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I’ll introduce you to emerging authors, review recommended reads, take you behind the scenes of the writing craft, and include the latest Detective Emilia Cruz series news.
Updates on the Detective Emilia Cruz series and other mysteries from Carmen Amato.
Features alternate between reviews of recommended reads and interviews with awesome mystery and thriller authors.
Clues about writing for readers who love whodunnits and writers who love their readers.
Sample a little Mystery Ahead
43 MISSING, Detective Emilia Cruz Book 6, will be available to pre-order on Thursday 9 November at the discount price of $1.99 for Kindle. The preorder price will be in effect ONLY for a week. The price goes to $4.99 on 16 November when the book is published. If you preorder the Kindle version, it will appear on your Kindle on 16 November.
The preceding book in the series, PACIFIC REAPER, is also available for $1.99 until 16 November. The action in 43 MISSING takes up where PACIFIC REAPER left off. Emilia’s battle with Santa Muerte, Mexico’s forbidden saint of death, is far from over, even as she investigates the disappearance of 43 college students.
The Blackhouse by Peter May
The setting is the remote, windy, and rainswept Hebrides islands off Scotland’s western coast. The murder is gruesome and mimics a recent killing in Edinburgh being investigated by police detective Fin McLeod.
Fin’s young son has just been killed by a hit-and-run driver. His lukewarm marriage has fallen apart. So he heads to the Isle of Lewis, where he was born and raised, to vent his grief and see if the two murders are connected.
The Blackhouse is rich, dense, and real. More than just a typical whodunit, I got the feeling it was written to illustrate a unique place few have seen and fewer still have truly experienced. Life in the Hebrides is remote and difficult, squeezed between rock and ocean and constantly buffeted by winds which have scoured trees off the land.
While the setting sets The Blackhouse apart from the majority of tartan noir novels, May also uses flashbacks unlike any mystery author I have read. The book is written in third person, with Fin as the central character. But Fin also narrates many flashbacks of his youth on the Isle of Lewis, which mostly deal with his childhood friend Artair, whose father tutored both of them, and Marsiali, the woman Fin alternately loved and discarded until she finally left him and married Artair.
Fin’s flashbacks don’t come at us in chronological order but are seemingly random (but highly relevant, as we will see) memories prompted by present-day encounters. Fin runs into the unhappily married couple Artair and Marsiali. Artair is now an abusive drunk and his son has gotten a girl pregnant. Donald, another friend, is a clergyman and father of the pregnant girl.
The big climax comes with a hefty dose of local Lewis custom: the annual 12-man trip to a tiny and remote rock in the Atlantic to kill guga sea birds, considered a local delicacy. The custom has been going on since time immemorial and to be included in the guga hunt brotherhood is a rare honor.
It is at this point, we realize what a master storyteller May truly is. He draws all the threads—both from the flashbacks and the present-day murder investigation—into whole cloth as thick and durable as the Harris tweed still woven on the island. The ending is huge and heart-pounding.
Today I had the pleasure of chatting with Nicolás Obregón, a Londoner and a Madrileño now living in Los Angeles. He is the author of the Inspector Iwata series, the first instalment of which, Blue Light Yokohama, was published around the world. Its follow-up, Sins As Scarlet will be released later this year.
Carmen Amato: Nicolás, thanks so much for stopping by. Your debut mystery, BLUE LIGHT YOKOHAMA, is my favorite kind of mystery with an international setting that creates a unique framework for the story. Tell us how you came to set a mystery in Japan and about the cultural details that you incorporated.
Nicolás Obregón: Thank you, I’m very pleased you enjoyed it.
I grew up watching Japanese cartoons, reading Manga, and playing Japanese video games. These were my earliest experiences of storytelling really, so I think in some ways, Blue Light Yokohama had always been there gestating in the back of mind. Certainly, I’d been playing around with detectives in my mind since sixth grade (I even carried around a toy police badge in elementary school). Yet down the years, my detective stories always felt staid and cliché. I usually wrote them as tough guys, and invariably, they were boring as hell.
Then, in 2014, I was in Japan and I came across an article on the Miyazawa cold case — a family slaughtered in their own home. In the photograph, the assembled detectives were wearing black and bowing before their empty house on the fifteenth anniversary of the murders. One of the detectives looked particularly upset, there was almost a vulnerability or fragility about him. That was essentially the birth of Inspector Iwata.
In terms of building his world, I really wanted to capture the mixture of lonely beauty and urban disconnection that is palpable in Tokyo. (Not that I think those qualities are culturally unique to that city). On a practical level, a lot of the work went into incorporating cultural fine points fell on the law enforcement side of things. There were a million and one little details that required a lot of legwork — the type of gold-wreath emblems on insignia corresponding to a particular rank in the Tokyo Metropolitan Police, which article of the Japanese Penal Code is relevant — so on, so forth. Law enforcement in Japan is a very different beast to its North American or European counterparts (you can be held by police for 23 days without charge, conviction rate is 99.99%) so this necessitated a lot of library hours!
CA: Your main character, Inspector Iwata, has a troubled life that is revealed in roaming flashbacks reminiscent of Peter May’s THE BLACKHOUSE. Why did you decide to use flashbacks to tell this part of the story?
NO: That’s a very flattering comparison. In my first draft there were no flashbacks. Iwata’s history was going to be prised open through a series of meetings and confrontations with ghosts from his past. In the end, though, that version of Blue Light Yokohama had become too sprawling and, ultimately, Inspector Iwata is really a man of few words. He very much subscribes to the Mexican proverb, the closed mouth catches no flies. At the same time, I wanted the reader to understand who he is today by seeing where he’s come from. And as the Inspector Iwata series will stretch to at least four novels, I wanted to lay the foundations of who he is at the start rather than colouring in retrospectively.
CA: Your descriptions are poetic and there’s a stream-of-consciousness element to your main character’s point of view. How did your writing style develop and what books and/or authors inspire you?
NO: I appreciate that adjective. I do flatter myself to think of my style as poetic. But I also think that word sometimes gets a bad rep as needless or flowery. For me, there’s a lot of poetry in the raw, in the violent, in the lonely. I’m drawn to the chaos and entropy within characters rather than wrapping them up with a neat bow. In terms of how my style has developed, I think aspiring writers are constantly told to find their own voice, to work out who they are. For me, it was as much about finding out what I wasn’t. Realising what you don’t want to do is very liberating. Realising that I could write about loneliness, people in pain, being lost, all of those inner demons, as well as having bloody crime scenes of the page — I think that, for me, was my eureka moment.
I’m not sure if there’s a clear-cut provenance to that but certainly authors that left their mark on me are Eduardo Sacheri; Manuel Rivas; Natsuo Kirino; William McIlvanney; and Anaïs Nin, to name a few.
CA: You can invite any author, living or dead, to dinner at your home. What are you serving and what will the conversation be about?
NO: Probably Anaïs Nin. Not only an exquisite and visceral writer but also a fascinating person. I’d exclusively serve red wine and order in as I’d be too nervous to cook anything. I’d ask her to write me a short poem on a napkin about what it’s like to be dead.
CA: What is your best protip? Tell us about a writing habit, technique, or philosophy that keeps your writing sharp.
NO: I guess you have to be relentless, even on days when you don’t feel like it. I was juggling university and full-time work when I wrote Blue Light so that meant writing on the bus into work, on my lunch break, never being more than a metre away from my notebook. Now I’m not saying there is a fixed way for writing novels, only that for me it didn’t feel like a hobby or something I did in my spare time, it felt like submitting myself to an all-encompassing endeavour. I was dog-tired for a year but it also changed my life.
As for a pro tip, an old teacher once told me, it doesn’t matter too much what it is, or even what it’s about, it just has to make me care. It’s the best bit of advice I’ve had.
Nothing makes for a good mystery like crackling dialogue. It can seem effortless to readers, but writers know it’s hard to create verbal ping pong. Here are 3 ways to do it:
- Do your characters have competing agendas? Make them joust or talk past each other.
- Plot out the trajectory of the conversation before writing any dialogue. Does the dialogue start out happy and end up angry or vice versa? If you plan to introduce a clue, where in the dialogue will it appear and how does that timing influence the interaction of the characters?
- Use setting to influence the conversation. Don’t make your characters speak in a vacuum.
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Every other Sunday, the Mystery Ahead newsletter offers #booknews, a #feature book review or author interview, and a mystery writing #protip.
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2 novellas, 3 chapters, 1 unforgettable woman
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I'm author Carmen Amato. I write mystery and suspense, including the Detective Emilia Cruz police series set in Acapulco. Expect risk, power, corruption. And relationships with heat. More