Writing for Water.org: Glass Half Full in November

Throughout 2014 I am donating $1 for every Kindle book sold to Water.org, the charity co-founded by Matt Damon to bring clean water and decent sanitation to communities worldwide. A number of other emerging authors have helped me out, including Norma Hamilton, Jerry Last and Sharon Lee Johnson. Together we are Writing for Water.

Glass Half Full

As I noted in the October Writing for Water update, the advent of Kindle Unlimited brought Kindle sales to a screeching halt. It’s a good thing we’d met our goal of bringing clean water for life to 25 people in 2014 already because even that low bar would have been impossible in this brave new world of borrows vs sales.

Related post: Writing for Water: October’s Surprising Stall

November saw us move the bar only half a notch. But when added to the year’s progress, this means that 30 persons have gained access to clean water for life from our efforts. writing for water Nov 2014

Looking ahead

To try and end the year on a high note, all of the Emilia Cruz novels, CLIFF DIVER, HAT DANCE, and DIABLO NIGHTS, featuring the first and only female detective on the Acapulco police force, will be reduced to $1.99. The $1.99 sale will run until Christmas.

Related link: Carmen’s books on Amazon

Stock your Kindle now for wintry weather reading in January! It’s a trip to Acapulco, where the weather is hot but the crime will burn you.

Related post: Locating the Emilia Cruz Mystery Series

In other news

I have contracted with the design firm MondoVox to redesign the Emilia Cruz book covers. As much as I have loved the ocean motif, none of the book covers say “police procedural” or even “mystery.” MondoVox not only came highly recommended by Sherry, the font of all things marketing, but is the creative force behind the branding for Chicago company, The Spice Outfit. Check out the mobster-inspired packaging here: http://mondovox.com/our-portfolio/18-portfolio/packaging/65-the-spice-outfit

Look for the new book covers in March 2015, along with a blog redesign to match!

Twice as Nice: Book Reviews That Matter

A glowing book review from an authoritative source is good. But let’s face it, two is twice as nice. That’s what happened this week.  THE HIDDEN LIGHT OF MEXICO CITY was selected to be one of 5 books reviewed in November by Literary Fiction Book Reviews. And to top it off, DIABLO NIGHTS was reviewed for onlinebookclub.org.

“Rivetingly dramatic tale of politics and corruption”

Hidden Light by Carmen AmaWhen an author puts their book into the hands of a respected editor in hopes of a meaningful review, there is always the chance that the editor simply won’t “get it.” Won’t get the message, the relationships, the something special you were trying to convey.

Well, this editor “got it” all, from understanding the Cinderella relationship in the novel–“a man and a woman from opposite ends of the social spectrum,” to the action “The suspense is beautifully mantained as Eddo pursues El Toro to the island haven of Antigua and an unforgettable underwater fight scene.”

You can check out the full review at literaryfictionreview.com.

“Unique and gripping mystery novel”

Diablo NightsOnlinebookclub.org is an interesting forum for book lovers of all genres. The review of DIABLO NIGHTS was done by a thoughtful member who compared the novel to the In Death series by J.D. Robb.

But the review also had this to say: “Both feature a plucky female detective with a dark past who has a thirst for justice and a rich foreign lover who plays back-up on occasion. While I couldn’t help but make note of the similarities, Amato’s unique setting, realistic characters, and intriguing plot set her apart.

You can check out the full review at http://forums.onlinebookclub.org/viewtopic.php?f=22&t=21685

Even Better Than Twice as Nice

What could be better than great reviews? Water.

Yep, you read that right. Water.

Throughout 2014 I’ve been donating $1 for every Kindle book sold to Water.org, the charity co-founded by Matt Damon to bring decent sanitation and clean water to communities worldwide. A number of indie authors have been helping, including Norm Hamilton, Jerold Last and zombie storyteller Sharon Lee Johnson.

We met our goal of bringing clean and safe water to 25 persons for life already this year but are trying to edge the water meter a bit higher. If you’d like to help, please feed your Kindle from this list of authors and books.

Or simply go to our donation page at Water.org and make a donation. Any amount will make a huge difference in giving someone this most basic of human needs. Clean water.

It’s not rocket science or costs a fortune. But clean water is critical to fighting diseases like Ebola.

Entitlement, Mexico style

Over the last few weeks I’ve been following the news stories about the fate of 43 students who went missing in the Mexican state of Guerrero, in a small town not far from Acapulco, in late September. The students, from a rural teaching college, were mostly men in their 20’s who went to protest in the town of Iguala about the lack of funding for their school.

After the protest got rough, they were arrested by the police but reportedly handed over to a gang. Justice, Mexico style. They haven’t been seen or heard of since.

Zocalo, Mexico City

Demonstrators in Mexico City’s Zocalo. Photo courtesy of Reuters via BBC.co.uk

Demonstrations demanding answers have been held in Acapulco and Mexico City, with a spiraling anger that has led to numerous arrests.

riot police, mexico City

Riot police protect National Palace adjacent to Mexico City’s Zocalo. Photo courtesy of Reuters via BBC.co.uk

Related post: March for the Missing in Acapulco

The mayor, no less

Now the mayor of the town of Iguala and his wife have been arrested for ordering the execution of the students because the student demonstration disrupted a social event for the municipal royal couple. The mayor and his wife were found hiding out in Mexico City. The Iguala chief of police who is also charged, is still a fugitive.

Here is a comprehensive CNN report:

Remains of the day

Federal authorities searching for bodies of the missing 43 stumbled upon a number of mass graves in the hills around Acapulco but none were of the tudents. Did I read that correctly, you are saying to yourself; “Numerous mass graves???”

So if the dead in those graves aren’t the students, then who is buried there in these lonely, unmarked plots? And why should a culturally rich country, with world famous food and a spot on Monocle’s soft power annual survey, have mass unmarked graves dotting its countryside?

But the good news is that, according to the most recent CNN news reports, partial remains have been found that are likely to be the students. They were shot, then burned, then the remains dumped in a river.

This is hurting my heart.

Mexico style

The latest Emilia Cruz mystery has elements of this sort of entitlement, as does THE HIDDEN LIGHT OF MEXICO CITY, which I saw all too often when I lived in Mexico. It’s an attitude of Mexico style entitlement that says “I can wipe out those bothering fools because they aren’t real people.” It is a sense of respecting no one but yourself, of having lost touch with basic humanity and being consumed by one’s own ego.

Cartels and corruption have taken it to stratospheric levels in Mexico. I’m not sure I have ever experienced that type of attitude to such an extent anywhere else.

Writing for Water: October’s Surprising Stall

Throughout 2014, I’m donating $1 for every Kindle book I sell. Other authors are joining the Writing for Water effort and togethe we have raised enough to provide 29.5 people with clean water for life through Water.org. Our goal for the year was 25.

Related: Meet the Authors Writing for Water

October stats

In late September, Amazon rolled out the Kindle Unlimited program, which enables people to borrow Kindle books similar to the way the Netflix or Oyster entertainment subscription plans work. While all of my books are enrolled in the program at present, the borrowing calculation means an author doesn’t get paid until at least 10% of the book is read. Check it out here.

Great for readers but it meant that my Kindle sales dropped. As in dead. In. The. Water. 10 books sold all month.

This means that, even by stretching my numbers, we only added a bit to the chart for October. Really, really glad we hit our goal back in August.


Looking ahead

Hopefully November will be a little better. There are just two months left in 2014 and deep down, I was hoping we’d hit 50. I know that won’t happen but we should at least be able to say that in 2014, 30 people gained access to clean water because of a handful of indie writers who decided that their books could make a difference.

Even while slaving over my NaNoWriMo effort, I’m going to try and jumpstart sales in November with some advertising and a Goodreads giveaway of the new paperback version of DIABLO NIGHTS.

If you’d like to make a contribution to our fundraiser, wthout benefit of buying a book, here is the link: http://give.water.org/fundraiser/2154/

Thank you!

A big shoutout to Sharon Lee Johnson, author of those addictive zombie tales, who continues to send me encouraging messages and checks to Water.org. Sharon has an amazing work ethic and I truly appreciate how committed she has been to the cause of clean water. Read her stories like Zombies Invaded My World.

Locating the Emilia Cruz Mystery Series

Spenser has all of Boston to roam through, solving mysteries with Hawk at his side and meeting Susan later for dinner at Locke-Ober. Wallander has Sweden’s fog and gloom to wander, his melancholy matching the mist.  Arkady Renko contends with Moscow; taking us through the city’s shift from unsmiling Communist monolith to mafia-run knife-in-the-back dark streets. Guido Brunetti walks Venice’s rivas, his trusty ispettore in tow, a gourmet Italian meal awaiting him at home.

Detective Emilia Cruz has all of Mexico to play with. Her job as Acapulco’s first and only female police detective makes that city and Mexico’s Pacific coast major elements in the mystery series.

But like the other series featuring international mystery series crime fighters, the locations give the books a vibe and a tone that is unique. So I’ve been giving some thought to the unique Mexican locations featured in the books.

800px-FlowerStallJamaicaMarketDFMexico’s markets

Markets in Mexico are some of my favorite places. They brim with colors, smells, and textures that can’t help but awaken your creativity:

There was more than one entrance into the market and she’d ended up by the food section. Vendors showcased their offerings by stringing up scrawny red carcasses that could be cats or jackrabbits or odd cuts of beef between the uprights of the booths. A bloody board invariably waited for the vendor to chop off as much meat as the customer could afford. The rest of the carcass would be put back on display and some unlucky late shopper would be left with just the head or feet.

Emilia stifled a retch as she plowed through, often having to turn sideways to pass through the narrow aisles full of dawdling shoppers and aggressive vendors. The meat section gave way to the fruit and vegetable stalls where the attar of rotting fruit was as cloying as the butcher smells.

She kept going, turning into a section devoted to containers: woven palm baskets, plastic tubs and buckets, melamine bowls and cups. In the aisle, two old ladies argued over plastic tumblers decorated with cat cartoons and Emilia had to practically shout “Permiso!” before they let her get by. The baby section was next, booths full of disposable diapers in clear plastic-wrapped bundles of 10 or 20 stacked next to cans of baby formula, cloth bibs, and boxes filled with assorted jars of baby food.

Dogs and cats in cages dominated the next aisle, along with bags of dry pet food. Emilia passed flowers and a shoe repair stand, a few men selling picture frames, and then she was in an aisle with candles on both sides, pillars of wax decorated with pictures of Our Lady of Guadalupe, San Juan Diego, and San Miguel el Arcángel. There were plain wax candles besides the religious ones, candles that smelled like apples or melon, candles that had strings and plastic coins wrapped around them to bring luck and wealth.

A turn down the next aisle and Emilia was in junk heaven. The booths were larger, each a second-hand store. Many had garish signs advertising their wares. A pig advertised Everything For The Home, while a pirate pointed to Hidden Treasures. The best sign incorporated a half-naked hula girl whose grass shirt spelled out Chatarra. Junk.


Acapulco skylineBeaches

For most of us, Mexico conjurs up a great all-includive resort, with endless margeritas, scuba excursions, and a romance that we might not otherwise have had:

He kicked off his shoes and waited for Emilia to do the same. Together they stepped off the lower terrace and onto the hard-packed sand. They walked across the beach to the water’s edge and Kurt turned right to keep them parallel to the softly lapping surf. The sun was nearly below the horizon, just the rim of a fiery orange ball visible as it sank into the dark ocean, the kaleidoscope reduced to flickering stripes woven through the water.

They kept walking, holding hands, leaving the hotel further and further behind. Emilia let her sandals dangle from her free hand, trying not to think about Belize or the future or how the sunset reminded her of smoke and fire. 

The hotel’s lights and music receded; the sand became more coarse and the ocean more angry and violent. The waves surged onto the beach and sucked at the sand, reaching higher each time, thirsty for something hidden underneath and angry when dragged away before the treasure was found.

Kurt slowed his steps, then stopped. Emilia looked behind them. In the distance, the hotel glittered down the whole length of the cliff. She could see the curve of the bay and the hotel’s private marina. Lights hung in the sky, and she knew it was the even more distant Costa Esmeralda apartment building. The dark night had swallowed up cement and stone, and only the lights were left to compete with the stars.


Acapulco cliff diverPacific cliffs

Mexico’s Pacific coast is Acapulco’s dramatic backdrop. The city’s 50’s Hollywood glamour has faded but the cliffs and the bay still make for the most fantastic views anywhere: 

It was at least a dozen miles to Punta Diamante, the picturesque spit of land where the rich and famous played. Along the way, la Costera became the coastal highway called the Carretera Escénica, winding high up the side of the mountain that guarded the most scenic bay in the world. It was a ribbon of tarmac carved from the face of the cliff, lanes without guardrails or a safety net. Far below, on Rucker’s side, the bay twinkled and shimmered under the night sky. A few cars passed heading toward Acapulco but for the most part they were alone on the road with nothing to spoil the dramatic scene of mountain curves and glittering ocean . . .

The headlights in her mirror zoomed in. As the Suburban passed the deserted privada gate a salvo of gunfire tore the night and something hit the back end with a dull thud. The heavy vehicle shuddered and slewed to the right.

Emilia broke out into a cold sweat as she fought the wheel, trying to keep the vehicle on the high mountain road. The tires on the right side lost traction along the cliff edge. Time stopped for a day and a year before the lethargic vehicle responded and rumbled toward the center of the road and then the rear window exploded, spraying shattered glass inward. Emilia and Rucker both instinctively ducked as shards rained down. Somehow Emilia kept the accelerator pressed to the floor.

The Suburban lurched around a slight bend. The glare in her rearview was refracted for a moment and Emilia clearly saw the vehicle behind them. It was a small pickup, with at least four men braced in the bed. They all carried long guns.

“They’ll take us out here,” Rucker said. “There’s nowhere to hide and we can’t outrun them.”

“I know.”

“Brake and turn it.”

“Madre de Dios.” Before she gave herself time to think, Emilia hit the parking brake and swung the wheel to the left.

The small truck shot by as the Suburban screamed into the oncoming lane, tires chewing the tarmac, engine protesting. The mountainside loomed out of the inky darkness so fast Emilia felt the vehicle start to claw its way upwards. But momentum and gravity won out and the vehicle continued to spin.

The landscape was lost in a dizzying blur. Like a hand racing too fast around a clock face, they were pointed toward Acapulco in the right lane, then at the center of the road, then at the other lane, then straight at the cliff edge. Far below, white lines of waves rolled gently toward the sand, hypnotic and teasing.


March for the Missing in Acapulco

The road has disappeared under a wave of sorrow and anger. In a case of weather mimicking emotions, it is raining and thousands are unintentionally decorated with multicolored umbrellas. The raingear doesn’t hide the posters with faces of the missing. Rather, the umbrellas become a symbol of the lengths to which people will go to get answers.

Photo courtesy of Reuters/Jorge Dan Lopez: Protest marchers in Acapulco, Oct 2014

Photo courtesy of Reuters/Jorge Dan Lopez: Protest marchers in Acapulco, Oct 2014

Rally for answers

I wish the scene was one out of the Emilia Cruz mystery series. Indeed, in MADE IN ACAPULCO, a rally takes place in the exact same place to raise awareness of the plight of those missing in Mexico’s drug war and Emilia must confront her own failure as a cop to stem the tide.

But the rally I’m talking about here is real and took place last week in Acapulco. Thousands turned out for a peaceful protest in the rain that shut down Acapulco’s main boulevard, the Costura Miguel Aleman, in an effort to get answers as to the fate of 43 teaching college students who were taken away by local police in the nearby town of Iguala.

Photo courtesy AP/Eduardo Verdugo: Protest marchers show faces of the missing, Acapulco, Oct 2014

Photo courtesy AP/Eduardo Verdugo: Protest marchers show faces of the missing, Acapulco, Oct 2014

On 26 September 2014, sparked by a protest over supposed bias against teachers from rural areas, the now-missing students clashed with police and masked men. Reuters reports that “Authorities say many of the missing students were abducted by police.”

Authorities have been using sniffer dogs, patrols on horseback and have been sifting lakes in the state of Guerrero, where Iguala and Acapulco are located, to determine the wherabouts of the students. According to the online edition of The Guardian newspaper, 19 mass graves have been found and 28 bodies so far exhumed. None of the bodies so far found have been matched to any of the missing students.

Photo courtesy Reuters/Jorge Dan Lopez: Acapulco protest rally, Oct 2014

Photo courtesy Reuters/Jorge Dan Lopez: Acapulco protest rally, Oct 2014

An arrest

According to ABC News, “Mexican officials announced the arrest of Sidronio Casarrubias Salgado, the purported leader of the Guerreros Unidos drug gang suspected of acting with local police in taking away the students. He was detained Thursday on a highway leaving Mexico City, federal prosecutor Tomas Zeron said.

“Attorney General Jesus Murillo Karam said he hoped the arrest will bring new leads in the case.

“The government is combing the hills of southern Guerrero state with horseback patrols and has divers looking in lakes and reservoirs behind dams, but has not found the youths missing since a confrontation with police Sept. 26 in the city of Iguala. Officers are suspected of turning the students over to the gang.

“Authorities have arrested 36 police officers along with 17 alleged members of the gang. Iguala Mayor Jose Luis Abarca and his wife, Maria de los Angeles Pineda, are being sought for their presumed involvement in the disappearances, Murillo Karam said.”

Related post: Author Dilemma: When the News Writes Mystery for You

Endless road?

The end of this story is still ahead of us, but the circumstances that sparked it–police corruption, drug cartel influence, the endless money to be made from the drug and violence business–have no end in sight. The Emilia Cruz mystery series is fiction, but also a way of making folks aware of what is going on in Mexico.

Related post: Be Angry and Pray Hard

As the first and only female police detective in Acapulco, Emilia Cruz walks a fine line between the corrupt and the dead of her department. Her personal crusade to find out what happened to women who have gone missing in Acapulco is less fiction, however, than it is fact.

Made in Acapulco_June2014_120pxEmilia Cruz is the last honest cop in Mexico . . . most of the time. Get the Emilia Cruz stories today.

How to Make an Informed Reading Choice

With so many books out there, how do you make an informed reading choice? From the author’s point of view, it’s all about “book discoverability.’ But I read more than I write and from the reader’s perspective, it’s all about knowing the book won’t disappoint.

How to choose

There are alot of Goodreads discussons about how readers choose a book. Cover? Synopsis? Word-of-mouth? Book of the month chosen by others?

Here’s a different answer: the book itself.

Sample Size

When the Emilia Cruz short story, The Beast, was featured on The Huffington Post’s Fiction 50 showcase, sales of the first two Emilia Cruz books, CLIFF DIVER and HAT DANCE, went through the roof. Readers got to meet Emilia, the first female detective on the Acapulco police force, and see what a fighter she is.

The lesson was the best way to help a reader make an informed choice with an excerpt that sets up a conflict, introduces characters to love, or otherwise intrigues. We want to make sure it won’t disappoint.

Reader Zone

That’s why I’ve added a Reader Zone to this website. You’ll get access to the first chapters of all my books, plus several short stories, some of which are exclusive to this site.

Not only that; I’ll also send you a copy of The Beast, just in case you missed it on The Huffington Post last year. Free of charge.

Character Bios

In addition to the Reader Zone, in response to a reader suggestion, I’ve also added bios of the main characters in the Emilia Cruz mystery series. The bios were previously only available on Shelfari.

It is a real look behind the scenes. For example, you can find out what real life union jefe inspired the character of Victor Obregon or what Emilia Cruz and an Olumpic boxer have in common.

Writing for Water

Choose a book that gives back. During 2014 I’m donating $1 to Water.org for every Kindle book sold. Several other authors are joining me and together we’re the Writing for Water team. Each month I tally up how many peope we have been able to give clean water for life through our donations to Water.org.

We met our annual goal in August but we are still working hard. How much more can we do in the last 3 months of the year?  Help us out by buying books from Writing for Water authors.

Diablo Nights

“Carmen Amato manages to write colorfully about Mexican culture while maintaining the pacing and suspense of a top notch thriller. This is a marvelous read.”

 “It is one of the two or three best books in this genre I have read this summer.”

 4.9 out of 5 stars on Amazon

Writing for Water: How to Cure Ebola by Reading

Throughout 2014, for every Kindle book I sell, $1 is donated to Water.org, the charity co-founded by Matt Damon to bring clean and safe water to communities worldwide. Other independent authors have joined in and every month I tally up how many people have been given access to clean water because readers like you bought our books.

September’s Statistics

September sales flagged for me, after some fairly good Kindle sales months during the summer. But the mistress of zombie tales, Sharon Lee Johnson has promised a check so we managed to bump the ticker upwards by two.

This brings to 29 the total number of persons who will gain access to clean water from the Writing for Water team’s efforts so far in 2014. Given that we started with a goal of 25 for the year, this is pretty good.

chart of Writing for Water stats

The Great Balancing Act

But if we put all the people who read on one side of the equation and all the people who need access to clean water on the other side, we could be doing alot better.

Writing for water balance

According to the UN’s world population calculator, by 2015 there will be 1,132.5 million people living in high-literacy areas of North America, Europe, Australia and New Zealand. But there are 345 million without access to clean water, according to Water.org. And that has serious consequences.

This means that in very rough terms, for every 3 people who live in a fairly nice place and can read, there is 1 person who doesn’t have access to clean water. (Thanks to water.org for the graphic)

Would the Ebola epidemic be happening if more people had access to clean water in west Africa? Most reports point to lack of basic sanitation as the reason why it has spread so quickly.

water.org provided dataCure Ebola by Reading

As we head into the last 3 months of 2014, the Writing for Water campaign is going to get aggressive. I’m going to talk about this until I’m blue in the face. Tweet about it, sing it on Facebook, pin every water-related image I can find on Pinterest. And ask readers to do the same. Alot.

If you are an author, please make a contribution to the fundraiser and then email me at carmen@caremenamato.net. In return I’ll tweet, sing, and post about your books to my 2000+ Facebook fans and 4000+ Twitter peeps.

Here is the link: http://give.water.org/fundraiser/2154/

Remember, it’s a simple equation: Cure ebolaYou can check out all the Writing for Water books here. Buy one, read it (leave a review, please) and know that you helped bring clean water to communities that need it most. Maybe you aren’t ready to put on a Hazmat suit and head to Africa, but you can make a difference!

Not ready to buy?

Check out this free story first. Emilia Cruz wants to be the first female police detective in Acapulco. But will they break her before she gets to the squadroom? Read THE BEAST first. Then check out CLIFF DIVER, the first novel in the Emilia Cruz series and the one that Kirkus Reviews called “consistently exciting.”

Where’s a Cheerleader When You Need One?

Back when dinosaurs roamed the earth, I was part of my high school’s cheer team. I was also a member of the band, playing—yes, you read it here—the cymbals. Those cymbals were red hot when we New Yorkers played the Wisconsin fight song. Alas, we could only play the song before or after a game. The trombone player was also the captain of the football team.

It was a very small school.

The school team was the Red Wings and the cheer team was called the Wingettes, although we were also called Dingettes for unknown reasons. We wore red skirts and red and white vests and had a great time dancing to Journey tunes and rocking the crowds at half time.

Where’d the cheer all go?

But lately, as adult issues crowd in, cheer can be hard to find. That shouting, dancing, it’s-okay-to-be-the-center-of-attention kind of zest can often be replaced by fatigue, overwork, and feeling  overcome by change and responsibility and stress. Too much stuff we don’t want. Not enough of what we used to have.

Without energy, goals seem unreachable or too lofty. We slog in place, consumed by the day-to-day.

I’m tired just writing this.

Related post: Sweeten Life with 4 Jars of Happiness

Note to self

For several years, I carried a Blackberry with a couple of documents on it. Letters from me to me wherein I was my own cheerleader. These little notes reminded me of my goals, pointed out that I had what it took to achieve them, and exhorted my true self not to get distracted or pay attention to naysayers (“A book where all the characters are Mexican? Naaah.”)

I read the notes over and over again, particularily when it felt like my books weren’t gaining traction or finding a readership. But as with all Blackberry products, so it would seem, mine suffered a demise. My letters to self were lost.

Related post: What Happens When All the People are Mexican

Virtual cheerleading

I could perpetually mourn the loss of my Wingette uniform, my Blackberry notes, and my goals. Or this can be an opportunity to rewrite my letters to self. Make them more articulate, more focused on the kind of success I’m willing to work for.

So can you! Set it out there. Write that letter to self. Cheerlead for you. After all, if you won’t, who will?

No pom-poms required.

Book Review: Hotel Pastis by Peter Mayle

Up for a trip to southern France, where mirth, mayhem, and Champagne rule? C’est vraiment drole! Translation: keep reading.

I not only write mysteries but I love reading them, too. My favorites are the ones that take me to new places and this week it’s a trip to France, all expenses paid by advertising magnate Simon Shaw.

In this week’s book review, Peter Mayle, the UK writer best known for his non-fiction memoir A YEAR IN PROVENCE, checks us into HOTEL PASTIS. It’s a mystery with a light touch and Gallic flavor, along with a generous helping of humor. The novel is perfectly plotted and beautifully choreographed with descriptions and dialogue that match up to both location and characters.

As the novel opens, Simon Shaw is getting divorced (#2) from shrewish gold digger Caroline. His London house is empty–she’s taken everything. But Simon is mega-rich and has the support of his long-time driver/butler/event manager/best friend Ernest who convinces him to take a vacation to France. A small car accident maroons Simon in a small town in Provence, where he meets the lovely French businesswoman Nicole.

Back in London, Simon knows the trip to france has demonstrated just how much he’s fallen out of love with the megawatt advertising world, his US business partner, and the staff at the ad agency Simon built. When Nicole proposes that he buy a half-finished building in Provence and turn it into a hotel, the idea first sounds absurd. But eventually Simon–and Ernest–jump off the corporate ship, bid adieu to London, and build the Hotel Pastis in Provence. (FYI: pastis is the licorice flavor liquor that turnes cloudy when mixed with water. Surprisingly refreshing, it ubiquitous in the south of France. Pernod is one of the most popular brands.)

Interspersed with the Simon/Ernest/Nicole story line is the subplot of a group of locals who were once in prison together and are now plotting to rob a bank which has foolishly installed a new vault over a riverbank storm drain. The big robbery will take place on a festival day and the thieves will make their getaway by cycling away, hiding in plain sight amid the thousands of cyclistes there for the festivities.

Will the thieves succeed? Will their path cross Simon’s? What about Enrico, the Mafiaoso who threatens Simon and from whom the thieves must buy their false passports?

I can’t give any more away, except that this book draws you in with just the right amount of French lingo. You’ll want to go buy Champagne and foie gras and have a picnic in the sun. There is amusement on every page–Mayle’s writing style is light and deft, with a few laugh-out-loud moments, and just enough suspense to keep the action fresh and brisk. The characters, especially Simon and Ernest, are very well drawn. Not a traditional mystery, but high quality writing, supreme entertainment, and a joy to read from start to finish

Simon’s not the only one who gets to escape in HOTEL PASTIS.

Diablo NightsIn DIABLO NIGHTS, Acapulco has never been hotter . . . and Detective Emilia Cruz has never been in more danger as a religious relic leads her into a maze of drug smuggling and revenge killings. Get DIABLO NIGHTS today.