Film Rights to Acapulco Mystery Series Acquired by Screenwriter

Film Rights to Acapulco Mystery Series Acquired by Screenwriter

I am thrilled to announce, after weeks of negotiations between lawyers, that a contract for the film rights to the Emilia Cruz mystery series has been inked. Screenwriter and director Emily Skopov (ever hear of a little series called Xena, Warrior Princess?) released the news yesterday:

PITTSBURGH, May 18, 2015 /PRNewswire/ — Screenwriter and director Emily Skopov is pleased to announce the acquisition of film and television rights to the Detective Emilia Cruz series by mystery author Carmen Amato. The series, which includes the novels CLIFF DIVER, HAT DANCE, and DIABLO NIGHTS, as well as a collection of short stories, features Emilia Cruz as the first and only female police detective in Acapulco. Physically tough yet emotionally vulnerable, Cruz must be her own moral compass as police investigations pit her against Mexico’s drug cartel violence, government corruption, and gender bias against a woman in a traditionally male occupation. A relationship with an American man in a high-profile position further complicates Cruz’s life.

Read the rest of the press release here:

Join me in a virtual margerita! Hollywood, here we come.


Mystery and thriller author. Retired Central Intelligence Agency intel officer. Dog mom to Hazel and Dutch. Recovering Italian handbag addict. 

Why Acapulco is an Unforgettable Setting for a Mystery Series

Why Acapulco is an Unforgettable Setting for a 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 iconic Acapulco as her playground and the series makes use of its highs and lows. The city has grown increasingly violent in recent years as drug cartels battle over lucrative drug shipping routes into the US. But the city’s beauty and culture remain intact; the famous cliff divers still stun tourists, the dolphins still splash in the water park. But most of all, the sunsets, beaches, and blue ocean are among the best in the world. Not to mention the wonderful seafood.

With all that to work with, it is no surprise that the mystery series has been optioned for film. Acapulco makes a stunning backdrop for a mystery series. There is heat in Acapulco to be sure, but there’s also the warmth of Mexico.

Here is how the some of the most iconic settings feature in the Emilia Cruz mystery series.

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.



Mystery and thriller author. Retired Central Intelligence Agency intel officer. Dog mom to Hazel and Dutch. Recovering Italian handbag addict. 

March for the Missing in Acapulco

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.

2016 Update

The 43 missing students have never been found, although the remains of 1 has been identified. I have decided to use this case as inspiration for a Detective Emilia Cruz novel. The working title is 43 MISSING.


Mystery and thriller author. Retired Central Intelligence Agency intel officer. Dog mom to Hazel and Dutch. Recovering Italian handbag addict. 

An Excellent Liar

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.


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

I was honored to have all the Emilia Cruz novels reviewed on 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, 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.



Mystery and thriller author. Retired Central Intelligence Agency intel officer. Dog mom to Hazel and Dutch. Recovering Italian handbag addict. 

Reshaping the Acapulco Skyline

Reshaping the Acapulco Skyline

Acapulco has alot to offer: beautiful beaches, water sports, cliff divers, iconic skyscrapers, swimming with the dolphins. Get off the beaten path and you can add gun violence, murder, cops, and drug seizures. All that’s missing is a skycraper that looks like a corkscrew.

Ahem. Let me clarify.

In DIABLO NIGHTS, the third Emilia Cruz novel, Acapulco itself is as mch of a character as Emilia, her partner Franco Silvio, or her lover, Kurt Rucker. The action moves from Kurt’s hotel on Punta Diamante on the city’s far eastern edge, to the cruise ship docks near the old fort of Fuerte San Diego on the west side of the bay. Connecting those two sides of the horse-shaped bay is the wide boulevard named Costera Miguel Aleman. La Costera borders the ocean and is the major artery pumping cars, locals, and tourists around the waterfront.

DIABLO NIGHTS Reshaping the Acapulco skyline

The F&F Tower, downtown Panama City, Panama

All of the picture postcard shots of Acapulco’s downtown area show this road and the tall white skyscrapers that soar along it. In DIABLO NIGHTS, there is one more skyscraper, the fictional Torre Metropolitano. It’s a work in progress and the construction is pivotal.

  “The site of the half-built Torre Metropolitano loomed ahead as the road curved into the eastern side of the bay. When finished, the tower would be another one of Acapulco’s iconic skyscrapers rising from azure ocean, defiant and modern against a backdrop of iron mountains. Its innovative spiral design had been hotly debated in the news last year. Some said it would become Acapulco’s most famous landmark, others argued that the design was inherently unstable. But a consortium of investors had pushed it through.

The building would be 25 stories when done and about half had been erected. Steel and glass cladding rose into the sky, topped by a mammoth yellow crane. The whole structure was partially hidden by temporary construction barriers of corrugated steel. A picture of the Building’s final state was repeated on the barriers, as if miniature Torre Metropolitanos were strolling down the street, interrupted by the royal palms along the avenue.” — DIABLO NIGHTS

Related post: Blame it on Panama

The Torre Metropolitano is modeled after the F&F Tower in Panama City, one of the coolest–and scariest–buildings I’ve ever seen. Why this particular building? Well, you’ll have to read DIABLO NIGHTS to find out!

The Kindle version is out now, with paperback release in August. Happy reading, but if you are afraid of heights, well, don’t say you weren’t warned.


Mystery and thriller author. Retired Central Intelligence Agency intel officer. Dog mom to Hazel and Dutch. Recovering Italian handbag addict. 

DIABLO NIGHTS Cover Reveal and Kindle Release

DIABLO NIGHTS Cover Reveal and Kindle Release

The third installment of the Emilia Cruz mystery series, featuring the first and only female police detective in Acapulco, is out on Kindle!  The paperback version will be available in August.

And finally–the Cover Reveal! The final cover, shown here, is a slight variation of the winning cover which was one of four offered in a reader poll three weeks ago.

DIABLO NIGHTS is more of a psychological thriller than the previous two Emilia Cruz mysteries, CLIFF DIVER and HAT DANCE. Emilia’s is pulling threads and following leads and reacting to the news she gets at every turn. The emotional toll on her is high, but it leads to a new understanding of the resources available to her.

Here’s the Amazon description.

A religious relic lures Emilia Cruz, Acapulco’s first and only female police detective, into a labyrinth of drug cartel smuggling and revenge killings in DIABLO NIGHTS, the third novel in the explosive Emilia Cruz Mexico mystery series.

The relic, from Mexico’s Cristero War, also surfaces a long-hidden personal secret that Emilia cannot share with the man in her life, hotel manager Kurt Rucker.

The relic’s authenticity is in doubt, however, as Emilia and her partner, senior detective Franco Silvio, find a murder victim aboard a cruise ship. The victim’s pockets are lined with Ora Ciega, a rare heroin strain from Colombia that promises more drug war violence for Acapulco’s already bloody streets.

The Ora Ciega trail leads Emilia to a second body; that of Yolanda Lata, the mother of a girl for whom Emilia has been searching; as well as to a dead Customs official who had valuable information about the cruise ship murder. When stalkers shadow Emilia, the only conclusion is that she’s getting close to the Ora Ciega smugglers. Meanwhile, she’s assigned to train a rookie detective with friends in high places.

The destinies of Ora Ciega, the religious relic, the rookie, and the missing girl merge into a fateful trip into the hills above Mexico’s Costa Chica coast south of Acapulco. In a lonely place where vigilante groups have replaced civil authority and the crash of surf competes with gunshots, Emilia will face the biggest challenge of her police detective career. But it’s nothing compared to the shocking climax waiting for her back in Acapulco.


I’ve gotten so many emails asking when the next Emilia Cruz novel was coming out adn can finally say “Here it is!” Thank you to all the readers who have enjoyed the series so far. I appreciate all the mail and the generous Amazon reviews, too!

2016 Update

Like the rest of the Detective Emilia Cruz series, DIABLO NIGHTS got a redo this year with a new cover and new description, which you can see here. The 4th novel in the series, KING PESO, was released in August and the television and film rights were sold. Emilia could be coming to a screen near you!

Again, thank you for reading and staying connected!


Mystery and thriller author. Retired Central Intelligence Agency intel officer. Dog mom to Hazel and Dutch. Recovering Italian handbag addict. 

From Book to Beach: Favorite Hotels in Mexico

From Book to Beach: Favorite Hotels in Mexico

Planning a trip to Mexico? Wondering where to stay?

Readers often ask if the Palacio Réal, the hotel in Acapulco that Kurt Rucker manages in the Emilia Cruz mystery novels, is real. The answer is well, sort of.sunglasses isolated on white

The luxurious Palacio Réal  is a composite of my three favorite hotels in Mexico.  Yes, I have stayed at all three and combined the best of each into the hotel in the books. This way, I get to re-enjoy my visits to each place with authentic descriptions each time the action in the books shifts to the hotel.

If you are planning a trip to Mexico, these hotels are worth checking out!

Related: 3 Essential Tips for Safe Travel in Mexico

Hacienda Los Laureles, Oaxaca

We stayed in this hotel several years ago when it was newly opened. It is an old Spanish hacienda two miles outside of Oaxaca proper, in a neighborhood called San Felipe del Aqua, that has been renovated with a sense of architectural history so none of the charm has been lost. The owners did everything they could to ensure we had a wonderful stay and fussed over our children with free desserts and appetizers. My daughter still recalls being called “la princesa” for a week.

After hard touristing at Monte Elban and other Oaxaca sites of wonder we’d spend late afternoons on the patio having bittersweet hot cocoa and soaking up the ambiance. We came loaded with restaurant recommendations for places in town but often ended up dining at the hotel. The food was amazing and the service warm and genuine.

Since that stay, the hotel has consolidated its reputation as the only 5-star AAA lodging in the Oaxaca area. It is a small gem off the beaten path.

Sheraton Maria Isabel Hotel and Towers, Mexico City

This hotel has so much to commend it. The first thing is a central location near the El Angel monument, the Colonia Cuauhtémoc business district, the US embassy, and the western edge of the Zona Rosa. The second is the shops on the ground floor including a good restaurant with reasonably priced food, a newsstand and souvenir shop, a clothing boutique, the first Starbucks in Mexico City, and a jewelry shop where I got a box covered in silver milagros charms. You can walk to a Sanborns department store for books and magazines. The hotel is a good base to explore the Zone Rosa district, including the Insurgentes market, across the wide Paseo de la Reforma (cross at the crosswalks only!!)

The third thing to commend this hotel is that the rooms are large, clean and everything you’d expect for an upscale hotel in a big city. The executive floors are worth the small extra amount, given that they come with butler service, a fantastic breakfast buffet in the executive lounge (you can watch the news in either English or Spanish depending where you sit) and an evening cocktail hour in the same place. You can get a reliable taxi out front. A much-vaunted St. Regis opened up a few blocks away but the Sheraton, in my view, is a much better location and value.

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

Camino Réal, Acapulco

If the fictional Palacio Réal reminds readers of any specific hotel, it is probably the Camino Réal. This luxe hotel is located on the eastern side of Acapulco bay, in an area called Puerto Marqués, not too far from the better-known Las Brisas resort. We stayed there twice, enjoying the secluded location, huge rooms, and terrific food. The hotel is a multi-level marvel built against the cliffside that its website describes as an architectural “cascade.” The way it is built allows for pools on multiple levels, excellent views, and a lot of quiet corners so it is easy to spend a lot of time there without running into many other guests.

Eating there is half the fun. Room service was wheeled in on a large round table draped with a floor-length tablecloth while the flagship restaurant cantilevered over the water made dinner a special occasion.

The out-of-the-way location keeps you out of the thick of the tourist activity in Acapulco, but the hotel has its own tour office and we were able to set up tours right there. Downtown Acapulco can feel similar to any busy beachfront town—albeit with better views—so staying at this hotel lets you have the experience that Acapulco was meant to be—a majestic sweep of ocean and the amenities to enjoy it.

Thinking of taking a break and heading someplace warm? My friend Dana at is extremely convincing with 8 Reasons Why Travelling is Good for You.  


Mystery and thriller author. Retired Central Intelligence Agency intel officer. Dog mom to Hazel and Dutch. Recovering Italian handbag addict. 

A Counterfeit Money Mystery

A Counterfeit Money Mystery

Have you seen the new US 100 dollar bill? Compared it to the old bill of the same denomination?

Money and Mystery

The changes in the $100 bill drive the plot of “The Cliff,” a short story from MADE IN ACAPULCO: The Emilia Cruz Stories. “The Cliff” later became the beginning of the full length Emilia Cruz novel, CLIFF DIVER.

In the story, Emilia meets Kurt Rucker and together they discover that a vehicle seized by the Acapulco police for a traffic infraction is loaded to the hubcaps with counterfeit money.

    Three hours later they were staring at six million green Estados Unidos dollars piled on the floor in her uncle Raul’s auto repair shop. The rear body panels of the Suburban were off, exposing the ingenious system welded into the car frame to accommodate brick-sized packages. Even the four-wheel drive mechanism had been cannibalized to create more hidden hauling capacity.

   “Money in, cocaine out,” Emilia said. “The Hudsons are mules.”

   Rucker fingered one of the dollar bills, his forehead furrowed with thought. The hotel manager had worked side-by-side with Tío Raul as if he repaired cars in a greasy garage every day. His beautifully starched shirt had been cast aside, revealing a white singlet undershirt and muscular arms. Both the white undershirt and khaki pants were now as dirty and oil-spotted as Tío Raul’s coveralls.

   “These are brand new bills,” he said.

   “So?” Emilia got him a glass of water from the big jug of Electropura purified water. Tío Raul had gone to the one-bedroom apartment over the shop to tell Tía Lourdes to make them all some breakfast.

   “A couple of years ago they changed the design of American money.” Rucker spread several bills on the tool bench. “Made the image bigger. Added a tint. New watermarks.” He took a swallow of water. “But these are the old design.”

   Emilia ran her finger over the crisp paper. “You think it’s counterfeit?”


But I have a confession to make: I wrote the story before I ever held both an old and new $100 bill in my very own hands. This week, however, I was finally able to compare them side-by-side. I actually scanned two bills in order to create a featured image for this post, only to get a SERIOUS warning from Photoshop about altering scanned images of currency. Yikes. Hence the “Specimen” images from, the website set up to tell the public about the changes to US currency.

Old US bill

US $100 bill, issued 1996 – 2013

The new bill, which entered circulation October 2013, “incorporates new security features to deter counterfeiters and help businesses and consumers tell whether a note is genuine,” according to the website. According to a press release, “The redesigned $100 note includes two new security features: a blue 3-D security ribbon with images of bells and 100s, and a color-changing bell in an inkwell” to help Washington “stay ahead of counterfeiting threats.”

new bill

New US $100 bill, issued Oct 2013

The US Secret Service has a great page on detecting counterfeit money, which you can read here. You can also read more about the changes in the US $100 bill in this 2010 USAToday article.

It worked in the story

But not the way you’d expect.

Of course not, because the story is set in Emilia Cruz’s Acapulco. It’s the Acapulco that tourists know; the sweep of the most beautiful bay in the world, the majesty of the clear blue Pacific, candlelit nights on the beach, and luxury hi-rises. But it is 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. No investigation will be easy, no crime will be simple.

But there is one thing Emilia can always count on when she is investigating: money is involved.

In other news

Last week I reported that the Writing for Water team has now provided 10 people with clean water for life so far in 2014 with donations to based on book sales. Our goal is 25 for the year.

All this is made possible by readers like you. Thank you from the bottom of my heart.

If you are an author who would like to join us, we want to hear from you! Read more here and please contact me via email:

Also, on Thursday, subscribers to my monthly updates will get the the entire first chapter of the next Emilia Cruz mystery, DIABLO NIGHTS, delivered straight to their inbox. Get on the list and don’t miss it!

All the best, Carmen


Mystery and thriller author. Retired Central Intelligence Agency intel officer. Dog mom to Hazel and Dutch. Recovering Italian handbag addict. 

Padre Pro, the Catholic Martyr Who Inspired a Mystery

Padre Pro, the Catholic Martyr Who Inspired a Mystery

The long road that has become DIABLO NIGHTS, the 3th Emilia Cruz mystery novel, started nearly 4 years ago, in Rome, Italy. I’d had my tour of the Vatican and was now on the hunt for gifts and souvenirs. A large Catholic gift and bookstore looked promising.

Mex_bookHistoric Surprise

On the second floor I found a small paperback entitled MEXICAN MARTYRDOM by Wilfred Parsons, S.J. The author name’s name was buried in the text on the back cover which told of “true stories of the persecutions” and the “atrocities of those times” and the “heroic resistance of Mexican Catholics” in the 1920’s.

I was astounded. I’d lived in Mexico for 3 years, gone to church on a regular basis, even been president of the parish council. It was certainly a more devout country than the US, with no hint of anti-Catholicism. Perhaps I should have been aware about this period in history during a tour of Oaxaca, when the guide had referred to government seizure of the former convent were were touring, but I was too agog with the loveliness of Oaxaca to give it further thought. But in the late 1920’s the Mexican government of President Plutarco Calles tried to outlaw the Catholic Church, provoking what became known as the Cristero War.

Padre Pro

portrait of Cristero martyr Padre Pro

A rare photo of Padre Pro in a cassock in Mexico (vestments were against the law) from

From MEXICAN MARTYRDOM I learned the the story of Miguel Pro Juarez, S.J., a Jesuit priest executed for practicing his faith in 1927. Padre Pro, as he was called, was born in Mexico, ordained in Belgium, and returned to Mexico at the height of the crackdown on the Church. Wearing disguises, he walked, bicycled, and took taxis to dispense the sacraments and assist the poor–often by finding homes for unwanted babies and distributing food to those displaced by the government’s crackdown and mishandling of the economy. His legend grew large as the priest the army couldn’t catch but he was finally snared when he was accused of an plot to kill the head of the army (later president) and ratted out, along with 2 of his brothers. No one ever produced any evidence that the Pro brothers were involved in the plot.

Padre Pro and his brother Humberto were executed by firing squad. To make an example of him, the government took plenty of pictures during the event. But it backfired. Padre Pro blessed the head of the firing squad, forgave him, then flung out his arms, holding a cross in one hand and a rosary in the other, and shouted Viva Cristo Rey, just before the bullets struck. His words became the rallying cry for the Cristero War, which was captured in the movie “For Greater Glory.” Padre Pro was beatified by the Vatican in 1988 (first step on the road to sainthood).

Although the Emilia Cruz series is set in today’s Acapulco, I wanted to draw on Padre Pro’s life story for a novel. When things can get rough for Acapulco detective Emilia Cruz  in both CLIFF DIVER and HAT DANCE she turns to her parish priest Padre Ricardo for advice and solace. In DIABLO NIGHTS, she’ll find a relic supposedly from Padre Pro that gives her hope and the courage to keep moving forward. She needs her faith to survive Mexico’s drug war violence, but she also needs the relic as a means to ease her conscience, because  . . .

No spoilers today, but DIABLO NIGHTS is shaping up to be the most psychologically suspenseful Emilia Cruz mystery yet.

In Padre Pro’s Own Words

Padre Pro was a man of many talents. He played the guitar, sang, wrote stories and poetry, and was a great comedic actor (which enabled him to assume many disguises and improvise his way out of numerous close shaves with the Mexican authorities before he was finally caught.) A poem included in the biography BLESSED MIGUEL PRO by Ann Ball has a haunting stanza that I received permission to use as the opening quote in DIABLO NIGHTS:

The very breath of Hell floats in the air;

The cup of crime is filled by tyrant’s hand

“Return in Haste, O Lord” by Miguel Pro Juarez, S.J.


Mystery and thriller author. Retired Central Intelligence Agency intel officer. Dog mom to Hazel and Dutch. Recovering Italian handbag addict. 

What if your dream job depended on this man?

What if your dream job depended on this man?

If you only had one chance at your dream job, what if it hinged on this man’s help?

Carmen Amato Made in AcapulcoIn MADE IN ACAPULCO, the collection of short stories that traces Emilia’s Cruz’s path from beat cop to seasoned detective, no one wants Emilia to become Acapulco’s first female detective. Everyone puts obstacles in her path, and she will have to fight her way through them one by one. But the last barrier is both the ultimate dealbreaker and out of her control:

     Lieutenant Inocente slowly sat upright. “Let me put this in a way you’ll understand, Cruz,” he said. “Unless one of my detectives steps up and says they’ll take you on as partner, you just wasted a lot of time and energy going after this job.”
     Emilia felt a rush of anger. “That wasn’t a criteria last year,” she pointed out. “Or the year before. Or any year.”
     “You’re not last year,” Lieutenant Inocente said.
     He got out of his chair and walked past her into the squadroom. Emilia followed.
     “This is Cruz Encinos,” Lieutenant Inocente said loudly and every man in the room turned to look. “You’ve all heard she’s the detective candidate from the ranks this year. If one of you wants to partner with her, she’ll be joining the squadroom.”   He looked around and the words if not hung in the air. He shifted his eyes to his watch. “She’ll be in Interrogation 1 for the next hour. Anybody who wants a new partner can go fix it up with her.”

Emilia needs Superman to step up, punch out Lt. Inocente, and be her partner. Instead, she gets this guy:

      Five minutes were left in the hour when a heavyset man came down the hall. He was in his early thirties, maybe five or six years older than her, wearing a leather jacket and holding a pair of expensive sunglasses.
     He came into the room, closed the door and stuck out a beefy hand. “Rico Portillo,” he said.
     Emilia shook hands, glad that he didn’t start a squeeze contest as many male cops did. “Emilia Cruz Encinos.”
     “Yeah, sure.” Portillo ambled around the room, clearly uncomfortable. He stopped when the table was between him and Emilia. “I hear you’re looking to become a detective,” he said.
     “I’d really like a shot at this,” Emilia heard herself say. “I’m a hard worker. I don’t give up. You don’t throw me under the bus, I won’t throw you, either.”
     “Yeah.” Portillo didn’t say anything else, just fiddled with his sunglasses. After a moment he scratched his head. “The thing is,” he said finally. “Right now I’m stuck with Gomez. He’s dumb as wood. Dumb enough to get me killed one of these days.”
     “I got the highest score on the detective exam,” Emilia said.
     Portillo scratched his head again.
     Emilia held her breath.
     “You gonna turn around in three months and tell me that you’re pregnant?” Portillo asked.
     The air went out of Emilia all at once. “No,” she said stiffly.
     “You got a man?” Portillo asked. “You know, regular?”
     “I’m not going to sleep with you,” Emilia snapped. “If that’s what you’re asking.”
     “Hey.” Portillo tossed his sunglasses on the table and raised his hands in mock surrender. “Can’t blame me for trying. You’re no dog, you know.”

michael pena

Rico and Emilia are off to a rough start.

Will he offer to become her partner? More importantly, for Emilia, is the job worth having if she has to ride with someone like that?

Without giving anything away, Rico Portillo is one of my favorite characters in MADE IN ACAPULCO. If the series ever gets to be a movie, Michael Peña could really pull off his mix of goofy and serious.

What do you think? Ever had a rough start with someone but a job depended on dealing with them successfully? 


Mystery and thriller author. Retired Central Intelligence Agency intel officer. Dog mom to Hazel and Dutch. Recovering Italian handbag addict. 

MADE IN ACAPULCO: Prequel to the Emilia Cruz Mystery Series Novels

MADE IN ACAPULCO: Prequel to the Emilia Cruz Mystery Series Novels

The Emilia Cruz mystery series delivered another bit of entertainment to mystery lovers yesterday with the release for Kindle of MADE IN ACAPULCO, a collection of short stories that take place before the action in the full-length Emilia Cruz novels. Paperback will be available on Amazon next week. The collection contains 5 short stories, including The Beast, which explains how Emilia fought her way into the Acapulco police department’s detectives squadroom, and The Cliff, which is the original Emilia Cruz story that became the basis of CLIFF DIVER. Related post: MADE IN ACAPULCO: Excerpt and Book Release News

An Updated Edition

This 2013 edition of MADE IN ACAPULCO has nearly all new content, considerably updating it from the 2012 first edition of MADE IN ACAPULCO, which was essentially only The Cliff in a Kindle Single format. The 2012 edition was unpublished when CLIFF DIVER came out, because the first section of the book and the story were so similar. The Cliff remains in this expanded 2013 edition of MADE IN ACAPULCO, however, for those who might not yet have read CLIFF DIVER. After all, it is the original Emilia Cruz story and introduces the Emilia-Kurt relationship in a way that flows perfectly with the other stories. Oddly enough, the handful of reviews for the 2012 edition reappeared on the sales page of the 2013 edition yesterday. Given the dates and enhanced content, these old reviews now don’t make sense. However, the book description does contain an explanation of the two editions so maybe that will help stem the confusion.

Bonus Content

This edition of MADE IN ACAPULCO also includes the first two chapters of political thriller THE HIDDEN LIGHT OF MEXICO CITY. To my surprise, the Emilia Cruz series has eclipsed HIDDEN LIGHT in terms of sales and reviews. I hope this teaser can introduce more readers to a romantic thriller that I’ve always felt was the book Most Likely To Be Made Into a Movie. See the dreamcast here HIDDEN LIGHT is being featured this week on, where it is the only cover without a bare-chested man! The tagline accompanying the cover image reads “He fights cartels and corruption. She’s a light in the dark.” Sigh.

Of Wine and Bathtubs

Speaking of HIDDEN LIGHT, I was at a dinner party last night and one of the guests, a college professor whom I’d met once before, let me know she was enjoying the novel. It was her “guilty pleasure,” she said with a meaningful look, adding that the relationship between Eddo and Luz kept her turning pages. “Did it make you want to buy a bigger bathtub?” I asked. Whereupon her eyes got huge, she spilled some wine, and we both burst into knowing laughter.

See how the Emilia Cruz Mystery Series Started

Made in Acapulco_final_300px

Available now on Amazon


Mystery and thriller author. Retired Central Intelligence Agency intel officer. Dog mom to Hazel and Dutch. Recovering Italian handbag addict. 

Reshaping the Acapulco Skyline

MADE IN ACAPULCO story collection is free for all

Fact may be stranger than fiction but in some cases they are deliberately similar. I routinely comb the news for inspiration for the Emilia Cruz mystery series so that “action torn from today’s headlines” isn’t just a tagline.  Yes, readers will be entertained by fast-paced tales of intrigue and mystery. But they’ll also learn about the impact of Mexico’s drug war.

Made in Acapulco by Carmen Amato

MADE IN ACAPULCO: The Emilia Cruz Stories is a collection of 5 short stories, many of which were inspired by real events in Mexico. The stories take place before the action in the full-length Emilia Cruz novels, including CLIFF DIVER and HAT DANCE:

The Beast captures Emilia’s struggle to become the first female detective on the Acapulco police force. It previously appeared in The Huffington Post’s Huff/Post 50 Featured Fiction showcase.

Note for missing womanThe Disappeared sees Emilia track a friend who goes missing. This story launches the continuing theme of missing persons, especially women, that runs throughout the series. It was inspired by the numerous reports of missing women in Mexico, such as this 2012 New York Times article about missing and murdered women in Juarez.

Related Post: Finding Mexico’s Missing: New Effort or Whitewash?

The Artist was inspired by Mexican poet Javier Sicilia’s efforts to raise the awareness of the plight of families whose loved ones have gone missing amid Mexico’s drug violence as well as threats to schools in Acapulco in 2011 that caused 140 schools in that city to close. For more see The Huffington Post report on Sicilia’s 2012 “caravan” tour of the United States as well as this report in the Christian Science Monitor about the school closings.

The Date explores the downside of a job that pits Emilia against Mexico’s enduring culture of machismo. It draws on real events that occurred at a nightclub in Mexico in 2006, as reported by the BBC.

The Cliff is the original Emilia Cruz story and was previously published in the now out of print first edition of MADE IN ACAPULCO. Written for a literary critique group, the story was initially entitled So Far from God and introduced Kurt Rucker. CLIFF DIVER, the first full-length Emilia Cruz novel, was based on this story.

The stories in MADE IN ACAPULCO draw on the headlines coming out of Mexico today, but it also shows the warmth and resilience of the Mexican people. Mexico is a beautiful and vibrant country with a rich heritage and culture, and Emilia represents hope for the country’s future.

2018 update: MADE IN ACAPULCO: The Emilia Cruz Stories is permanatly free across all ebook platforms.





You are invited to spend some time in Acapulco with Emilia, Rico, Kurt and the infamous Lt. Inocente, among others.

Will this short story collection prove that fact is stranger than fiction? Probably not, although it may show just how much art imitates life.

P.S. If you enjoyed MADE IN ACAPULCO, please leave a review!


Mystery and thriller author. Retired Central Intelligence Agency intel officer. Dog mom to Hazel and Dutch. Recovering Italian handbag addict. 

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