Alameda author Charles Kerns has published Santo Gordo: A Killing in Oaxaca, a tale of Mexican political intrigue that follows Robert Evans, a retired American, as he wanders the city’s colonial streets, enjoys its food, meets local people and expats, and stumbles into an assassination.
“An official was killed as he was sitting by his young son a few blocks from my apartment in Oaxaca,” Kerns recalls. “The son was left unhurt next to the body of his father. I wondered what I would have done if I were walking by at that moment. That was the start of the book.
"I like a novel that has more than plot. I want real people and a real place. Oaxaca is not only real; it is beautiful. And it has real corruption, too.”
Kerns' central character, Evans, is drawn reluctantly into the aftermath of the crime he witnesses. He tries to avoid powerful politicians, relying on his friends: an idealistic city engineer, a most worldly taxi driver and an elderly landlady. His activist daughter in California also pitches in.
Food and drink play a part in the book as well, and that's reflected in the chapter titles: "Huevos Rancheros," "Crepes Drowned in Cajeta," even "Pan Dulce," the tasty breakfast buns found in every Mexican cafe.
Food will play an even bigger role in Kerns' next book, The Oaxaca Chocolate Wars, which he's working on now for publication next winter.
"Mostly, my research involves tasting chocolate," he says.
Kerns splits his time between Alameda and Oaxaca, usually heading to Mexico "when it is rainy here in Alameda," he says. "It is great to feel at home in many places — one of the joys of getting older.
Kerns moved to Alameda from Half Moon Bay five years ago "in order to get near civilization," he says.
"I found it. And great trees. I am originally from the East Coast — Baltimore — and miss big leafy trees, thunder storms and lightning bugs, the only things that the Bay Area is really missing."
Retired from Stanford University, where he developed learning tools for faculty and students, Kerns now spends much of his time reading — mostly history — and writing.
"I also bicycle and walk the duck paths around the lagoons of Alameda," he says. "I am working on my Spanish, taking classes at the junior college."
At Stanford, Kerns wrote computer programs that simulated jet engines, Shakespeare theater staging and "healthy living for your heart." He also worked at Apple Computer's Classroom of Tomorrow project. He still spends a day each week at Stanford doing usability testing on library software.
His wife, Roshni, is a retired professor of comparative literature.
Santo Gordo is available from Amazon.com and from , 1344 Park St., where a reading and book signing event is in the planning stages.
One reviewer, Robert Adler, co-author of Viva Oaxaca: An Insider's Guide to Oaxaca's Charms, wrote "[Evans is] as portly as Hercule Poirot, as sardonic as Philip Marlowe, and ambles through a locale as fascinating as Guido Brunetti’s Venice...
"As Evans follows the thread of the murder through Oaxaca’s intricately woven tapestry of money, power and contrasting cultures, Kerns rewards us with penetrating glimpses behind the walls into the real vida Oaxaqueña."