You’ve been granted a tour of the original Central Intelligence Agency headquarters building outside Washington, DC.
Pass the statue of Nathan Hale as you walk through the big glass doors of the front entrance. Try not to gawk.
Once inside, the Great Seal stretches across the floor in varied shades of gray granite. A quote from the Bible is chiseled on the wall to your left. To the right, you see the Wall of Honor. Each star on the wall represents an Agency officer who died in the line of duty.
At CIA Headquarters, Nov 2016, the same day I was awarded the Career Intelligence Medal.
Walk straight ahead to the bronze bust of William Donovan, head of the Office of Strategic Services during World War II, the forerunner of the CIA. Proceed past walls lined with portraits of US presidents and former Directors of National Intelligence. Pause by Leon Panetta’s portrait. His dog Bravo, who often came to the office, is in the picture with him.
Through a bank of tall windows, you’ll glimpse a big courtyard. Keep going.
You’re almost at the most highly anticipated stop on your tour.
Imagine the Disney Store if it was full of items bearing the CIA seal. Everything from cuff links to glassware, cigarette lighters to tee shirts. Even a cookbook written by intelligence officers called Spies, Black Ties and Mango Pies. Hidden in the back are necessary items for busy office workers: aspirin, mouthwash, extra ties and pantyhose.
Wade into the clothing section. Ignore the ubiquitous hoodies and polos. You’re looking for treasure.
There it is.
One tee to rule them all
The tee shirt bears 3 simple sentences, the unofficial ethos of those engaged in clandestine activities. These 3 simple sentences are key to understanding how lying and deception gain traction.
- Admit nothing.
- Deny everything.
- Make counter accusations.
Whether bold-faced lies or subtle marketing falsehoods, successful lies are grounded in at least one of these concepts.
The easiest thing to do when confronted by a lie is to not admit it. Politicians and their spokespeople do it all the time. “No comment.”
A lie of omission is when you admit nothing AND create a believably false narrative. For example, by not reporting a hot news item that might damage a political or economic ally, a media outlet implies that the story is just not that important. Not worth wasting time on it.
The best thing about lies of omission is that they’re just so durn hard to prove.
Denial is most effective with creative, slippery and/or vague language. “There’s no there, there.”
Do you recall President Bill Clinton’s 1998 denial in regard to his relationship with White House intern Monica Lewinsky? “I did not have sex with that woman.”
Given the accusations, the word “sex” became a distracting sideshow. What does the word REALLY mean? And can we talk about it out loud?
Result? Denial AND a shiny object for detractors to chase.
Make Counter Accusations
Send the blame elsewhere. So-and-so did it, not me.
Go a step further and accuse So-and-so of having a nefarious reason for doing the bad thing. Claim to know their innermost thoughts.
Bonus points 1: make the counter accusation before the original accusation gets out there. Get ahead of the problem.
Bonus points 2: make the counter accusation into a shiny object for the audience to chase. Look! It’s Elvis!
Pushback? Repeats steps 1 and 2, above.
How I know this stuff
I spent 30 years with the CIA as an intelligence officer. Including a stint studying China’s media practices, the job gave me a world-class education in the mechanics of deception.
Now as a mystery and thriller author, that education helps me create crime fiction loaded with danger and deception.
Related: The Detective Emilia Cruz mystery series
As the Information Age picks up speed, we encounter more and more instances of creative falsehoods and hidden information.
We are fooled by clever lies of omission, slippery denials, and fingers that point in the wrong direction. And then there’s marketing . . . Basically we are living in a stew of deception.
In short, I find the mechanics of lying and deception quite fascinating and will be discussing it in the months ahead.
Tour over. Grab your tee shirt and that engraved CIA beer stein. We’ve got work to do.
I love reading a good mystery as much as I love writing them! Here’s what I read this week.
A new Hercule Poirot mystery
Mystery fans can’t get enough of Agatha Christie’s fussy Belgian detective (cue Sir Kenneth Branagh, please!) and THE MONOGRAM MURDERS shows why. The new Hercule Poirot books by Sophie Hannah are spot-on, capturing the style and personality of the original books right down to Poirot’s tendency to speak of himself in the third person, identify the most obscure clues and solve multi-villain crimes.
Three people are found dead in a swank London hotel. They have all been poisoned. Two women and a man are each found in their respective hotel room, prone body positioned toward the door, and a monogrammed cufflink in the mouth.
What do the initials PIJ stand for?
Poirot & Co
Edward Catchpool, a young Scotland Yard detective, is assigned to the case. Poirot, who is taking a sabbatical of sorts by staying in the same boarding house, accompanies Catchpool to the scene of the crime. Catchpool, who deals with an inner struggle regarding the bodies of the dead, becomes Poirot’s foil and sounding board. Poirot delights in the role of teacher, making many clever (and correct IMHO) observations about human nature as they investigate.
The crime traces back to an old scandal in little village. As in so many Poirot tales, the final denouement reveals complex connections. Red herrings are ultimately complicit in the crime. The ending was impossible to guess! Only Poirot or an encyclopedia would know the tiny details that lead to certain supporting conclusions.
You almost need to graph out all the twists and turns to make sure you didn’t miss anything.
Related post: Book review: THE SEPTEMBER SOCIETY by Charles Finch
Style & substance
I loved the way the novel set up the crime, with clues that appear impossible to reconcile. What happened to the room service food? How did the killer escape? Why was one victim’s room key hidden behind a loose tile? Why did the waiter lie? The crime is tantalizing and the pages flew by.
Yet after so much brilliance, the last quarter of the novel moves at a glacial pace, with chunky dialogue in which the crime is picked apart and Poirot explains far too many extraneous bits of investigative genius..
But if you love Agatha Christie, Poirot’s return is “can’t miss” reading. So far there are 5 Poirot mysteries by Sophie Hannah, all incredible brainteasers like THE MONOGRAM MURDERS.
Click to order THE MONOGRAM MURDERS
For mystery lovers
If you love mysteries as much as I do, get the Mystery Ahead newsletter. Every other Sunday, you’ll get book news, behind the scenes peeks of new tales, and a review of a must-read mystery.
Find out more here
BLACKMAIL AT THE GALLIANO CLUB is slated for release on 16 February 2023! The Galliano Club historical fiction thrillers take place in 1926, in a fictional upstate New York city modeled on my hometown of Rome, New York. BLACKMAIL is the second book in the series, following MURDER AT THE GALLIANO CLUB released late last year.
My grandfather was a deputy sheriff of Oneida County during Prohibition. His stories served as inspiration for the series.
Why the pivot away from the award-winning Detective Emilia Cruz series? While Emilia will always have a place in my heart (first female police detective in Acapulco and a most excellent liar) I needed a break from cartels and corruption during gloomy covid times.
Every week, someone will email me, asking about Emilia’s return to their Kindle/bookstore/library. The good news is that there is more Emilia ahead. No spoilers or overpromises right now, just general reassurance.
I thought that the Galliano Club books would be quick to write, but they proved the exact opposite, with multiple points of view and lots of historical research. I’m so thrilled to finally bring this wonderful world to readers.
Here’s a sneak peek at the very beginning of BLACKMAIL AT THE GALLIANO CLUB, available now to pre-order on Amazon.
Saint Rocco’s Catholic Church, guardian of the East Lido neighborhood, had never seen a funeral like this. The church was packed. Those who’d been unable to get a seat filled the side aisles and blocked the confessionals.
Jimmy Zambrano was finally being laid to rest.
He had been one of the leaders of the Italian community in East Lido. A devout Catholic, a family man, the long-serving foreman of the Lido Premium Copper and Brass rolling mill, and a murder victim whose body was found in the Mohawk River after weeks of fruitless searching.
Not only was all of East Lido there, but also those who otherwise would never step foot in the Italian enclave. Nathan Packham was there, the owner of Lido Premium, with Henry Blick, who was the mill’s all-powerful operations manager as well as Packham’s nephew and heir. Mayor John Peabody had given a short eulogy from the pulpit.
Only the Procopio family, including Nick Procopio’s bootlegger cousin, Benny Rotolo, was missing from the funeral. Whispers had swirled through East Lido before the service, but no one expected any of them to show.
After all, it was Nick Procopio, the deputy foreman at Lido Premium, who’d strangled the man they were there to mourn.
Half expecting a thunderbolt to arc over the altar and strike him dead for his sins, Luca Lombardo rose to his feet as the casket went by, held high on the shoulders of the pallbearers. The solemn-faced priest followed, swinging the smoking incense burner. Next came three acolytes, two with large candles and the one in the middle carrying a gold crucifix that was taller than the boy by more than an arm’s length.
The organ wailed out Ave Maria from the choir loft above. The music muffled the clanking of the censer and the last few involuntary sobs.
As the casket passed each pew, the mourners filed out and processed up the center aisle after it. Jimmy’s widow Carmella Zambrano and her children left the first pew, putting them directly behind the tall gold cross and guttering candles. Vito Spinelli, the owner of the Galliano Club and Luca’s boss, accompanied the dead man’s family.
The casket was carried through the double doors. The crowd streamed out and filled the wide steps of the church to watch the pallbearers load it into the hearse for the ride to Saint Rocco’s cemetery. There would be no internment. It was early November and the ground in upstate New York was already frozen. Jimmy would rest in the mausoleum until spring.
The mayor and the owner of Lido Premium murmured their sympathies to Carmella before leaving in their fancy automobiles. The pallbearers spoke to her next as she stood next to Vito with Sonny at her other side.
Vito’s soup-strainer mustache trembled with emotion as he turned to Luca. “Jimmy can rest in peace now.”
“That’s right, boss,” Luca said. “It’s over.”
“We’ll drink a toast, no?”
Luca nodded. The boss was looking for reassurance. “We all will.”
A members-only outfit, normally the Galliano Club was closed on Sunday. Tonight all the rules were out the window. Even women were invited.
A ripple of unease went through the crowd. A space opened in the middle. Carmella Zambrano stiffened. Vito said something that Luca didn’t catch.
Maria Teresa Procopio was on the sidewalk in front of the church, chin held high. The widow of the man who’d killed Jimmy had a reputation as a loud, bossy woman who matched her late husband in size and strength.
The sky was the color of raw iron as day faded to night, but enough light spilled from the open church door for Luca to see red eyes and lines of grief aging her face. Her dusky hair was scraped into a bun and a long black dress showed below the hem of her knee-length coat. Her hands were jammed into the coat pockets.
“On behalf of my children and myself,” she said to Carmella, loud enough for everyone on the church steps to hear. “I offer condolences for your loss. Your Jimmy, may his soul rest in peace, was a good man.”
“Thank you.” Carmella’s voice was surprisingly strong.
“That’s all I come to say.”
Maria Teresa’s gaze slid to Luca.
He touched the brim of his fedora in acknowledgment.
“Lucky Lombardo,” Maria Teresa said with ice in her voice.
Luca hated the nickname. The newspapers had dubbed him “Lucky Lombardo” for his narrow escape from Nick Procopio’s copper wire garrote. Only a last-minute intervention by Official Sean O’Malley had saved him.
“Everybody’s hero now.” Maria Teresa spat hard.
The gobbet landed in front of Luca. He didn’t move.
Debut thriller SWEETLAND takes off like a rocket and never loses speed. Author Dareth Pray is one to watch!
Erin Stark is a new kind of female thriller heroine, giving fictional male colleagues like James Reece (THE TERMINAL LIST) and Jack Reacher (BETTER OFF DEAD) a run for their money. Reminiscent of Lisbeth Salander in THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO, Erin has a cold-blooded capacity that makes her both uncommon and intriguing.
A jingoistic cult/militia group called Patriot Dawn kidnaps a busload of high school cheerleaders from a highway rest stop in Tennessee. Erin poses as a college student to be scooped up along with the cheerleaders. In the process, she saves a girl having an asthma attack. In short order we see that Erin has special skills as well as a cool head under pressure.
The group is taken to an abandoned US military base commandeered by Patriot Dawn. Fake marriages take place. Erin ends up with the group’s commanding officer, an ex-military officer who served in both Iraq and Afghanistan. The Ruby Ridge/Jonestown nature of the Patriot Dawn compound and the forceful leader’s rules and authority are chillingly well drawn.
SWEETLAND really turns on Erin’s inner voice as she endures the horrific ordeal yet presses her own agenda. With no choice but to submit, she subtly manipulates her new “husband” to gain his trust and reveal his plans. She creates imaginative codes to records her findings.
Erin’s backstory, including her skill with languages and the spy handler who introduced her to the world of espionage, is carefully threaded through the current timeline. We realize that there is little in her life apart from constant undercover work.
Meanwhile, back in Washington DC, a weak-willed US president and a general called out of retirement learn that Patriot Dawn is the tip of a very large iceberg that threatens to propel the US into civil war. How long before the government is forced to respond? What critical information can Erin collect—and how much can she endure—before war breaks out?
I have it on good authority that more Erin Stark books are in process. Highly recommended.
Click here to find SWEETLAND on Amazon
A tall frosty glass of Prohibition, ballplayers and mobsters? I drank up a dozen books while researching 1926 for the Galliano Club thriller series. Now that MURDER AT THE GALLIANO CLUB has hit your favorite bookstore, I highly recommend the following:
SCARFACE AND THE UNTOCHABLE by Max Allen Collins and A. Brad Schwartz
Far and away the best accounting of the infamous rivalry. The book “draws upon decades of primary source research—including the personal papers of Ness and his associates, newly released federal files, and long-forgotten crime magazines containing interviews with the gangsters and G-men themselves. Collins and Schwartz have recaptured a bygone bullet-ridden era while uncovering the previously unrevealed truth behind Scarface’s downfall. Together they have crafted the definitive work on Capone, Ness, and the battle for Chicago.”
Find on Amazon https://geni.us/colsc
LUCKIEST MAN: The Life and Death of Lou Gehrig
A beautifully written and fulsome account of baseball legend Lou Gehrig, from his German roots and domineering mother to his rocky friendship with Babe Ruth to his sad demise of a baffling and uncurable disease that now bears his name. Did you know that he auditioned in Hollywood to play Tarzan? Or that his last words were “All my pals”?
Find on Amazon https://geni.us/elou
ONE SUMMER: America 1927 by Bill Bryson
Written in Bryson’s wry style, the book recounts everything of note that happened in the summer following Charles Lindbergh’s historical flight across the Atlantic. From the adoring crowds that nearly crushed the shy aviator to pole sitters, murder trials, a baseball tour featuring Ruth and Gehrig, and floods along the Mississippi, a patchwork of events is given wonderful context.
Find on Amazon https://geni.us/1br
LAST CALL by Daniel Okrent
A brilliant, authoritative, and fascinating history of Prohibition during 1920 to 1933, when the U.S. Constitution was amended to restrict alcohol. From the legal challenges to rumrunners, each chapter is full of insights and observations as to how Prohibition impacted the national character.
Find on Amazon https://geni.us/last2022
THE BLACK HAND by Stephan Talty
One of the first books I read in preparation for the Galliano Club, it’s the fantastically well-researched and gripping account of the Italian murder and extortion ring that terrorized Italian immigrants in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and the determined New York City cop, Joseph Petrosino, who fought them. Petrosino is still a legend in both Italian and law enforcement circles.
Find on Amazon https://geni.us/hand2022
1926 in Fiction
The first book in the Galliano Club thriller series, MURDER AT THE GALLIANO CLUB begins in August 1926. Hollywood hearthrob Rudolph Valentino died that month, only 31 years old but mourned by millions. New York governor Al Smith ran for re-election on a “wet” ticket opposing the enforcement of Prohibition in the state. Chicago bootleggers Al Capone and Hymie Weiss were locked in a battle for gang supremacy.
In MURDER AT THE GALLIANO CLUB, Chicago bootlegger Benny Rotolo locks horns with bartender Luca Lombardo. They both want the club, where beer is king and trouble is always on tap.
Just ask the dead man in the alley behind the club. Find it on Amazon: https://geni.us/mur2022
MURDER AT THE GALLIANO CLUB is now available in Kindle and paperback editions. The first novel in the Galliano Club thriller series debuted in the Number 2 spot on Amazon’s Italian Literature category. Thank you to so many early readers!
Join bootlegger Benny Rotolo and bartender Luca Lombardo as they battle for control of the Galliano Club, a hangout for Italian men in upstate New York in 1926. Beer is king and trouble is always on tap.
Are you a fan of The Godfather, Road to Perdition, The Untouchables, or Boardwalk Empire? If you love historical fiction featuring Prohibition-era stories of Chicago gangsters, Italian mobsters, and bold bootleggers, you’ll love MURDER AT THE GALLIANO CLUB, as well as ROAD TO THE GALLIANO CLUB, the prequel.
Why historical thrillers?
Many readers have asked why this pivot to historical thrillers after writing mysteries set in contemporary Mexico. The short answer is “pandemic.”
After writing so many books set in Mexico, including the award-winning Detective Emilia Cruz police series, the Galliano Club historical thriller series was a real switch for me. But in the midst of the pandemic, writing about cartels and corruption was emotionally tough.
Related post: From New York to Mexico and back again
Turning to family stories–my grandfather was a deputy sheriff during Prohibition–was both a challenge and a labor of love. My hometown of Rome, NY became Lido, NY. I incorporated many of my mother’s fading memories of growing up there. So much love went into this series, which you can read about here.
Seems I traded drug cartels and official corruption for bootleggers, blackmailers, and crooks. Go figure.
Get ready for an exciting trip to 1926!
Prohibition was at its height, with beer cooked up in illegal breweries, speedboats hauling liquor from the Bahamas to the East Coast, and Prohibition Bureau agents playing both sides of the law. Richard Byrd and Floyd Bennett claimed to fly over the North Pole but Charles Lindbergh wouldn’t cross the Atlantic until the next year. The Yankees lost the World Series when Babe Ruth was tagged out trying to steal a base. And that’s just for starters.
The Galliano Club thriller series has it all. Expect authentic details, unforgettable characters, layers of deception, and relationships with heat.
All three full-length novels in the Prohibition-era Galliano Club series are scheduled for release:
16 February 2023: BLACKMAIL AT THE GALLIANO CLUB
The gift of historical fiction
When I started in the midst of the pandemic, I didn’t realize where the Galliano Club would lead. Now I’ve met some wonderful historical fiction authors, reignited my love of research, reconnected to my Italian roots, and learned about my hometown which served as the inspiration for Lido, New York.
Related: Behind the Galliano Club
All because my grandfather told stories from when he was a deputy sheriff during Prohibition . . . and yes, I’ve written him into the series.
The Galliano Club is my first foray into historical fiction but it won’t be the last.
This project has truly been a gift.
While you wait
The prequel, ROAD TO THE GALLIANO CLUB is out now! Read the backstories of the unforgettable characters of the Galliano Club thrillers: bartender Luca Lombardo, dancer Ruth Cross and bootlegger Benny Rotolo.
From the mean streets of 1920’s Chicago, to a coal town in Pennsylvania, all the way to the a village in southern Italy, three roads converge at the Galliano Club, where trouble is always on tap.
Grab it on Amazon here.
Mexico’s Truth Commission investigating the mass disappearance of 43 students from the Ayotzinapa Rural Teachers’ College may finally solve the 8 year old crime that inspired the Detective Emilia Cruz novel 43 MISSING.
As more details are uncovered, it appears that complicity in the students’ kidnapping and murders involves virtually all levels of Mexican military and civil authority, and was driven by drug money. Some are calling it a state-sponsored crime.
Ask me why I’m not surprised.
43 MISSING Giveaway
To bring awareness to the issue, I’m giving away 12 signed paperback copies of 43 MISSING on Goodreads. Find the giveaway here: https://www.goodreads.com/giveaway/show/353598-43-missing-an-emilia-cruz-novel NOTE: the giveaway ends 6 October 2022.
Got a Kindle? Get 43 MISSING on Amazon here: https://geni.us/read-43-missing
So far, former attorney general Jesús Murillo Karam is the highest official thought to be involved in the crime. He was arrested at his home in Mexico City in mid-August in connection with the Sept 2014 mass disappearance in the state of Guerrero, not far from Acapulco. Murillo served as attorney general from 2012 to 2015, under then-President Enrique Peña Nieto.
Murillo was charged with torture, official misconduct and enabling forced disappearance. Along with him, charges were brought against 20 army soldiers and officers, five local officials, 33 local police officers and 11 state police, and 14 gang members. https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/world/2022/08/20/mexico-attorney-general-arrested-43-missing-students/7855468001/
As CNN reported, the arrest followed the Truth Commission’s report which labeled the students’ disappearance a “crime of the state.” The commission, which began in 2019 and is the latest in a string of investigations over the past 8 years, combed through “thousands of documents, text messages, phone records, testimonies and other forms of evidence.” https://www.cnn.com/2022/08/19/americas/jess-murillo-karam-mexico-missing-students-intl-latam/index.html
Since Murillo’s arrest, more news has leaked out about the crime, much of which is being aired (at least in the English-language press) for the first time. The reason that facts were obscured and reporting muffled for so long appears to be a conspiracy that included local drug gangs in Guerrero, which may well have ties to larger organized crime organizations, as well as the highest levels of Mexico’s federal government during the Peña Nieto administration.
The commission report described a “deep coverup, involving multiple levels of local and federal government offices. Officials concealed facts and covered up links between the authorities and the gangs . . . At all times the federal, state and municipal authorities were aware of the students’ movements. Their actions, omissions and participation allowed for the disappearance and execution of the students.”
One shocking revelation from the commission is that six of the 43 students were kept alive for as long as four days after the initial kidnapping by police in the city of Iguala, at which point they were killed and their bodies hidden on the orders of the local army commander.
Enough, I’m Tired of This
Murillo is the one who famously said Ye me canse, meaning “Enough, I’m tired of this” in early November 2014. In a short press conference, he announced that two suspects led authorities to trash bags believed to contain the incinerated remains of the 43 missing students, then abruptly cut off reporters’ questions with the off-hand remark.
Ye me canse blew up across social media, and became a rallying call for those sick of Mexico’s narco violence and disappearances. “Enough, I’m tired of crime/narco-state/violence/government apathy.”
Meanwhile everyone else was asking Donde estan. “Where are they?”
This illustration from THE ARTIST/EL ARTISTA asks “Where are they?”
Murillo left office having created a narrative called the “Historic Truth.” This was an attempt to end the outcry with a story that the local police arrested the students then turned them over to the Guererros Unidos gang, which killed them and burned the bodies, tossing the remains into a dump.
Yet in September 2015, a group of independent experts appointed by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights issued a 500-page report refuting the theory as scientifically impossible. https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2015/09/ayotzinapa-disappearances-pena-nieto-s-ultimate-test/
Origins of the Crime
The impetus for this sad tale of crime/coverup/collusion/conspiracy is still murky. Why did the police seize the students in the first place?
The inciting incident was when the students commandeered buses in Iguala to go to a commemorative rally in Mexico City. This isn’t necessarily a big issue in Mexico where transportation is hard to come by. The Ayotzinapa students supposedly did it every year for this event.
But this time, the students may have unwittingly commandeered a busload of drugs being transported by the Guerreros Unidos gang. And who was the gang’s partner in drug transport and distribution? Could it be the Army? Local officials? The local police? All of them?
Mexico News Daily reported on military indictments:
“Retired Gen. José Rodríguez Pérez, a then-colonel who commanded the 27th infantry batallion at the time of the Ayotzinapa Rural Teachers College students’ disappearance in Iguala on September 26, 2014, is accused of ordering the murders of six students several days after they went missing.
“On August 19 – the day former attorney general Jesús Murillo Karam was arrested in connection with the students’ disappearance – the federal Attorney General’s Office (FGR) said that a federal judge had issued a total of 83 arrest warrants against 20 military commanders and soldiers belonging to two battalions in Iguala, five administrative and judicial officials in Guerrero, 33 municipal police officers from Huitzuco, Iguala and Cocula, 11 state police and 14 members of the criminal organization Guerreros Unidos.” https://mexiconewsdaily.com/news/arrest-warrants-ayotzinapa-general/
After more than three years digging into the current investigation, prosecutor Omar Gómez Trejo quit this week, “raising questions about the authorities’ willingness to take on politicians and the military,” according to the Washington Post. https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/2022/09/27/mexico-ayotzinapa-missing-students-prosecutor/
Mexican Attorney General’s Office recently persuaded a judge to vacate 21 of Gómez Trejo’s 83 arrest warrants listed above. Sixteen of the 21 were for military officials.
Was the prosecutor sidelined? Is this a sign that Mexico won’t hold military officials accountable for atrocities?
Interestingly, this comes at a time when President López Obrador is relying on the military for a variety of tasks. He recently shifted put the civilian National Guard under military control. The military has taken on the civilian law enforcement role as well as chasing organized crime and running infrastructure projects.
Solving the crime in 43 MISSING
I wrote 43 MISSING, the 6th book in the Detective Emilia Cruz series, out of a huge sense of frustration with the “Historic Truth” narrative being spun at the time. There was some great counter reporting, however, notably Francisco Goldman’s content in The New Yorker. I read everything I could get my hands on and came to the conclusion that those buses were key to the mystery.
And so I wrote my version of the crime, putting Detective Emilia Cruz into an investigation not unlike the Truth Commission. In the fictional version, a new investigation brings together police officers from across Mexico to take a fresh look after previous investigation were either unequal to the task or actively prevented from investigating. Again, much like real life.
43 MISSING takes Emilia out of the familiar surroundings of Acapulco and into Mexico City. She and the team must cull through a massive amount of documentation, including video transcripts, and are given few resources for the overwhelming job.
Emilia finds those responsible for the mass disappearance . . . She finds the bodies of the dead, too.
The real Truth Commission has done the first part. Let’s hope they can do the second and without paying the price that Emilia pays in 43 MISSING.
Featured image courtesy Kindel Media via pexels
Don’t forget to enter the Goodreads giveaway before 6 October for a signed copy of 43 MISSING: https://www.goodreads.com/giveaway/show/353598-43-missing-an-emilia-cruz-novel
Got a Kindle? Get 43 MISSING on Amazon here: https://geni.us/read-43-missing
Find 43 MISSING and all the Detective Emilia Cruz books on Amazon.
There is a success story behind the Killer Nashville International Mystery Writer’s Conference.
The weekend among my fellow writers always inspires and recharges. This was my 4th time attending.
The schedule is geared to help attendees connect with other authors as well as learn from fellow panelists and guests of honor. Agents are available to review a few pages of a manuscript. The awards dinner is a highlight and a reason to get dressed up.
I also won a Killer Nashville Silver Falchion in 2019 and have been a finalist a couple of times, but that’s another story.
Related post: An Excellent Bunch of Murderers
Persistence was the unofficial theme of the conference this year.
Both guests of honor put themselves in the shoes of aspiring writers as they spoke about persistence.
Charlie Donlea (SUMMIT LAKE, TWENTY YEARS LATER) talked about spending years writing multiple books before a publisher took a chance on him. Hank Phillippi Ryan (HER PERFECT LIFE, FIRST TO DIE) shared all the jobs she had before writing and that her first book was completely rewritten into a new genre before it was published.
Everyone is encouraged be be persistent. Overnight success is rare. Keep honing your craft, making connections and believing in yourself.
This attitude was reflected everywhere. My friend Bradley Harper (A KNIFE IN THE FOG, QUEEN’S GAMBIT) says he has “no time to be timid” and keeps pushing the envelope with new genres and branching into screenwriting. Mike Faricy (RUSSIAN ROULETTE, THE OFFICE) has more than 50 books to his name and struck gold with the Dev Haskell series. Dr. Katherine Hutchinson-Hayes is not only a Claymore Award finalist but a podcaster supporting other authors. After punishing careers in law enforcement and the California prison system, Bruce Robert Coffin (AMONG THE SHADOWS, BENEATH THE DEPTHS) and James L’Etoile (DEAD DROP, BLACK LABEL) persisted and built second careers as authors.
I could do on and on. Serious writers have persistence.
Related post: 10 Lessons from my first Killer Nashville
When Logistics Go Bad
The conference persisted despite:
- Hotel plumbing disaster
- Website hit by a Russian denial-of-service attack
- Schedule changes due to speaker illness/injury
- Misprinted awards dinner program
None of it mattered.
We made jokes about noisy fans and having to walk through the kitchen when the plumbing caused a hallway to be closed off.
Those who had attended before kept panels running smoothly in the absence of those with health issues. Last minute substitutions were useful and entertaining.
Volunteers at the front desk helped when website information wasn’t available.
The misprinted awards program was managed so deftly by Clay Stafford as the dinner’s MC that it became a running joke and quite good entertainment.
Nothing was going to get in the way of this community supporting its members.
We want you to succeed
This year I realized what made Killer Nashville special enough to keep coming year after year.
You get to define what success as a writer is for you. We all know it isn’t the same for everyone. There are too many versions and variables. But everyone at Killer Nashville wants you to succeed.
Sometimes the message is said out loud, but mostly it’s subliminal. It’s the thread that runs through a conversation with a fellow writer before the panel gets going. Lunch with a stranger as you both eye the cheesecake. Those late connections in the bar when you trade war stories and marketing ideas.
We all come to Killer Nashville because we want to succeed as a writer. Just as importantly, we want you to succeed, too.
Now that’s a heck of a success story.
The importance of a good hair day
Selfies with friends during the Killer Nashville conference, August 2022.
With Bruce Robert Coffin
With Bruce Robert Coffin, author of the Detective Byron series
With Mike Faricy
The annual snapshot with Mike Faricy, author of the Dev Haskell series
With Bradley Harper
Bradley Harper comes closest to being a Renaissance Man of anyone I know
With Emily Whitson
I had the honor of blurbing Emily Whitson’s book, UNDER THE MARIGOLDS which was a Silver Falchion finalist
With Maggie Toussaint
With Maggie Toussaint, winner of the Magnolia Award from SEMWA
With Baron Birtcher
With author Baron Birtcher, author of A FISTFUL OF RAIN
With Luis Rosas
With Luis Rosas, author of military thriller A SAVAGE JOY
With Dr. Katherine Hutchinson-Hayes
With writer and podcaster Dr. Katherine Hutchinson-Hayes
THE GUILTY DIE TWICE offers a memorable cast of characters, two pivotal crimes, lots of deliciously grubby political machinations, and both sides of the death penalty argument. The writing is both fluid and precise, without (thankfully) lots of legal jargon. The smooth pacing and flow make it exceptionally readable and hard to put down.
Travis Lynch is an attorney in Austin, Texas, who is barely able to make ends meet. His wife is pregnant, he works out of his living room, and he’s estranged from the rest of the Lynch family, scions of the Texas legal establishment. The reason for Travis’s difficult situation is tied to murderer Riley Sutton, whose execution takes place early in the proceedings.
Related: Book Review: THIEF OF SOULS by Brian Klingborg
Jake Lynch, Travis’s older brother, is the District Attorney (DA). Jake is a man on the rise. Powerful kingmakers are circling around. He’s the heir-apparent to the Lynch family’s legal legacy. Jake and Travis have not spoken in 10 years, when they prosecuted the Sutton case ten years ago as both friends and up-and-coming attorneys working in the DA’s office.
When a drug deal goes wrong, two high school boys are killed and another left paralyzed. A kingmaker’s son is one of the victims and the media is all over the story. Of course, no one wants the fact to come out that the victims were in a construction zone at 3:00 am to buy drugs.
Two arrests are made. The parents of the suspected shooter turn to Travis. He reluctantly takes the case, knowing he won’t be paid, but hoping to save the kid from a death sentence.
Meanwhile, Jake is pressured into charging the suspected shooter with a capital crime, triggering the death penalty. This pits Travis and Jake against each other in circumstances that hearken back to the Sutton case. Of course the backstory merges with the current timeline here and you finally find out what started the feud so long ago. What I liked so much is that neither brother is a white knight, but each is trying to follow their conscience in a very, very bad situation.
Related: Book Review: COMMAND AND CONTROL by David Bruns & J.R. Olson
Both stories wrap the reader in double suspense. What happened during the Sutton case to create this feud between the two brothers? What will happen to the current murder investigation given all the political strings being pulled? Can this family ever be mended?
It’s a legal thriller but even more, this is a story about a family pulled apart by competing moral values.
Highly recommended. Find THE GUILTY DIE TWICE on Amazon.
The author Don Hartshorn has an interesting website with short stories and writing tips. You can find it here: https://donhartshorn.com/
THE GUILTY DIE TWICE was published by TCKPublishing, a small press with a unique tagline: “Wealth is in the mind, not the pocket.” How true! You can find TCK here: https://www.tckpublishing.com/
Are you a food blogger? Love to cook Italian? Are you looking for a fresh, fun collaboration opportunity?
The Galliano Club series of historical thriller books will be released this coming Fall 2022.
The hunt is on for Italian-loving food bloggers and Instagram accounts to help promote the book series and grow their own audience at the same time.
About the Galliano Club books
The Galliano Club thriller series consists of a prequel and three full-length novels that tell a Prohibition-era saga of murder, blackmail and revenge. The year is 1926. The place is Lido, New York, a blue-collar kind of place inspired by my upstate hometown of Rome, New York.
The Galliano Club is a social hub for Italian mill workers in Lido. Club members drop in for bootleg beer or one of bartender Luca Lombardo’s famous sandwiches.
But trouble is always on tap at the Galliano Club . . .
The prequel, ROAD TO THE GALLIANO CLUB is out now.
More about the series here: Inside the Galliano Club thrillers
As part of the launch activities for the books during October-December 2022, author Carmen Amato (me) will be collaborating with food bloggers to create tie-ins that highlight the books’ Italian roots.
Collaborations are planned around Italian food, kitchen merch, and Prohibition cocktails.
Collaborations will be highlighted in press releases, interviews, etc.
1. Instagram contests to grow both our account followers. (“follow these accounts and tag a friend, etc) Prize bundles to include Galliano Club books, Italian cookbooks, kitchen merch from your store if available, Williams Sonoma cocktail kits, etc.
2. The free companion Galliano Club Signature Sandwich Cookbook featuring favorite recipes for Italian-style sandwiches from popular food bloggers and authors. There are 4 slots left. If selected, your recipe will be included with attribution and links to your blog/website. You get press release language/blog post draft and PDF copy to showcase on your website. Perfect as a lead magnet to grow your email list.
3. Signed copies of the Galliano Club books to sell in your online shops (US only).
How to participate
Want to take advantage of this collaboration opportunity? Email carmen(at)carmenamato.net with the subject line “Collaboration with Italian food blogger.”
Here’s what to include:
Your name, website, Instagram, and email
Tell me a little about yourself and why you love Italian food.
Plus, answer these questions:
1. Do you have a mouth-watering recipe for an Italian sandwich to be included in the Galliano Club Signature Sandwich Cookbook?
2. Do you have items from your shop that you are willing to provide for an Instagram contest? Think about easily shipped items like apron, potholder, napkin set, salt and pepper shakers, etc.(You’ll ship to me. I’ll add to prize bundle shipped to winners. All bundle contributors listed.)
3. Are you interested in up to 5 free signed copies of Galliano Club books to sell in your store? (US addresses only)
4. Who else would be interested in this opportunity? Please provide their email or Instagram.
That’s it! Fire off that email! Let’s collaborate!
In case you were wondering, yes, I’m Italian.
I’m also the author of the Detective Emilia Cruz police series set in Acapulco, the Galliano Club historical thrillers, and standalone novels of suspense.
A 30-year veteran of the Central Intelligence Agency, personal experiences are occasionally disguised as fiction.
With complex plots, fast action, and an exotic location, the Detective Emilia Cruz series includes CLIFF DIVER, HAT DANCE, DIABLO NIGHTS, KING PESO, PACIFIC REAPER, RUSSIAN MOJITO, NARCO NOIR and numerous short reads. All the novels contain Mexican food recipes, too.
The series is a 2-time recipient of the Outstanding Series Award from CrimeMasters of America, and won the Silver Falchion from Killer Nashville in 2019. It has been optioned for television.
A recipient of both the National Intelligence Award and the Career Intelligence Medal, I’ve been a judge for the BookLife Prize and Killer Nashville’s Claymore Award. Nonfiction has appeared in Publishers Weekly, Criminal Element, The Rap Sheet, Mamiverse, and other national-level publications.
My previous collaborations led to two chart-topping books: THE INSIDER’S GUIDE TO THE BEST OF MEXICO and THE INSIDER’S GUIDE TO THE BEST OF MEXICAN HOLIDAYS.
I guide readers through must-read mystery and deception every other Sunday in the Mystery Ahead newsletter. Get it here: https://carmenamato.net/mystery-ahead/
Don’t forget! Email carmen(at)carmenamato.net with the subject line “Collaboration with Italian food blogger.”
Researching the 1920’s for the Galliano Club books naturally means I have to research beer.
Notably beer in upstate New York, the setting for the Galliano Club series.
Beer is a hot commodity in 1926. Prohibition forbids it. The Galliano Club wants it. Bootleggers make it.
Murder and blackmail get mixed into the brew. Free refills, too.
West End Brewery
My research led to a tour of the West End brewery in Utica, New York, more recently known as the Saranac Brewery. The brewery is home to the Saranac family of brews, of which Saranac Pale Ale is probably the best known, as well as Utica Club which was the first beer sold after Prohibition. Signs on the buildings still say F.X. Matt Brewing, after the company’s founder Francis Xavier Matt, a German immigrant.
Home of Utica Club
As I drove up, I was hit by unexpected memories. When I was a child, my grandfather took family and out-of-town visitors to tour the brewery. This was before Saranac. Utica Club was very popular across the US and big billboards advertised the tour.
Back then, the brewery wasn’t as big as it is today but the tour was a major regional attraction. I recall it being very crowded. The trolley ride was unique and exciting, not to mention the free root beer for kids and two beers per adult.
Alas, the trolley is no more, but the tour still ends with a complimentary adult beverage in the downstairs bar which I sipped while furiously scribbling notes.
I was mostly looking for information about what the brewery produced during Prohibition and was not disappointed. Tour guide Tom Wynne told me that the brewery managed to hang on during the “dry” years, although just barely, by making a variety of non-alcoholic beverages. He opened a display case and took out half a dozen antique bottles for me to examine.
The carbonated lemon-lime “rickey” looked fairly appealing. Today we’d call it soda.
Malt tonic was probably intended for home beer makers. Perhaps to disguise that fact, the company put out a pamphlet-sized cookbook listing all the yummy things you could make with the syrup.
Then there was a fizzy wine substitute called “Champannetto Mum.” It was the kind of faux high society beverage that hapless accountant and erstwhile bootlegger Owen Fisher would drink as he plots to stay afloat on the wreckage of his life.
Here’s the tour in a 16-image nutshell:
The Home of Utica Club Beer
The vintage arch at the brewery announces that you’ve arrived at the Home of Utica Club.
The original building on the West End brewery property
The original building proclaims WEST END BREWING COMPANY across the upper floor.
Stained glass at brewery
The building is peppered with historic details, including several awesome stained glass windows like this one over the store entrance.
Speakeasy drinks menu
New cocktails were developed during Prohibition to soften the taste of rotgut liquor. My grandfather called every mixed drink a “High Ball.”
Vintage bottles showcase the tasty beverages made during Prohibition.
Sparkling water bottle
A stunning vintage label. The collar reads “A smile in Every Bottle.”
Champannetto Mum is such an awkward product name but probably chosen to remind drinker’s of the more famous Mumm’s champagne.
Malt syrup recipes. Yum.
Ever wonder why no one cooks with malt syrup any more?
Is it a raid? Traditional speakeasy door
In a nod to the 1920’s the brewery’s “speakeasy” has a peephole door to keep out the riffraff and bar-busting cops.
utica Club cases
Utica Club is the first beer sold after Prohibition and wear its history with pride.
Original copper kettles
The brewery’s original copper kettles are a marvel.
FX Matt Brewing
The modern side of the West End brewery. The tall boxy section in the background says BREW HOUSE just below the roofline.
Giant beer tanks
This room was HUGE and full of beer aging to perfection.
Massive new beer tanks
The tour was a walk through an industrial timeline. Also these tanks are HUGE.
Old meets new
Old meets new. In the middle of modern tanks, pipes, and storage rooms, vintage barrels are still being used for specialty brews.
Utica Club wears its heritage proudly
My souvenir Utica Club beer tray featuring Schultz and Dooley, both looking a little perplexed.
Meet Schultz and Dooley
Just for fun, let’s fast forward a few years.
The Utica Club commercials featuring two talking beer steins named Schultz and Dooley were the height of early 1960’s advertising. Schultz was a Bavarian tankard with eyes, nose and a Prussian helmet. Dooley was a short, lidded earthenware mug with a green shamrock on front.
Comedian Jonathan Winters voiced both Schultz and Dooley. A puppet troupe made the steins move for the camera. Before he composed Broadway classic Man of La Mancha, Mitch Lee provided the music.
The commercials won a slew of awards, including first and second place in the 1960 Venice International Film Festival and a Clio Award for Best Television Commercial. The one below is why.
On a personal note, a big thank-you to tour guide Tom Wynne and to Steve Hamilton, the company’s Visitor Experience Supervisor. Not only is the brewery a fascinating place, but it’s also an event venue helping to revitalize the city of Utica.
I definitely caught the excitement!