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Coyotes, Chaos, and Carnage

By Don Helin

The border is a hostile place with searing heat and venomous serpents. Yet the deadliest predator targets the innocent.

A sniper strikes in the Valley of the Sun, and Detective Nathan Parker soon finds a connection between the victims—each of them had a role in an organization founded to help undocumented migrants make the dangerous crossing. Parker discovers no one is exactly who they seem.

There’s the devil you know, and then there’s the devil within—when the two collide, no one is safe.

James L’Etoile uses his 29 years working behind bars as an influence in his award-winning novels, short stories, and screenplays. He is the former associate warden in a maximum security prison, a hostage negotiator, and director of California’s state parole system. He’s earned the Silver Falchion for Best Book by an Attending Author of Killer Nashville, and he was nominated for the Bill Crider Award for short fiction. His most recent novel, DEVIL WITHIN, is the sequel to the Anthony and the Lefty Award-nominated book, Drop Dead. Look for DEVIL WITHIN and Face of Greed, both coming in 2023.

James L’Etoile

Can you pinpoint a moment or incident that sparked the idea for this book?

A series of events sparked this novel, but one of the first was an encounter I had while serving as a juvenile court referee. A teenage girl was cited for shoplifting. When she appeared for her hearing, the first thing her mother did was hand me their “green cards.” These documents meant they were in the country legally, but her status was fragile and could be ripped away at any moment. Mom thought she and her daughter were being deported because of the daughter’s petty theft. I didn’t deport them, but that fear has stuck with me over the years. And that fear is a deep element in DEVIL WITHIN and asks, who can you trust?

Hard at work.

A novel is such a major undertaking. There’s the writing of it, of course, then you’re spending months and months revising, polishing, and promoting it. How did you know this was the book you wanted to spend the next couple of years on?

I worked with, lived with, hundreds of men who crossed the border illegally and found themselves in prison for another crime. Sometimes, they were forced to commit crimes by the drug lords who gave them passage in exchange for smuggling their product. Then there were the men who found themselves in a strange land and felt they had no other choice but to provide for their families. There are stories out there, and while I don’t pretend to know all of them or use them as my own, I do know the toll it takes on everyone involved in the process—from families to the men inside and to the people charged with keeping them behind bars.

When you first created your protagonist for this book, did you see an empty space in the crime literature you wanted to fill? What can you share about the inspiration for your character?

Nathan Parker is a detective in the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office. We learn early on that Nathan’s partner was murdered by a “coyote” during a smuggling run over the border. Parker suffers from survivor’s guilt and wonders what he could have done to save his partner’s life that night. He’s focused on finding his partner’s killer, and the DEVIL WITHIN brings him within a breath. I’ve known too many officers who have lost a partner, and the trauma left behind is life-altering.

Therapy dogs Emma and Bryn at a local bookstore (face in a book, El Dorado Hills, CA) for Reading to the Dogs.

In addition to a good read, what do you hope readers will take away from this story?

One of the primary points I try to impress on readers is no matter where you stand on the immigration debate, there are people trapped between the politics and violence. Those caught in the struggle are human beings, and we need to remember that one fact.

What are you doing when you’re not writing (hobbies, family, etc.)?

I try to impress on readers is no matter where you stand on the immigration debate, there are people trapped between the politics and violence. Those caught in the struggle are human beings, and we need to remember that one fact.I love what I’m doing, making it hard to unplug and make sure I keep everything in life balanced. I’m an active member of ITW and other writing-related organizations. I enjoy teaching elements of the craft, and it would be easy to get lost in that world.

My wife and I have been involved in therapy dog work for the past ten years. Therapy dogs are those special creatures who bring joy and comfort to those who need them the most. We visit patients in skilled nursing facilities, hospice, and those dealing with dementia. We also sponsor children’s reading programs at local libraries.

When you witness lowered anxiety levels of someone dealing with memory issues or witness a child read to a dog without fear of being judged, it’s rewarding. Staff working with memory-care patients report that patients who often can’t remember recent events talk about therapy dog visits for days.

Something about loving on a dog triggers locked-away memories of a pet they had as a child. It’s amazing to witness and makes me appreciate all the things we take for granted.

What’s Next?

It’s lining up to be a busy year. The first in a new series, titled Face of Greed (Oceanview Press), will release in November 2023. The story is inspired by the first murder case I worked on, where a home invasion went horribly wrong. And we ask the question: what really happened that night?

I’m also revising the third in the Nathan Parker series—yet untitled—set for release in the summer of 2024.

Learn more at

Don Helin
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