By Pamela Beason
In April of 2019, I had begun my fifth Sam Westin mystery, set in the Cascade Mountains, my regular stomping grounds close to home. I planned to include an avalanche and wolverines. However, my progress on the manuscript was severely hampered by the need for a plot. My imagination was not coming up with one.
Fortunately, I was about to set off for a Great Old Broads retreat in the Chiricahua Mountains of Arizona, where I would study the “sky islands,” the isolated clusters of mountains rising from the surrounding desert. I flew into Tucson and drove east to the Southwestern Research Station, where I stayed in a dorm normally reserved for researchers and volunteers.
We were close to the US-Mexico border. Like all Americans, I’d seen plenty of news filled with debates over the border wall, and stories of brutal crimes along the border and migrants dying in the desert or detained in makeshift prisons.
At 5400’ in elevation, the Research Station is a different ecological zone than the arid plains I crossed to get there. Readers who are familiar with my Sam Westin wilderness mysteries know that each of those books features wild places and wild animals, so I was eager to learn what southeastern Arizona had to offer. During the days, we explored the nearby canyons and hills. In the evenings, we attended presentations about the unique flora and fauna of the sky islands. One talk was on reintroduction of Mexican wolves, another on the efforts to save jaguars in Mexico and the US. I heard that two jaguars had been sighted in recent years in Arizona. That set my imagination on fire—Imagine spotting a jaguar during a hike! I learned that some animals of the sky islands historically migrated from one small mountain range to the next “island.” Now, the border wall had disrupted that movement. Online, I found sad photos of wildlife stopped at the impassable wall, imprisoned, cut off from the areas in which they expected to find water, food, or mates.
We took a trip to view the wall between Douglas and Naco. The tall structure rippled along the scrubby hills for as far as I could see. On the Mexican side, the brush was thick and wild. On the US side, a wide road was cleared alongside the wall. Many access roads branched off from that, cutting dusty swaths into what little vegetation the area offered. The debris jammed alongside the wall in arroyos proved that the fence sometimes impeded the flow of water. I discovered the story behind the many signs that read “Humanitarian Aid is Not a Crime.”
Desperate migrants. Drug runners. Human traffickers. Vigilantes. Border Patrol agents on dangerous duty. Personnel building the wall, observation towers, and roads. Hispanic Americans with long histories straddling the border. Pronghorns, javelinas, owls, wolves. Dozens of hummingbird species. Jaguars!
How could I not write a story set in this area? Wolverines would have to wait.
In Borderland, a young wildlife photographer, Jade Silva, vanishes after taking a photo at the border wall of the last known jaguar remaining in Arizona. Her roommate and fellow Southwestern Research Station volunteer, wildlife biologist/writer Sam Westin, struggles to find Jade. Was the Latina woman detained by the Border Patrol, kidnapped by cartel thugs, or simply lost in the vast desert like so many migrants? It’s hard for Sam to know where to start looking, and even harder to enlist help from the overburdened authorities.
Pamela Beason, a former private investigator, lives in the Pacific Northwest. When she’s not hard at work on another book, she explores the natural world on foot, on cross-country skis or snowshoes, in her kayak, or underwater scuba diving. Learn more about her and her books on https://PamelaBeason.com.
Buy link: https://www.amazon.com/Borderland-Sam-Westin-Mysteries-Book-ebook/dp/B07YMWHKBH Also available for Nook, Apple, and Kobo.