deadly Vegas Pursuit — with a Twist…
On an empty desert road, stressed-out ex-cop Lyle Deming finds a bullet-riddled body next to a vintage mint-condition 1970s Pontiac Firebird. When he returns to the scene with sheriff’s deputies: no car, no body. Does the answer lie in Nostalgia City, the retro theme park where Lyle works?
Nostalgia City VP Kate Sorensen, a former college basketball star, is in Reno, Nevada, on park business when she gets mixed up with a sleazy Las Vegas auto dealer who puts hidden “kill switches” and GPS trackers into the cars he sells to low-income buyers. Miss a payment — sometimes by as little as a few days — and your car is dead. Maybe you are, too.
When Kate’s accused of murder in Reno, Lyle rushes to help his blonde not-quite-girlfriend. Kate and Lyle plow through a deadly tangle of suspects and motives, hitting one dead end after another, as they struggle to exonerate Kate, catch a blackmailer, save a witness’s life, and find the missing car and corpse.
Desert Kill Switch is the second novel in this mystery series set in Nostalgia City, an Arizona theme park that re-creates — in every detail — a small town as it would have appeared in the mid-1970s.
And now, let’s hear what the scariest part was for Mark S. Bacon:
In 2013 a 43-year-old woman was found naked, dehydrated, burned from the sun and covered in cactus spikes. She’d spent five days in the Texas Chihuahuan Desert. She’d taken off her clothes in a vain attempt to cool off. Lucky to be alive, she had been hiking with her husband when they got lost. He managed to bring help.
A French couple hiking in the desert in New Mexico year later were not so lucky. The couple didn’t have enough water for their trek. The shadeless, 100-degree day brought dehydration, disorientation, heat stroke and death.
Deserts of the American Southwest, especially in summer, can be forbidding, unforgiving — and scary — places. The highest temperature recorded in Death Valley, California, was 134 degrees. In Arizona the record is 128. Weeks of 100+ are not unusual. Tarantulas, rattlesnakes and Gila monsters survive in the desert. People have a harder time. This is why I chose the Mojave Desert in southern Nevada as the centerpiece for my new mystery, Desert Kill Switch.
In peak summer desert heat you can lose almost a half-gallon of water just by sweating. Under these conditions, without water, you can feel the effects of dehydration within an hour. Overexertion and exposure can be a deadly combination.
Kate Sorensen, my tall blonde protagonist, is falsely accused of murdering a sleazy Las Vegas car dealer. When she thinks she’s exhausted every possibility to clear herself, she finds a witness who can help. But she and the young woman are stranded in the middle of the Nevada desert on an August afternoon.
People not familiar with the Southwest think that deserts such as the Mojave or Great Basin are filled with waves of bare sand dunes. But Sahara-like formations are the exception. Most of the Southwest desert is rocky scrubland, often mountainous, covered with chaparral, creosote bushes, sage, cactus and other plants that can survive in arid climate.
Kate and her young charge may be lucky. They found a road. But Southwest deserts are crisscrossed with little-used trails, abandoned mining roads and animal paths. Some desert soil is gritty sand, but much of it is fine. When you’re hiking along a desert trail, the dust coats your face and finds its way into every crevice of your body. Wipe the sweat from your brow and it leaves muddy streaks across your face.
With their water exhausted and the unrelenting sun beating down, the two female travelers trudge forward, their clothes sticking to their backs with sweat. Ahead they see a cloud. A car speeds toward them, kicking up dust like a brown ghost across the horizon. Someone has found them.
Inside the car however, are Chechen thugs, partners of the men who stranded the women in the first place. This new group wants to have some fun with the women — the blonde especially — then haul them to an even more remote spot where they’ll leave them without water, maybe without clothes. Their bodies won’t be found for months — if at all.
It was the most scary part for me writing it because I’ve lived in the Southwest much of my life and I know how dangerous the desert can be, how the heat and blinding sun can suck the energy out of you. The difference between 95 degrees and 110 can be the difference between functioning and frying. As I was writing, I could see the desperation that would quickly grip someone in Kate’s position. Even though I was in control of the story, the circumstances — to be realistic — could easily mean death for my protagonist and the other young woman.
Mark S. Bacon began his career as a southern California newspaper police reporter, one of his crime stories becoming key evidence in a murder case that spanned decades. After working for two newspapers, he moved to advertising and marketing when he became a copywriter for Knott’s Berry Farm, the large theme park down the road from Disneyland. Experience working at Knott’s formed part of the inspiration for his creation of Nostalgia City theme park. Before turning to fiction, Bacon wrote business books including Do-It-Yourself Direct Marketing, printed in four languages and three editions and named best business book of the year by Library Journal. His articles have appeared in the Washington Post, Cleveland Plain Dealer, San Antonio Express News, and many other publications. Most recently he was a correspondent for the San Francisco Chronicle. He taught journalism as a member of the adjunct faculty at Cal Poly University — Pomona, University of Redlands, and the University of Nevada – Reno. He earned an MA in mass media from UNLV and a BA in journalism from Fresno State.