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A Candle for San Simón

ISBN: 978-0-9985073-9-2
Details: 72 │ 6x9 │ $18.95 (Trade Paperback)

276 p.

Release Date: August 1, 2020

Now Available as an Audiobook


Max Caruthers, a born-again Christian with a hard-living past, travels to Guatemala to track down his father Norman, who wants to drink away his remaining days undisturbed in the little bar that serves as home. But Norman has fallen into debt with the local gangster and chief-of-police, Chucho Cruz, who has other plans for the gringo bus driver. Up north in California, Vicki Valle, the former girlfriend of a recently assassinated L.A. gang leader, is deported over a triviality back to Tijuana. She schemes to bring the drug-running skills she has learned back to her roots in El Salvador. When she arrives there she meets Norman, who is delivering a busload of Mayan girls, destined to lives of prostitution in the United States. Vicki catches a ride back to Panajachel, Guatemala with Caruthers, just in time for his reunion with Max. When Max, Norman, Vicki, and Max’s girlfriend Karma are involved in a gun-running operation that ends in a deadly shootout, the survivors take different paths. The Central American setting of the book with its themes of morality, survival, betrayal, and abandonment expands the storytelling tradition of Graham Greene.

A Candle for San Simón

  • Kelly Daniels grew up on the road, living for stints with his parents in a Hawaiian commune, a lonesome desert cabin, and in an old delivery van outfitted with bunks. As an adult, he set off on his own, traveling extensively through Europe, Mexico and Central America, picking up jobs along the way, jobs such as production manager of a furniture factory (Guatemala), newspaper reporter (Mexico), and bartender (all over).

    He is the author of the memoir Cloudbreak, California, and his short stories and essays have appeared widely in literary reviews. A regular contributor to the Sun magazine, he lives with his wife and son in Le Claire, Iowa. He is an associate professor of creative writing at Augustana College.

  • A Candle for San Simón " a picaresque narrative of gun-running and gang violence in Guatemala written in a deadpan noir style that sometimes recalls Charles Willeford (and Malcolm Lowry). But the repressed always returns, and a father-son conflict is once again central to this tale...A touch of evil. indeed."

    Paul WilnerZYZZYVA. A San Francisco Journal Of Arts & Letters.

    "Daniels ... presents an accomplished first novel uncompromising in its depiction of gang savagery and dramatization of how far individuals will go to try to repair their damaged souls ... Daniels' restrained yet powerful father-and-son saga will appeal to Don Winslow fans."

    Carol Haggas, Booklist, August 1, 2020  (Starred Review)

    Exploring themes of love, betrayal, redemption, and survival, A Candle for San Simón is an unflinching thriller.
    —Bianca Bowers, Foreword Reviews (September / October 2020)

    "Kelly Daniels, has been paying close attention to persons and places. His descriptions are riveting, especially the lengthy bus trip from Guatemala to the border of Colombia. His depictions of intimacy are spot on and funny..."

    Ann Anderson Evans, Midwest Book Review, "Reviewer's Bookwatch" 

    "Full of dark truth and moments of extraordinary light, this powerful novel offers redemption with a cost."

    Laura Brown

    While so many U.S. authors are sticking close to home, Daniels grabs his readers and takes them on a wild ride  south of the border while offering us a vivid and searching portrait of a treacherous landscape, one that is as much psychological as well as physical.  Daniels has written a powerful novel that calls to mind works by Robert Stone, Graham Greene and Peter Matthiessen’s ‘At Play in the Fields of the Lord,’ but in a voice that is uniquely his own.  Weaving together an unlikely love story between a renegade father and his estranged son with a narrative filled with heart-stopping suspense, A Candle for Saint Simón represents a remarkable fiction debut. Kelly Daniels is a writer to watch

    Leslie Alan Horvitz, author of Synbio

    The novel is wonderful—totally convincing in its renditions of both place and characters, impressive in scope, design, invention, and handsomely written. It's unpredictable and complex. Three cheers."

    Stuart Dybek, MacArthur Fellow and author of Paper Lantern

    "The atmosphere of place—Guatemala—is so thick that it becomes another character in the story. The internal discord of the characters and their conflicts drive the plot, and because the conflicts are dramatically engaging, the plot moves with great forward energy."

    Robert Eversz, author of Shooting Elvis

    A gritty noir set in corrupt and gang-infested Guatemala, A Candle for San Simón tells the story of missionary Max Caruthers’ search for meaning, redemption, and reconciliation with his drunkard father Norman. Norman abandoned the family years earlier and now barely ekes out an existence driving contraband for the local police captain, Chucho Cruz. Finding the father he’s searched for, Max now disowns him just as he was once disowned, until finally recognizing in the old man his own failures and spiritual wantoness. Sharing a mutual distrust, father and son become one another’s guiding angels into a mutual dark night of the soul, undertaking one more of Cruz’s corrupt gun running missions for the money, the camaraderie, and the lesson in how hell teaches the desperate to hold one another tight for salvation.

    Beautifully written, Kelly Daniels takes the reader on an edgy spiritual journey into a place where the failed are immortalized and the living disappear into obscurity.

    Jim Ringel, Author of 49 Buddhas: Lama Rinzen in the Hell Realm

    A Candle for San Simón is a story about crossing borders. Not just the physical kind; from one country to the next, but also that treacherous borderline from one drink to disaster, from lawful to lawless, and from commitment to betrayal.

    Kelly Daniels builds his story with vivid language and a drumbeat rhythm that lets us known, in no uncertain terms, that once some borders are crossed you can never go back over again.

    Carrie Knowles, Author of Inevitable Past