Could Gas Prices Make You a Victim of Fuel Thieves?

Could Gas Prices Make You a Victim of Fuel Thieves?

A month ago, the catalytic converter was hacked out of my daughter’s car as it was parked on a street in Chicago. Apparently, thieves troll at night for older cars with catalytic converters because the precious metals inside–palladium, rhodium, and platinum—now fetch unheard-of prices.

If you are in the US, you know that gas has also soared to unheard-of prices. Visiting family in New York last week, the gas station across from my hotel raised prices by 20 cents in 4 days.

As gas prices rise, articles about gas thieves in the US are hitting my inbox. Fuel theft is a phenomenon I mostly associate with Mexico, so I decided to do some digging.

Fuel thieves in the US

A quick search turned up report after report connecting gas prices with fuel theft.

In New York, thieves are drilling directly into a car’s gas tank, according to a Long Island report. https://longisland.news12.com/officials-gas-thieves-take-on-new-potentially-dangerous-way-to-steal-fuel. Newer vehicles have a rollover valve in the gas tank, which prevents the old-fashion method of siphoning gas out of a car’s gas tank. Thieves risk contact between the flammable fuel and a hot drill bit.

Other thieves park over the underground tank supplying a gas station, open a trap door in the floor of their vehicle and drill into the underground tank. https://abc7news.com/california-gas-prices-thieves-targeting-cars-and-stations-high-gasoline/11653156/

Still others hack gas pumps to change the price or spit out more gas. https://fox4kc.com/news/gas-thieves-in-florida-accused-of-hacking-pumps-to-get-basically-free-fuel/

In Nevada, thieves manipulate gas pumps, and fill specially modified trucks and trailers with stolen gas. They haul it to California, which has significantly higher prices for gas, and sell on the black market. https://abc7.com/gas-theft-las-vegas-trucks-stealing-gasoline-cost-of/11939871/ Gas station owners may not realize that the same truck has been fueling up for hours or that a pump has been tampered with until the station’s underground tank goes dry.

And so on.

Fuel thieves in Mexico

In Mexico, gas prices are less of a factor than poverty and corruption.

Fuel thieves are called huachicoleros and they target pipelines owned by Pemex, the national oil and gas utility. Pipelines are well marked and often run through miles and miles of uninhabited rural landscape. The fuel thieves siphon out the fuel, then sell it to gas stations and buyers in the open-air markets that sustain Mexico’s informal economy.

According to Reuters, “While organized crime is a big player, [President Manuel Lopez Obrador] has reserved particular disdain for Pemex, blaming crooked company insiders for much of the illicit trade.” https://www.reuters.com/article/us-mexico-fuel-theft-idUSKCN1PO0ET

But many of the fuel thieves are locals who fill buckets and bottles with stolen fuel. For them it’s a way out of poverty, albeit an extraordinarily dangerous path.

For example, in January 2019, 117 people died in the state of Hidalgo pilfering fuel from a pipeline when a fire erupted. Most of the victims were from a nearby village. When word spread that a tap was gushing, people grabbed whatever receptacle they had at hand and joined the crowd. It was almost like a party until a single, fatal spark.

Days after the blast, the thefts resumed.

Fireball

The tragedy in Hidalgo and dozens of other stories like it inspired me to write RUSSIAN MOJITO, Silver Falchion award finalist and the 7th book in the Detective Emilia Cruz mystery series set in Acapulco.

Emilia tangles with a Russian assassin and crooked Pemex officials as she investigates a murder in the luxury hotel where she lives with general manager Kurt Rucker. On stakeout with the ever-grumpy Lieutenant Franco Silvio, huachicoleros cause a fireball that nearly engulfs the two cops.

Russian Mojito cover

I’m humbled by a review of RUSSIAN MOJITO from Jim Nesbitt, author of the sensational Ed Earl Burch mystery series:

“As always, Amato spins a taut tale, keeping the reader off balance and guessing just as much as Cruz does. The pace is swift and the action is realistically and unflinchingly portrayed. Cruz is a tough but tortured cookie, driven by guilt and obsession. And that’s what makes her so damn interesting.”

If you’d like to leave your own review, here’s the link. Many thanks!

Carmen Amato is the author of the Detective Emilia Cruz police series set in Acapulco and the upcoming Galliano Club historical thrillers. A 30-year veteran of the Central Intelligence Agency, her personal experiences occasionally make their way into her fiction.

Want to know more? Follow on Facebook or get Mystery Ahead updates in your email inbox every other Sunday.

Spying on Elon Musk?

Spying on Elon Musk?

Elon Musk hardly needs an introduction these days, but here goes. He’s the richest man in the world, has a droll sense of humor, is a naturalized US citizen (born in South Africa) and has 7 children.

Founder of blazing-into-the-future companies Tesla and SpaceX, on 30 May Musk tweeted he felt as if he was being watched, and cleverly implied that the Central Intelligence Agency was responsible.

 

Elon Musk tweet 30 May

Twitter Related?

Musk’s plans to buy Twitter have sparked a huge online controversy. To quote CNN, Musk believes Twitter should be a “digital town square that abides by free-speech principles. Musk’s main critique about Twitter today is that it is too restrictive. Under his ownership, Musk has suggested, Twitter would treat content more permissively, pivoting away from content removals and account bans. He has also proposed opening up Twitter’s algorithm to public review so that, in theory, users could understand how it makes decisions . . . a kind of referendum on the future of online speech.” https://www.cnn.com/2022/04/26/tech/importance-of-musk-buying-twitter/index.html

Elon Musk freeing Twitter bird

The possible purchase has become highly politicized, fueled in part by the Biden administration’s announcement of a Disinformation Governance Board mere days after Musk’s bid to buy Twitter. Hardly a coincidence and gasoline on the already raging online fire, the Board was shuttered after only 3 weeks amid discussion of its legality. https://www.forbes.com/sites/jillgoldenziel/2022/05/18/the-disinformation-governance-board-is-dead-heres-the-right-way-to-fight-disinformation/ 

FYI: Personally I think Twitter has become a toxic stew. I maintain an account but am rarely on the platform.

The CIA angle

As a 30-year veteran of the CIA, and occasional talking head about the Agency, I’m concerned about the notion of the CIA “watching” a US citizen, especially if this has anything to do with the current presidential administration’s obvious opposition to Musk’s Twitter purchase.

The Agency’s legal mandate expressly forbids it from participation in US policy or targeting Americans. The latter responsibility belongs to the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

Codified in the National Security Act of 1947, the Agency’s mission is no secret.

“To stop threats before they happen and further U.S. national security objectives, we:

  • Collect foreign intelligence;
  • Produce objective analysis; and
  • Conduct covert action, as directed by the president.

We do not make policy or policy recommendations. Instead, our Agency serves as an independent source of information for people who do. We are not a law enforcement organization.”

https://www.cia.gov/about/

Related: My CIA Career: Glutinous but not Unflavorful

Two Rules

When I joined the CIA as an all-source foreign intelligence analyst during the second Reagan administration, it was drummed into our heads that analysis was independent of policy. Over and over, we were warned about “clientelitis:” massaging intelligence analysis conclusions to align with the views of the client, i.e. the policymaker it was intended for. Just like the CIA website says: an independent source of information for people who do.

Related: Inside my CIA Career: The Analytic Puzzle

Carmen receiving CIM, 2016

With my Career Intelligence Medal on the Great Seal, shortly before Christmas 2016

Later, as an intelligence collector, the legal structure ensuing that collection stayed true to the CIA’s foreign intelligence mission was inviolable. Specifically targeting an American citizen was unthinkable and there were multiple layers of oversight to ensure it did not happen. Were there lapses? Not on my watch, not in offices I managed.

If either of these two guiding rules at the CIA are no longer enforced, there is trouble ahead.

Carmen Amato is the author of the Detective Emilia Cruz police series set in Acapulco and the upcoming Galliano Club historical thrillers. A 30-year veteran of the Central Intelligence Agency, her personal experiences occasionally make their way into her fiction.

Want to know more? Follow me on Facebook or get Mystery Ahead updates in your email inbox every other Sunday.

President Trump vs Mexican drug cartel labs

President Trump vs Mexican drug cartel labs

Mark Esper has written about his stint as secretary of defense during the last year of President Donald Trump’s administration in A SACRED OATH. Before the book came out this month, excerpts published in the New York Times revealed that President Trump, frustrated by the constant flow of drugs across the US-Mexican border and convinced that Mexican authorities were losing control, reportedly asked Esper about the possibility of launching missiles to destroy Mexican drug cartel labs.

Esper dismissed the notion out of hand, saying that if he had not been face to face with the president, he would have thought the question was a joke.

I can well believe that reaction. The overwhelming bureaucratic response to the flood of illicit drugs coming into the United States is to rely on a limited suite of options which has neither stemmed the flow of drugs nor the rising number of drug-related deaths.

Related: Hard truths from the drug war from an intel professional

An outsider looking at the situation dispassionately might say: “The substances the cartels are pumping into my country are killing people at an unprecedented rate. What resources do I have to impact this problem?”

According to the CDC, 93,331 people died from a drug overdose death in the United States during 2020, a 30% increase over the previous year. The upward trajectory continued, with 108,000 deaths in 2021. Two-thirds were due to the synthetic opioid fentanyl, which can be produced in a laboratory–no swaths of poppies needed–and pressed into pills that are easy to conceal/disguise/transport. Availability and increased demand have risen together.

The last big effort to stem the drug tide was the Mérida Initiative, a bilateral security cooperation agreement between Mexico and the United States negotiated between presidents George W. Bush and Felipe Calderón. Mexico received nearly $3 billion for military equipment and training, as well as to strengthen a relatively weak judiciary system.

This package and Mexico’s quasi-military approach established a framework for action against the cartels that remains, by and large, the shape of US policy. Meanwhile, we are seeing record highs for US drug deaths, drug gang related crime, deaths in Mexico attributable to organized drug crime, numbers of missing persons in Mexico, and the availability of lab-produced drugs.

A missile strike without the consent of the Mexican government is a non-starter IMHO, but is it any wonder that a US president would be trying to find an outside-the-box solution? What if the proposal was put to Mexico? A partnership to take out the drug labs? No doubt Mexico City would have refused to cooperate but I’ll bet the idea would be crazy enough to provoke a new discussion instead of more of the same.

When I published the first Detective Emilia Cruz mystery, CLIFF DIVER, fentanyl was not yet the scourge it is now. Cocaine was king and bundles of marijuana were still being muled across the US-Mexico border. Drugs weren’t so cheap and the growing season meant seasonal eradication operations. Fentanyl is a new plot twist, but some things never change.

Cliff Diver

I truly appreciate the reviewer who said:

I am in awe of Amato for being brave and shedding light on many home truths.

Read an excerpt of CLIFF DIVER here.

Carmen Amato is the author of the Detective Emilia Cruz police series set in Acapulco and the upcoming Galliano Club historical thrillers. A 30-year veteran of the Central Intelligence Agency, her personal experiences occasionally make their way into her fiction.

Want to know more? Follow me on Facebook or get Mystery Ahead updates in your email inbox every other Sunday.

How a Real Cliff Diver Tames Her Fears

How a Real Cliff Diver Tames Her Fears

Ellie Smart is a professional cliff diver, but not an adrenaline junkie.

Riiiight.

A native of Missouri and former collegiate diver at UC Berkeley, with a Masters degree in sports and exercise science, Smart is the only American woman with a permanent billet on the 2022 Red Bull Cliff Diving World Series. Her next scheduled dive is 4 June, when she’ll attempt a dive off of Boston’s Institute of Contemporary Art into Boston Harbor. It could well be the most difficult dive ever done by a female competitor.

Gulp.

Smart says she isn’t fearless when it comes to being a competitive cliff diver, but says that “Having fear, but controlling that fear is key in our sport.” But how is it possible to control fear when the danger is so great and the disaster so final if she makes a mistake?

Much of her training involves a mental visualization technique.

Starting weeks before a major dive, Smart will begin visualizing it. Envisioning stepping onto the platform, how her body will feel as she moves through the air, how she’ll be positioned to hit the water. That way, when it’s time to do the actual dive during a competition, she will have already mastered it in her mind, which is critical to avoid going down the rabbit hole of “what if.”

Smart also uses a box breathing technique (two breaths in, two breaths out) “while envisioning a box with a different side lighting up on each in or out breath.” Finally, she takes time to reflect before the dive to remind herself both how prepared she is and how grateful she is to do something she loves. https://www.wellandgood.com/ellie-smart/

Maybe Detective Emilia Cruz will start practicing some of these techniques. After all, when you’re the first female police detective in Acapulco, the stakes are just as high.

In CLIFF DIVER, the first murder mystery in the series, Emilia is forced to lead an investigation into the suspicious death of her lieutenant.

Soon the man’s sordid sex life, money laundering, and involvement in a kidnapping double-cross combine to create an ugly mess no one wants exposed. The high profile murder case could wreck Emilia’s career. But when her worst enemy in the police department emerges as the prime suspect, keeping her job might be the least of her worries.

As the investigation grinds on, Emilia compares herself to Acapulco’s famous cliff divers as they perform their thrilling show, diving off the rocky cliffs at La Quebrada, high above the Pacific Ocean.

“That’s me,” Emilia said as the youngest diver in the red suit stood poised on the platform again. The sinking sun was blood-streaked behind him, blotting out his swimsuit so that he looked naked and raw. “Going off a cliff, not ready for it. Not knowing if I’m going to hit the rocks and be smashed to pieces or not.”

Kirkus Reviews called CLIFF DIVER “Consistently exciting.” Leave your own review on Amazon here.

Cliff Diver

Book Review: A PALE HORSE by Charles Todd

Book Review: A PALE HORSE by Charles Todd

I’ve been gobbling up the Inspector Ian Rutledge historical mystery series by Charles Todd and A PALE HORSE is a prime example of what makes this post-WWI series so irresistible. You get a travelogue of Great Britain, layers of plot complexity, and a flawed hero who lives on the edge of madness caused by bloody and senseless war.

It’s 1920 and Rutledge is an inspector with Scotland Yard with jurisdiction to investigate across Britain. His first case is an unidentified body wearing a theatrical cloak and a war-time gas mask, found in the ruins of an abbey in Yorkshire. Having spent 4 years as an officer in the trenches of France, Rutledge is somewhat of a ruin himself.

He hears the Scottish voice of his dead sergeant Hamish, a voice so real that he cannot turn around for fear of actually seeing the man. Hamish was executed by firing squad for refusing to lead his men in another suicidal charge through no-man’s land. As the officer in charge, it was up to Rutledge to deliver the final shot. Moments after doing so, a German mortar attack killed everyone in the trench except Rutledge who was shielded when Hamish’s dead body fell on him.

The mystery of the unidentified body in Yorkshire soon merges with that of a missing Berkshire scientist who lived in a small cluster of cottages built near the mysterious silhouette of a horse cut into a chalk hill by ancient people. As Rutledge probes the disappearance, each of the other residents of this strange little community reveal their secrets. Soon Rutledge isn’t just trying to identify the dead or find the missing but solve multiple murders.

I’m always fascinated by plot construction and the Rutledge books follow a 3-act template. Act 1 is all about setting the scene and the pace is measured. Things pick up in Act 2, but Rutledge frequently revisits locations or questions the same people again and again, uncommon technique for a mystery author. The pace is fastest in Act 3 as clues lead to a major climax.

Throughout it all, Rutledge and Hamish debate the cases and taunt each other. Thanks to some of the best writing out there, we see how Hamish is a product of Rutledge’s troubled conscience. Here’s an example from A PALE HORSE, as Rutledge contemplates a lost love:

She was another man’s wife, now. Not his, never his . . .

Hamish, at his shoulder, said only, “It was verra’ different with my Fiona. I should ha’ come home to her, and left you dead in France. Your Jean wouldna’ have missed you . . .”

The voice was sad, as if half convincing himself that this was true.

Together the two men, one of whom didn’t exist, went back to the flat.

Highly recommended. Find A PALE HORSE on AMAZON.

At least you didn’t fall into a narco sinkhole

At least you didn’t fall into a narco sinkhole

Imagine taking a nap on your sofa one afternoon, only to be awakened when the floor collapses, pitching you into a sinkhole.

But it’s not a true sinkhole, it’s a tunnel built by drug cartel smugglers that runs under your house.

This happened last week to a man in Culiacán, in the Mexican state of Sinaloa which is famous for being El Chapo Guzman’s base of operations and the name of his infamous cartel. When the roof of the tunnel caved in, the man fell about eight feet to the bottom of the tunnel.

Luckily, he didn’t suffer major injuries, nor did he fall into a smuggling event in progress. Hard to know which would be worse; a bad tumble or surprising unfriendly cartel smugglers.

As for his property values, well, best not to go there.

The tunnel, which runs under at least eight houses before emptying into a canal, was abandoned a few years ago after discovery by law enforcement. Neighbors used it as a giant trash chute and the tunnel was left to decay. The governor of Sinaloa sent his minister of public works to investigate and promise that the tunnel would be filled in to avoid other homes from collapsing.

This is hardly the first narco-tunnel to make the news. In 2020, the longest narco-tunnel was discovered running between Tijuana, Baja California, and San Diego, California. With a total length of 4,309 feet and running an average of 70 feet below the surface, that tunnel boasted an extensive rail and cart system, forced air ventilation, high voltage electrical cables and panels, an elevator at the tunnel entrance and more.

El Chapo himself famously escaped a México state maximum security prison in 2015 through a mile-long hatch far underground. The shower floor in his cell became a trap door, allowing El Chapo to slip into a narrow tunnel outfitted with a motorcycle on rails to speed him to freedom.

When I wrote the tunnel discovery scene in 43 MISSING, from the Detective Emilia Cruz mystery series set in Acapulco, my goal was to put you inside a similarly dark and terrifying place with Detective Emilia Cruz as she follows cartel killers into a narco-tunnel.

Similar to the tunnel dug for El Chapo, the fictional tunnel has electric lights and a transport system. And yes, an impatient cartel kingpin waits on the other end, confident that he’ll be spirited out of prison.

But besides falling into one, how are narco-tunnels discovered? No spoilers from the book, except this review from Nightstand Book Reviews:

What is uncovered in “43 Missing” is astounding . . . Amato is thoroughly convincing in her version of what might have happened . . . [It] stayed with me long after I finished the book.

If you’d like to leave your own review, use this link to 43 MISSING on Amazon.

The Best Thrillers set in Exotic Locations

The Best Thrillers set in Exotic Locations

I was recently invited to curate a page on Shepherd, a new book discovery website. Warning, this site can easily become your new favorite rabbit hole.

Authors are invited to introduce their book at the beginning of a showcase of books similar in genre or theme. I chose The Best Thrillers set in Exotic Locations as my theme.

CLIFF DIVER, the first Detective Emilia Cruz mystery set in Acapulco, introduces the showcase. The Best Thrillers set in Exotic Locations then flies you around the world in five books! From China to Fiji to Ceylon and points in between, these 5 thrillers are some of my favorites. I review each title, giving you my reasons for including them and why the exotic setting makes a difference.

The Shepherd site uses color and fonts for a quite lovely visual experience, too.

The Best Thrillers set in Exotic Locations are:

Waking Up in Medellin By Kathryn Lane

Thief of Souls: An Inspector Lu Fei Mystery By Brian Klingborg

Trouble in Nuala By Harriet Dorothy Steel

Recipes for Love and Murder By Sally Andrew

Death on Paradise Island: Fiji Islands Mysteries 1 By B.M. Allsopp

My criteria for choosing these 5 books was 1. An exotic and unusual setting, and 2. The mystery was based on local culture and could not happen elsewhere. I think you’ll agree!

Visit the page on Shepherd here: https://shepherd.com/best-books/thrillers-set-in-exotic-locations

Book Review: Bone Canyon by Lee Goldberg

Book Review: Bone Canyon by Lee Goldberg

I love Goldberg’s Ian Ludlow series, starting with the ridiculously wonderful KILLER THRILLER, in which a nerdy writer repeatedly saves the world, but I was willing to go along for a more serious ride in BONE CANYON. A traditional police procedural, BONE CANYON delivers the same high speed action, unfussy writing style, and excellent plot development.

Related: Book Review: KIller Thriller

Eve Ronin is a detective for the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, assigned to the Lost hills station near Calabasas, California. She used some inadvertent notoriety to climb the career ladder to her current assignment, a detail which has not endeared her to many colleagues. Meanwhile, her partner is counting down the days until he can retire and Eve is more or less estranged from her has-been showbiz parents.

Her life isn’t perfect, but Eve is making it work. She’s stubborn, athletic, committed to the job. I think she sounds a lot like Detective Emilia Cruz, albeit with a racing bicycle instead of a white Suburban.

The latest wildfires have cleared the hillsides, revealing the bones of a long-dead woman. Eve is able to make a positive identification and discovers that the dead woman was raped shortly before she disappeared.

Eve investigates the rape, assuming a connection to the woman’s death, when a second body is found. As the investigation continues, Eve’s chief suspect becomes another member of the Sheriff’s Department. With her notoriety now a liability, Eve faces danger herself.

Goldberg fans will love the reference to Hollywood and the Vine, the cheesy cop show Ian Ludlow ostensibly wrote. It’s a moment of fun that lightens a seriously good whodunit. All the threads wrap at the end, along with a teaser that primes us for the next Eve Ronin tale.

BONE CANYON is the second book in the Eve Ronin series, following LOST HILLS, but stands alone quite well.

Highly recommended.

Get it on Amazon

 

Book Review: BACK SIDE OF A BLUE MOON by Caleb Pirtle III

Book Review: BACK SIDE OF A BLUE MOON by Caleb Pirtle III

I’ve been roaming Amazon, looking for historical fiction set in the blue collar world of the 1920’s and 30’s and won the prize when I discovered BACK SIDE OF A BLUE MOON, the first book in Caleb Pirtle’s Boomtown Saga trilogy. Part Music Man, part Grapes of Wrath, beautiful, haunting prose paints a tale you can see as well as if it was on the big screen.

And what a story it is!

The Depression and drought have combined to kill Ashland, Texas. The town on the banks of the Sabine River in east Texas is worn out and no one is as worn out as Eudora Durant. Once the town beauty, she’s now married to an abusive husband and stuck on a farm that can no longer sustain them. Her neighbors are selling off and leaving, their lives destroyed.

One night Eudora’s husband goes too far and she defends herself with the shotgun. When he isn’t seen around for some time, the sheriff starts asking questions, as do the townspeople. Eudora claims he took off but suspicion grows.

Good riddance to bad rubbish, as the saying goes. But where is his body? Without it, the sheriff can’t arrest Eudora, no matter what the gossips say.

Meanwhile, Doc Bannister comes to town, one step ahead of the law. He’s Hugh Jackman in the Music Man but instead of promising a boy’s band complete with uniforms and instruments, he’s going to use a homemade “doodlebug” machine to find oil and make Ashland richer than King Midas.

Doc is one of the best-written characters I’ve come across in quite some time. In his white suit and straw hat, he’s a breath of fresh air blowing life back into Ashland. He’s a rogue, yet a hard worker. Slippery yet drawn to the concept of stability. He knows just how to convince and manipulate while appearing honest and sincere.

In short order, he convinces everyone to part with their last two nickels to invest in his oil syndicate. Doc starts drilling on Eudora’s land, claiming to “smell” the oil below the surface, as the sheriff prowls around.

The suspense is multi-faceted. Is Doc a con artist or does he really know what he’s doing? Did Eudora really kill her husband? Will she be charged? What is going to happen to everyone who invested?

Perfectly true to time and place, the book veers more toward literary fiction than traditional mystery but it was too good to keep to myself!

It’s only available in Kindle format on AMAZON.

Highly recommended.

New Release! Road to the Galliano Club

New Release! Road to the Galliano Club

ROAD TO THE GALLIANO CLUB, prequel to the Galliano Club historical thriller series, is available now in Kindle and paperback formats.

The Galliano Club historical thriller series has been in the works for over a year, with excerpts doled out in the Mystery Ahead newsletter every other Sunday, so it’s a fantastic feeling to finally share Book 1 with readers! The setting is Lido, New York, a small city in upstate New York, but before the three main characters arrive there, hard luck forces each to strike out on their own.

All journeys end at the Galliano Club, of course, where trouble has just begun.

Road to the Galliano Club

Meet the main characters

RUTH CROSS: After escaping a dead-end Pennsylvania coal mining town, Ruth fulfills her dreams of dancing on Broadway, but is tripped up by a ruined reputation and prison time. Opening a dancing school above the Galliano Club is key to reinventing her life, but can the club be the sanctuary she needs?

LUCA LOMBARDO: From a bitter upbringing in Italy to the heartbreaking death of his wife and child in a New York City tenement, Luca loses everything he’s ever cared about. The Galliano Club is the one exception. It’s the home he never had. Nothing and no one is going to take it away.

BENNY ROTOLO: A member of Chicago’s violent North Side gang, Benny learns how to succeed in the crime business until the day he’s chased out of town by Al Capone. Determined to build his own bootlegging empire, he wants to seize the Galliano Club and turn it into the finest speakeasy north of Manhattan.

The Galliano Club

Galliano Club sketch

The Galliano Club anchors the growing Italian immigrant community in Lido, New York. After long days building America’s skyscrapers, ships, and electrical grid, thirsty mill workers head to the club to play cards, argue over the news, and drink the beer hidden in the cellar. It’s a comfortable place where no one is ready for the coming storm of murder, blackmail, and revenge.

This sketch of the building is a composite of buildings in the historically Italian section of my hometown of Rome, New York. Several bear the name of the owner/builder just below the roofline. V. Spinelli is Vito Spinelli, the owner of the Galliano Club series. He parks his Packard in the alley behind the building.

Vito’s taste for illegal whiskey, to help drown his grief at the loss of his son in World War I, means that all the work falls to Luca.

The door on the right is the club entrance. The door on the left opens directly to stairs leading up. Ruth’s apartment, as well as her school of dance, are on the second floor.

The architecture, similar to the layout of many duplex buildings in upstate New York, plays a role in how a deadly crime plays out in Book 2, MURDER AT THE GALLIANO CLUB.

Research

America’s growing pains during the early 20th century provide a vibrant backdrop for the series. New immigrants file through Ellis Island as George M. Cohan lights up Broadway, Sacco and Vanzetti go on trial, women swoon over Rudolph Valentino’s The Sheik, Chicago gangsters shoot to kill, skyscrapers sprout from cement and sweat, and the first flight over the North Pole is celebrated around the world.

Researching the Galliano series was hugely satisfying. For example, I learned that there’s only 2 degrees of separation between me and Buster Keaton. His two sons were both in the OSS during World War II and I was in the CIA, the successor to the OSS.

There’s a personal connection to legendary Broadway performer, writer, and producer George M. Cohan, too.  I was in the musical George M! about Cohan’s life and still know all the words to Give My Regards to Broadway, so of course his shows launch dancer Ruth Cross on the ROAD TO THE GALLIANO CLUB.

Also I saw Donny Osmond in the revival of Cohan classic Little Johnny Jones but we’ll save that for a rainy day.

Get your copy of ROAD TO THE GALLIANO CLUB today!

historical mystery series Road to the Galliano Club

Buy on Amazon

Book Review: COMMAND AND CONTROL by David Bruns and J.R. Olson

Book Review: COMMAND AND CONTROL by David Bruns and J.R. Olson

I was already a fan of this author duo’s espionage thrillers but COMMAND and CONTROL by David Bruns and J.R. Olson ratchets up the intensity to truly epic levels.

Buckle up, because this a fast-paced thrill ride through an ocean churning with conflict, tech wizardry, and global politics.

A string of unexplained attacks on US military forces have one thing in common: the latest Russian weaponry. Soon US forces are spread thin, not only in response to multiple threats, but also because of the new president’s vow to oust the illegal Maduro regime in Venezuela. As conflicts rage across the globe, a terror attack decimates the US Navy’s top brass gathered for a conference at Annapolis.

Don Reilly is head of the CIA’s Emerging Threats Group (a fictional unit) with access to the highest level of US policymakers (and enjoys a very enviable and fictional lack of bureaucratic red tape LOL).

He’s desperately trying to connect dots around the globe. Why would the Russian president, a thinly disguised Putin, want to go to war now? Why has North Korean suddenly decided to jettison its nuclear program? How was the Venezuelan military, on the brink of starvation and out of hard currency, able to procure the latest in Russian military technology? Who was behind the Annapolis terror attack?

Things aren’t adding up. Yet the world is hurtling toward war.

Besides Don, the cast of characters ranges from a shadowy operative who is enabling the transfer of Russian weaponry to global hotspots, to the Russian president who believes one of his inner circle is betraying him, to the US Navy admiral who must make life and death decisions as he sails his fleet into harm’s way near the Bering Strait.

Scenes are fraught with tension, and almost all are either turning or decision points. This is a long book, but it is all muscle, no fat.

Like Tom Clancy’s THE HUNT FOR RED OCTOBER, there is lots of military activity and technology here, but kudos to the authors for knowing that not every reader appreciates a data dump or pages of tech jargon. Instead, swift explanations enhance the action. Bruns and Olson bill themselves as the Two Navy Guys and their expertise shows. The scenes at sea are absolutely authentic.

The book puts you on the bridge of the aircraft carrier as radar tracks incoming danger. You are in the submarine as the Russian communications cable is hacked. You are in the helicopter as the missile zeroes in.

You are turning pages as fast as you can. Expect chills up your spine.

COMMAND AND CONTROL is the first book in a trilogy. The second, COUNTERSTRIKE is also available.

Highly recommended.

Get COMMAND AND CONTROL on Amazon here.

Book Review: SHARPE’S ASSASSIN by Bernard Cornwell

Book Review: SHARPE’S ASSASSIN by Bernard Cornwell

First off, let me confess that I’m such a fan of the Richard Sharpe historical thriller series that we own ALL of the Sharpe television episodes starring Sean Bean (on video) AND the Sharpe board game which is like Risk but cooler.

sharpe board game

So I was thrilled that Bernard Cornwell published SHARPE’S ASSASSIN in 2021, which puts a final coda on the amazing career of his fictional British soldier. The first book, SHARPE’S EAGLE, came out in 1981 and introduced Richard Sharpe, a rifleman in His Majesty’s Army during the Napoleonic Wars who is promoted into the officer ranks for gallantry in battle. 25 books later, Sharpe is fighting Napoleon’s last gasp with the same fantastic period details, historical lessons, and memorable characters that have entertained (and educated) millions.

In SHARPE’S ASSASSIN, Napoleon has been defeated at Waterloo, but the wily ex-Emperor remains at large. Remnants of the French army fight on against a coalition of British and Prussian forces. Now a lieutenant colonel, Sharpe’s battalion was mauled during the fighting at Waterloo. Indeed, the story begins as Sharpe and ever-faithful sergeant Patrick Harper are burying long-time friend Dan Hagman.

Summoned to the headquarters of the Duke of Wellington, Sharpe is given an unorthodox new assignment.

He must capture a citadel in a town that has yet to surrender, in order to rescue an important prisoner held by the French. It’s a fool’s errand but the prisoner has information about a cohort of fanatical Frenchmen called la Fraternité determined to carry out assassinations and restore Napoleon to power. Wellington himself is in the groups’ crosshairs.

As in every Sharpe book, the action is breathtaking with great imagery, perfect pacing, and a sense of big things at stake. Sharpe doesn’t come through these skirmishes unscathed; we can almost smell the blood and choke on the dust, feel our arm weighted by the heavy sword and shudder from the recoil of the rifle as the leather-wrapped ball sings through the air.

What I loved about SHARPE’S ASSASSIN is the way Sharpe’s entire career is referenced, as well as his uncertain birth, which allows us to relive his major exploits and the battles he so narrowly survived. This goes back to when he was flogged–before being promoted to an officer–and the way in which Sharpe gets his revenge is supremely delicious.

His romances are there, too. (Let’s face it, Sharpe was hardly celibate as he marched from Portugal to Belgium.)

But what makes this final Sharpe adventure so outstanding is that Sharpe has finally met his match in a French officer whose reputation for fearlessness and victory in battle matches his own. It was the perfect way for the series to come full circle, only deepening my belief that Bernard Cornwell has no equal as a storyteller.

Carmen Amato at Spring Hill

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