Mysteries of fictional Karuk County unravel in Mount Shasta author's latest book
After the successful debut of his first novel in 2019, Mount Shasta author and former law enforcement officer George Collord has released the second book in his Karuk County Mystery series, titled “The Devil Danced on Church Street,” available now on Amazon.
The prolific author took nearly a year to write his newest voluminous tome, which continues to follow sheriff’s detective Roy Church as he solves a cold case and becomes entangled with dangerous characters who are rendered on the page with lifelike precision.
Like in “Hear the Wind Blow,” “The Devil Danced on Church Street” has several fascinating subplots that come together neatly in the end. Collord’s writing is crisp and full of inventive comparisons. And those who live in Siskiyou County will delight in his descriptions of local towns and landmarks, since Karuk County is a “thinly disguised Siskiyou County.”
The book takes readers all over the fictional world of Karuk, from the canyon town of Dunsmuir, to Etna – the location of Collord’s “Church Street” – to the heavily forested logging town of Happy Camp, where Collord grew up.
“I chose the name Karuk as a way to show my and my family’s affection and respect for those Native Americans we grew up with in Happy Camp,” said Collord. “There is a Modoc County and a Shasta County. I figured it made sense to have a Karuk County, if only via fiction.”
The historical mixture of the Karuks, Shastas, and those ancient gold miners who descended on Siskiyou County over a century ago is explored in Collord’s latest book.
“The clash of cultures did not result in good times for the natives,” said Collord. “Roy Church, through his cold case investigations and interaction with tribal members, gets a sense of how the years, calamitous for many, played out so long ago in this his new home, and how that bygone era has an effect on the clues he’s now attempting to decipher.”
Always a story teller
Collord said he’s always been a story teller.
“I was so lucky to live a young life here in Siskiyou County before taking off for a university and life in the big city,” he said. “I have a perspective on both styles of living. Beyond that, I was fortunate to work in a career that presented new stories every time I stepped out the door to go to work.”
Collord said his inspirations come from everyday life in Happy Camp as a boy and young man working in the woods and in saw mills, coupled with his experiences in several areas of law enforcement.
“I got around,” Collord said. “From my days in law school, to repossessing cars, to working in a cemetery, to standing at attention in the Oakland PD academy, to life on patrol, to my time as a violent-crimes detective, and then a long stint as a sexual assault/child abuse investigator.”
In May of 2019, Collord took time out from his job as a volunteer in his wife Valerie’s fourth grade class at Sisson School to testify as an expert witness in Sacramento Superior Court on a 26-year-old case.
“A bit of a change-up for the school day,” he said.
“The vast majority of the second half of my 30 years in the cop business was spent working street gangs and prison gangs for the Feds,” Collord said. “The time I spent as a Special Deputy U.S. Marshal, working for the FBI, then being a trainer on gangs for the Bureau after that, is where many of my more colorful characters originate. ... Getting to rub shoulders with some of the worst characters behind the walls or in the ‘hoods is nothing short of fertile territory when it comes to developing characters and storylines. Criminals are low, but they sure are entertaining at times! Drug dealers, mob tax collectors, enforcers, and hitmen, intertwined with the same types of backstabbers and climbers you see in everyday life, can be quite amusing.
“Thing is, these guys move up and around, leaving a trail of corpses, then lift a 40 ouncer to celebrate, instead of a latte,” Collord continued. “Not exactly your typical above board, legit organizations. But the similarities when it comes to political intrigue in the Congress, a boardroom (or police management), in a much darker vein of course, are remarkable.”
Collord said watching “genuine bad men up close and from afar as they went about their lethal business, cannot be kept bottled up inside.”
The characters Puma and Snake – the shot callers in “Devil Danced” – are composites, as is the character Dickie Dimes, the Gambino family enforcer from the book.
Collord said one of his FBI training partners was a high-ranking mob enforcer whom his team recruited and whom he later befriended, “in spite of a rule that says cops shouldn’t get too close to those on the other side,” he said.
“We remained good friends until he passed away two years ago,” said Collord. “I visited with him in hospice in Idaho where we talked about how he’d changed his life by doing so much good for his policemen students, me being one of those. He and his life of crime and redemption are definitely a source of material! You can actually catch him on the History Channel’s Gangland series in the episode ‘Blood In, Blood Out.’ The producers changed his name to ‘Casper.’”
Characters come to life
Collord is already well into the writing of “Let Sleeping Ghosts Lie,” the third installment in his series. The book opens in 1978 with Karuk County policeman Ethan Coe – who readers are introduced to in “The Devil Danced on Church Street” – standing over a dead Russian on a snowy Klamath River road. Over 40 years later, Roy Church will scratch his chin in puzzlement while considering this strange scenario, Collord said.
Collord also recently finished a 600-page manuscript, “Dance of the Brown Recluse,” which is a first-person account by another character from the series.
Jake Stern is the Santa Rosa Police detective who has become good friends with Church in the Karuk trilogy.
“In that story, Stern relates for Roy the fascinating details of his major undercover investigation into the Nuestra Familia prison gang which controls all the Norteno street gangsters in Northern California (from Bakersfield north),” said Collord.
Collord explained that his wide cast of characters allows him to explore their backgrounds and motivations at his leisure.
“Some characters fade to the rear while others are explored in more detail,” he said of their appearances in the series and beyond. “For example, in ‘Hear the Wind Blow,’ Sheriff Ed Silva was a bit player. In ‘The Devil Danced on Church Street,’ his character, past and present, becomes pivotal. Detective Alison Baker was a very minor character in the first book. In the second, she is partnered with Roy Church. In my third, her personality and how she is affected by a particularly gruesome domestic violence murder, are explored in-depth.”
Collord said his favorite character is Roy Church.
“Through him, there is an exploration of the perplexing, humorous, philosophical, and darker sides of those he encounters in his travels, whether they be cops or crooks or family members left behind to wonder if anyone cares. He cares,” Collord said.
Besides Roy, Collord has a soft spot for one of his villains, Cedar Stock.
“I ran across a film titled ‘Shotcaller’ not too long ago,” said Collord. “The sympathetic protagonist in that film reminded me greatly of Cedar Stock and the environment he found himself mired in.”
Roy and Cedar have a relationship that exists beyond book one, Collord said.
“Cedar haunts Roy’s mind. He is troubled by the tragic character of Cedar who, as he gets to know his history better via those who knew him personally, he realizes paths taken are not always by choice, and a surface persona often hides complexity and richness. Of course, it can also disguise the devil!”
Where to get the books
Collord’s books are available on Amazon or by contacting him personally via Facebook.
Skye Kinkade is the editor of the Mt. Shasta Area Newspapers and the Siskiyou Daily News. She is a fourth generation Siskiyou County resident and has lived in Mount Shasta and Weed her entire life.