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.

Writing for Water: August’s Big Wave

It’s almost a tidal wave.

As of 30 August, the Writing for Water team of authors exceeded the 2014 goal of providing 25 people with clean water for life, via donations to Water.org. Author donations are based on book sales.

In August, led by strong sales of the third Emilia Cruz mystery, DIABLO NIGHTS, and Sharon Lee Johnson’s zombie tales, we donated enough to give 3 more people access to clean water for a year-to-date total of 27. That’s two more than the goal for the entire year!

writing for water monthly

But it doesn’t mean the end of the campaign. There are alot more than 25 people in undeveloped parts of the world who need access to clean and safe water.

I’m really curious to see how high we can go. Thirty? Looks like that will be easy. Forty? Maybe. I’m not going to jinx things by setting a new goal, but I hope you’ll watch the numbers with me through the end of the year.

For a little encouragement, here’s a short video by John and Hank Green, aka the Vlog Brothers, talking about Water.org and the worldwide water crisis, complete with child mortality statistics due to lack of clean water. You may recognize John Green as the author of THE FAULT IN OUR STARS.

Thanks again for helping authors contribute to Water.org’s mission. Readers like you are the heart and soul of this effort. When you read, someone gets access to clean water.

You are the ones turning books into water and for that I truly thank you.

In other news

Meet Emilia Cruz in THE BEAST, the short story previously featured on The Huffington Post’s Fiction 50 showcase. You can get it free at http://carmenamato.net/get-beast-free-story/

Or check out the newest Emilia Cruz novel, DIABLO NIGHTS. A religious relic leads Emilia into a maze of drug smuggling and revenge killings, even as she trains a rookie who is little too interested in his new mentor. Acapulco has never been hotter . . . and Emilia’s never been in more danger. Diablo Nights

Lighting the Path

“Surround yourself with those who light the way.”

It was just another pithy Pinterest graphic; worth a nod and a smile. Forgotten in the wake of a great chicken recipe or a cat playing the piano.

But I recently had occasion to reflect on the wisdom of “lighting the path” when a friend and I had a long conversation about career decisions. She’s got two opportunities to choose from, both with pros and cons to them. I was wondering if my writing career can expand into a website devoted to time management and productivity for fellow writers, and if the Emilia Cruz series will ever get off the midlist.

Tipping points

As we talked, my friend–a social scientist–unwittingly defined for me what lighting the path means when faced with a decision:

1.How many people will it help? Do we want a life that is self-contained and narrowly focused? Or a life that impacts others for the better? Will the decison help us bring well-being or solve problems for others?

2. Just because an opportunity is available doesn’t mean it is the right one. Will a short-term gain wipe out the chance to fulfill a long-term dream? Yes, this is why Penny quit waitressing at the Cheesecake Factory.

3. It is worth spending time defining and owning your long-term goal. My friend and I discussed our career goals. Where would we each like to be in our 5 years from now.  Once we did that we could apply one of Stephen Covey’s 7 habits of highly successful people: “Begin with the end in mind.”

We didn’t bring peace to the Middle East but the conversation clarified things for both of us. We can both see a better–albeit highly ambitious–path. Now the question is one of courage.

I hope you have a chance now and then to have such conversations with friends who help light your path.

No flashlight? Dead battery? Strike a match and keep going. Brainstorm, weigh options, find your heart’s desire, own a long-term goal. Don’t aim at nothing.

In other news

Get the free short story THE BEAST and see how Acapulco beat cop Emilia Cruz fought her way into the detectives squadroom. THE BEAST is the prequel to the top rated Emilia Cruz mystery series novels, including CLIFF DIVER, HAT DANCE, and DIABLO NIGHTS, all available on Amazon.com in paperback and for Kindle.

The Emilia Cruz police procedural mystery series is a trip to Mexico, with action torn from today’s headlines and a woman who will be hard to forget.

Free for a limited time for Facebook mystery lovers! Get THE BEAST today: http://carmenamato.net/get-beast-free-story/

The Last Narco’s Last Supper

Whatever happened to El Chapo? After his arrest and imprisonment last February, the notorious leader of Mexico’s Sinaloa Cartel faded from the headlines.

Not completely.

El Chapo Guzman inspired the character of “El Toro,” the cartel kingpin in political thriller THE HIDDEN LIGHT OF MEXICO CITY. Like El Chapo, El Toro was brutal, cunning, and well-connected. But unlike El Chapo, El Toro eluded capture and prison.

Hidden Light by Carmen Ama

Hardly Hard Time

From the biography by Malcolm Beith, THE LAST NARCO, as well as a few other sources, I knew that El Chapo’s previous stint in prison (1993-2001)  had hardly been rough. A billionaire, he’d bought himself deluxe accommodations in prison. He bribed prison guards–and some say government officials as well–to escape in 2001 via laundry cart.

Cheap Eats

This time, prison is less deluxe for El Chapo.   InSight Crime reported in July that El Chapo and his rival Edgar Valdez Villareal, alias “La Barbie” and former head of the former Beltran Leyva Organization,  organized a hunger strike at the maximum security prison El Altiplano where they are both being held in solitary confinement. The website opines that: “while Chapo may no longer hold the reins of power in prison, the fact that two major drug lords held in solitary confinement have found a way to coordinate a nearly 1,000 man hunger strike is evidence they are still powerful figures in the prison and maintain the capacity to overcome rules and regulations.”

El Chapo arrest photo, Feb 2014

El Chapo arrest photo, Feb 2014

The outcome of the strike is even more telling. Blog del Narco reports that “Authorities quickly conceded on a couple of the demands. Prisoners will be given new shoes and clothing, they will be served more food but it will be the same poor quality, and they will allow prisoners to purchase more goods from the prison store, like toilet paper.

“Strikers will also be allowed to make 3 attempts to make phone calls to their families. Previously if the call was not connected or the line was busy they had to wait 9 days to try the call again.”

Counterpunch

In THE HIDDEN LIGHT OF MEXICO CITY, Mexico’s legal system is up for grabs. Forbes even went so far as to describe it as “a dysfunctional judicial system, marred by corruption, cronyism, incompetence and crime.”

But at the same time that El Chapo was refusing his calories, law enforcement authorities opened an investigation into judge José Luna Altamirano after determining that he had made bank transfers in the millions of dollars. According to Forbes, “In 2008, Luna Altamirano revoked a five-year prison sentence for Guzman’s son, known as El Chapito (little Chapo), saying he had been sentenced based on “subjective, personal assessments and without a legal basis.” Luna Altamirano has not been allowed on the bench since May 2013.”

Fact vs Fiction

It would be great if El Chapo’s influence in prision, despite his solitary confinement, was fiction. It would be even better if Mexico’s legal woes and corrupt judges were fiction, too. The fact that they aren’t means lives are being impacted, bruised, and even lost.

Fiction can’t fix these problems, but it can build awareness in a way that the news often can’t.

So I’ll write a little more.

In other news

Michael Smickeran investigative journalist and nationally-known writer on scientific anomalies and the paranormal, wrote a great review of THE HIDDEN LIGHT OF MEXICO CITY. He picked up on many of the issues in this post. Read his review here. 

The latest Emilia Cruz mystery, DIABLO NIGHTS, has picked up some great reviews. It is currently rated 4.9 out of 5 stars on Amazon and on the list of Top Rated books for the International Mystery and Crime category. Review comments include:

1. “It is one of the two or three best books in this genre I have read this summer. And as a Vine Voice, I get asked to read quite a few of them. Put this series on the top of your list for airplane and hotel reading or for that ‘reading’ weekend of escapism.”

2. “I’ve just read Diablo Nights and I now have a new cop-mystery writing favorite.”

3. “Emilia Cruz is likely one of the best detectives the reader will ever encounter.”

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An Excellent Liar

Big lies, white, lies, pretty little lies–Acapulco Detective Emilia Cruz is an expert at all of them. But in the Emilia Cruz police procedural mystery series, she hardly ever lies to the people she cares about.

Hardly ever.

Meet the main character blog tour

Emilia’s lying habits are just the tip of a literary iceberg.  I’ve been tagged to describe my main character in a blog tour. Fellow mystery writer Billy Ray Chitwood tagged me in his tour post talking about his Bailey Crane series. I recently reviewed his 6th and last novel in the series A COMMON EVIL, which you can read here.

THE RULES ARE SIMPLE: I must answer seven (7) questions about the main character in one of my novels (I choose DIABLO NIGHTS, the 3rd Emilia Cruz mystery.) Then, I nominate five (5) authors to answer the same seven (7) questions about the main character in one of their novels. Mention the person who nominated you (Thank you, Billy Ray Chitwood!)

1. Tell us a little about this main character. Is he fictional or a historic person?

Detective Emilia Cruz is an excellent liar, a fast thinker, a determined investigator, and a mean kickboxer. An Acapulco native forced to grow up too fast, she’s been a cop for nearly 12 years and a detective for two; a strong woman in a squadroom that didn’t want her and is still trying to break her. But Emilia isn’t afraid to defend herself and get what she’s rightfully earned. She’s a Latina who knows that many women in Mexico don’t get the chances she’s had. The proof is in a log she tracks of women who have gone missing–Las Perdidas, the Lost Ones.

But she doesn’t know how to handle gringo Kurt Rucker, the manager of a luxury hotel in Acapulco. A former U.S. Marine, he has the confidence and leadership qualities she admires. A triathlete, he’s calm under pressure and knows what he wants. But does Emilia?

2. When and where is the story set?

There’s the Acapulco that tourists know: luxury hi-rises, candlelit nights on the beach, the sweep of the most beautiful bay in the world, the majesty of the clear blue Pacific. There’s also the Acapulco that is a prize to be fought over by drug cartels–the city that is home to hookers and thieves, the streets where life is cheap and poverty is as pervasive as the wind off the ocean. Both of these versions of Acapulco claw at each other and force Emilia to survive between them.

3. What should we know about her? 

In DIABLO NIGHTS, Emilia is still trying to sort out her life. She lives with Kurt Rucker on the weekends at the most luxurious hotel in Acapulco. But during the week she’s with her mother in a small concrete box of a house far from the bay and tourists. Her partner, senior detective franco Silvio, is a perpetual pain in the you-know-where. To further complicate matters, Emilia is assigned to train a college boy whose family money has bought him his fantasy job.

4. What is the main conflict? What messes up his life?

Emilia is challenged by Mexico’s drug cartels. Their influence and violnce is pervasive and crippling, extending into the ranks of Acapulco’s police force, union officials, and civil authorities. Anonymity is a cop’s best friend and Emilia does her best to stay off their radar screen.

5. What is her personal goal?

Emilia want to find out what happened to local Acapulco women who have gone missing amid Mexico’s drug violence. She keeps a notebook of missing women, whom she calls Las Perdidas–the Lost Ones. Her hunt for missing teen Lil Jimenez Lata is a continuing subplot throughout the Emilia Cruz novels. Will she ever find Lila?

6. What are the titles of your novels, and where can we read more about them?

The Emilia Cruz series includes:
Cliff Diver (Detective Emilia Cruz Book 1)
Hat Dance (Detective Emilia Cruz Book 2)
Diablo Nights (Detective Emilia Cruz Book 3)
Made in Acapulco: The Emilia Cruz Stories

You can check out all of my books on Amazon (both paperback and ebook formats) or here on this site.

7. When can we expect your next book to be published?

Two more Emilia Cruz novels are in the works for 2015: the first, SHATTERED SIESTA, will be released in late spring.

Nominations:

I’d love to hear more about the main characters created by these fellow thriller and mystery writers:

  • John Scherber, author of the Paul Zacher series
  • Jerry Last, author of the Roger and Suzanne mysteries
  • Sandra Nikolai, author of the Megan Scott/Michael Elliott mystery series
  • Norm Hamilton, author of FROM THINE OWN WELL
  • Brian Benson, author of TWIN KILLING

In other news

The latest edition of Writer’s Digest magazine features an article quoting Frances Caballo. Frances was one of the first people I “met” on Twitter and she interviewed me about my use of social media. She is a social media expert and coach for authors. Check out her website http://socialmediajustforwriters.com/

I was honored to have all the Emilia Cruz novels reviewed on mysterysequels.com in the past few weeks. The reviews on this website are thoughtful and honest and I love that the books were read in order. In fact the entire website is organized so well that it is a pleasure to page through to find great mystery series. Here are the reviews of the Emilia Cruz books:

Besides the review on mysterysequels.com, DIABLO NIGHTS has received some wonderful reviews on Amazon, scoring it a rating of 4.9 out of 5 on Amazon. Vine Voice reviewer James Ellsworth wrote: “It is one of the two or three best books in this genre I have read this summer. And as a Vine Voice, I get asked to read quite a few of them. Put this series on the top of your list for airplane and hotel reading or for that ‘reading’ weekend of escapism.

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Book Review: The Coroner’s Lunch by Colin Cotterill

Not only do I write a mystery series, but I read them, too. My favorite mysteries are the ones that take me to new places.

This week’s book review is of THE CORONER’s LUNCH by Colin Cotterill. Following the advice of a fellow book clubber, I downloaded it and was instantly transported to Southeast Asia. It’s not a place I ever had a hankering to visit, but the book–and the inevitable rest of the series–took me to Laos in the footsteps of some of the best and most unique characters I have yet to encounter.

Dr. Siri Paiboun is in his early 70’s and has been named the only coroner in Communist Laos. A 40 year veteran of the country’s quest for French independence and then Communist victory, he is a French-educated Pathet Lao doctor. The Communist Pathet Lao is finally in power. Ready to retire after years of jungle fighting, Dr. Siri gets stuck as the only one even remotely qualified to take on the national coroner job in Vientiane.

The country is still war-torn, Russian and Vietnamese influence is everywhere, and Siri has next to no supplies or telephone. Author Cotterill does an amazing job of making the country’s non-existent infrastructure, inexperienced civil servants, jungle setting, and cultural attitudes seem normal. He doesn’t need to explain, these things are simply a given.

Siri is aided in his investigations by Nurse Dtui, who has a mind of her own, and Mr. Geung, an assistant with Down’s Syndrome. The good doctor lives in a group home–as does everyone else–and must contend with a hostile guard dog and nosy neighbors. Other great characters are his best friend and former brother-in-arms, Politburo member Civilai, who realizes the impossibility of combing Communist doctrine, a dispersed population of subsistence farmers, and Marxist rhetoric; Inspector Phosy, a cop assigned to investigate political crimes, and Judge Haeng, who isn’t smart enough for his job and squirms righteously under Siri’s barbs.

That’s not all that will quickly lure in the unsuspecting reader: Siri has visions of the dead. They don’t speak to him but he gets glimpses into the way they died, and he makes use of the information to figure out the murder victims that cross his examination table. In THE CORONER’S LUNCH, they include a general’s wife. Never a good sign.

Like Donna Leon’s Guido Brunetti series set in Venice, I can’t read just one Dr. Siri mystery. Alas, I have yet to find a list of the books in order, which would be useful as Dr. Siri’s little world progresses quickly. But don’t let that keep you from discovering this amazing series.

Writing for Water: The Summer of Love

Throughout 2014, I’m donating $1 for every Kindle book I sell to Water.org. Every time someone buys one of my books, they help bring clean water to communities worldwide. Some terrific author friends have helped along the way. Every month I tally up how many more people have been given clean water for life by this effort.

This post combines June and July. In June, I was busy getting ready for the release of DIABLO NIGHTS, the third book in the Emilia Cruz mystery series set in Acapulco. Sales were strong for zombie storyteller Sharon Lee Johnson who made a generous donation to water.org that month.

Just before June closed, DIABLO NIGHTS was released and boosted sales during the last 2 days of the month.

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In July, DIABLO NIGHTS kept sales going and the Emilia Cruz series on the Top Rated list for Amazon’s International Mystery and Crime category. The book is currently rated 4.9 out of 5 on Amazon.

June + July = the summer of love

In 2 months, we provided 4 more people with access to clean water through donations to Water.org!

summer of love writing for water June July metrics

This means that the total tally for 2014 stands at 24, just 1 away from the overall goal for the year! I’m thrilled to think that our book sales are having this sort of impact. Yes, it is small compared to the big supporters of Water.org like Hollywood heavyweights and IKEA, but no contribution is insignificant when it comes to something as critical and basic as clean water.

Readers make it happen

I have said it before but will say it again: It is readers like you who are making this happen.

Maybe you enjoyed Norm Hamilton’s fracking thriller FROM THINE OWN WELL, Jerry Last’s Roger and Suzanne mysteries, Sharon Lee Johnson’s addictive zombie tales, or one of the Emilia Cruz mysteries including CLIFF DIVER, HAT DANCE, or DIABLO NIGHTS.

By purchasing one of those books, you teamed with the author to make a donation to help bring clean and safe water to communities worldwide via Water.org.

Thank you from the bottom of my heart for being part of the Writing for Water team!

Check out these books from Writing for Water authors:

From Thine Own Well: Canada After The Fracking
The Deadly Dog Show (Roger and Suzanne South American Mystery Series Book 6)
Me VS Zombies Surviving Among Zombies
Diablo Nights (Detective Emilia Cruz Book 3)

Book Review: A COMMON EVIL by Billy Ray Chitwood

Not only do I write mysteries but I love reading them, too, especially the ones that take me to new places. This week’s book review is of A COMMON EVIL by Billy Ray Chitwood, a gem I discovered via Twitter. There aren’t many mysteries set in Mexico but Chitwood’s Bailey Crane series, of which A COMMON EVIL is the 6th and last, is a frequent and thoughtful visitor.

The novel takes us to a seaside resort along Mexico’s Sea of Cortez. Bailey is a retired Arizona cop who, with his wife Wendy, has settled into the condo resort in Mexico and is now the homeowner’s association head honcho. But along with sun and luxe, the Cranes also find danger and duplicity.

The cornerstone of the story is a scenario in which the largest cartel in Mexico, with a jefe who is not too objectionable, promises to clean up the violence and strike a deal with the Mexican government. Part of the clean-up action (read: getting rid of his rivals in order to run a drug monopoly with Mexico City’s approval) spills over onto Bailey’s turf. There’s a shootout on the resort property and Wendy is kidnapped because of a letter Bailey wrote protesting the dubious dealings of an American consorting with the cartels. Bailey’s survival instincts surge to the fore, although not always with the results he intends.

This isn’t the usual whodunit but a look at Mexico’s drug war through an expatriate’s eye. The charm of the novel—and the series–is Bailey’s unmissable musings on life and love. The tone feels autobiographical and authentic. His voice is a gutsier, spicier, and more raw version of Alexander McCall Smith’s point of view in the latter’s Isabel Dalhousie series but Bailey’s subject matter is both more intense and immediate. Even if you can’t quite wrap your head around the cartel-government bedfellows plot, the novel has plenty of twists, character surprises, and an alternately sunny and dangerous atmosphere that keep the pages turning.

Chitwood brought his charm and authenticity to a guest post over at the Mexico Mystery Writers Cartel blog, which you can read here.

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Acapulco detective Emilia Cruz is back and Acapulco is hotter than ever in DIABLO NIGHTS. Rated 4.9 out of 5 stars on Amazon. Get it on your Kindle today!

3 Essential Tips for Safe Travel in Mexico

Are you travelling to Mexico but getting nervous when you read the headlines?

Yes, there are security issues in Mexico, but more than likely you aren’t planning to travel to the real hotspots. Rest assured, safe travel in Mexico is possible. Mexico is a beautiful, intriguing, and expansive country with a rich culture to  enjoy. With dozens of fantastic destinations, from beach resorts to art hubs to big city museums, it is virtually impossible to be bored there.

The trick to enjoying Mexico is to be prepared with good security habits. As a mystery novel author whose main character is Acapulco detective Emilia Cruz, I spend a lot of time immersed in these security issues and know that a little common sense can go a long way.

Check out three tips for avoiding problems and having a great time in Mexico.

1. Passport to Paradise

Protect your passport; it’s your most valuable commodity. Don’t take it to the beach or the market. Keep a copy of the photo page of your passport with you. The original can stay in a room safe (along with copies of credit cards and contact numbers for the issuing companies.) Along with the copy of your passport, keep handy the phone number and business hours of your embassy in Mexico and the phone number and address of your hotel.

Related post: From Beach to Book: 3 Favorite Hotels in Mexico

2. No New Conversations

Getting into and out of a vehicle can be a particularly vulnerable time. A parking area is full of hiding places for would-be thieves and it is very easy to be distracted from your surroundings by the process of loading and unloading people, packages, strollers, etc. When we lived in Mexico our family rule was no new conversations getting in or out of the car. This meant fewer distractions for parents, faster loading/unloading, and zero incidents of robbery.

3. Expect the Unexpected

Once upon a time I was a student in Paris and travelling through Italy during Christmas break. While on a local train somewhere near Brindisi a group of boys got on shouting and throwing firecrackers, disorienting everybody in the carriage. The boys swarmed over our luggage, kept up the ruckus for the 10 minutes it took to get to the next town, and left, having taken everything out of my friend’s unattended purse.

Be prepared to encounter similar disruptions in Mexico. Getting accidentally squirted with water/mustard/liquid soap while strolling a market, being accosted by kids trying to give or sell you something, and other unexpected encounters can be a prelude to being pickpocketed or getting a purse stolen by those making the disruption or their accomplices.

Reduce your risk by being alert, not wearing ostentatious jewelry in obvious tourist areas, and keeping your bag closed, preferably with a zipper. Consider trading a backpack (worn on your back where you can’t see if someone is opening a pocket) for a messenger bag.

Related post: How to Find Love in Mexico City’s Markets

Was this helpful? Do you have a story about safe travel in Mexico? Please share it with us the comments.

Book Review: The Garden of Dead Dreams

Etta Lawrence has staked everything on a year at a prestigious writing academy in the rainy Oregon woods. But truth be told, she’s an indifferent writer. She’s also distracted by her roommate’s distraught behavior and has a crush on the academy’s cook, a Texan named Carl.

In THE GARDEN OF DEAD DREAMS, Quillen’s prose drips with atmosphere, quirky characters, and a deep sense of foreboding. The academy’s founder, the late great novelist Vincent Buchanan (a Herman Wouk-type figure on literary steroids) is still revered by students and administrators alike, almost to the point of demagoguery. His impact, via fiction, on the outcome of WWII is a central and continuing argument for everyone at the lodge.  But as Etta’s roommate goes off the rails and personal relationships at the academy begin to fray, Etta grows uncomfortable with the tension-filled atmosphere and certain that bad things are happening behind the scenes.

When the roommate, after a major literary success, disappears, Etta finds some improbable clues that implicate both a visiting professor and the late Buchanan. With the help of an old manuscript, Etta begins to piece together a dark secret. But before she truly knows what is going on, the academy administrators show that they’ll use all the many means at their disposal to ensure her silence. Yet, exactly what is the secret they are hiding and why will they kill to keep it?

The strength of DEAD DREAMS is the powerful prose. Descriptions are excellent, whether of people, places, or the quivering tension in the air. Etta retreats into the woods surrounding the academy more than once and Quillen makes you feel the crunch of leaves underfoot and the tang of pine in the air. Later in the book, when Etta tracks the secret to a Japanese mom-and-pop store, the reader is right there amid the paper lanterns and dusty boxes.

The prose keeps the reader hooked, even when the mystery is slow to develop or the plotting gets wobbly. For example, a key clue to Etta’s place at the academy isn’t revealed until the 40% point, a friend suddenly becomes a horticultural specialist when one is needed, and after establishing that the lodge is a closed zone impossible to get in or out, Etta suddenly is able to come and go undetected.

At the end, the loop doesn’t quite close on all the drama, leaving some questions. A couple of relationships are blurry and Carl disappears. But Quillen is a writer to watch. Perhaps the biggest question is when is her next book?