Why Keepsake Journals Are on Everyone’s Wishlist

Why Keepsake Journals Are on Everyone’s Wishlist

Fill your paper with the breathings of your heart. – William Wordsworth

The Monocle Minute newsletter recently featured an interview with Luc Goidadin, creative director of Smythson, the “celebrated British retailer of stationery, diaries and leather goods.”

The topic at hand was a renewed embrace of pen and paper, specifically journals of all kinds. Instead of going out of business when everyone went digital, Smythson is seeing “an increase in the number of younger customers who are interested in tangible things that you can keep.”

Experience and Keepsake

People want to keep real records, to have a tactile experience with the written word. Goidadin said that “With notebooks – and the world of paper in particular – there is a sort of magic alchemy (my empasis) that happens when someone takes a handmade object and then starts putting notes in it. We have many customers, old and young, who send us photographs of the rows of notebooks and diaries that they have. They keep them as archives of their lives.”

According to Goidadin, diaries and journals have become keepsake gifts. “There’s something very special about giving a notebook or a diary to someone of any age. They’re gorgeous gifts that you know someone would use but many people buy them for themselves, especially at this time of year.”

I think this trend is going to grow, for the following reasons:

  Emotional Connection and Reflection

Keepsake journals help us connect with emotions and experiences, and keep them from vanishing amid the digital clutter. People are seeking deliberate and meaningful ways to process their thoughts. Meditation is gaining in popularity with apps like Calm and Headspace. In the same vein, keepsake journals provide a dedicated space for introspection.

  Personalized Storytelling

How we relate to events, food, books, and travel differ from person to person. We’re drawn to the idea of capturing that uniqueness by crafting our own narratives and personal stories. Paper journals can be customized with not only pen and ink but with photos, ticket stubs, and the odds and ends we collect along the way.

  Aesthetic Appeal

There’s something alluring about a beautiful journal with blank pages waiting to be filled in, especially if it has prompts to help us focus our thoughts. As we increasingly value the tangible and tactile experience of writing, a well made journal isn’t just a functional item but a beautiful display that says more about us than a coffee table book.

Bottom line, I think Mr. Goidadin must know what he’s talking about. At $285.00, Smythson’s 2024 leather-bound journal is already out of stock! (I prefer a Moleskine weekly planner, anyway. So there.)

Keepsake reading journal

At the much more reasonable price of $17.99, the Mystery Ahead book journal is also a keepsake. This unique oversized 250-page reading journal is designed to take you around the world, one mystery book at a time.

keepsake journal Mystery Ahead

Inside you’ll find

  • Introductions and fun facts about 7 world regions
  • 250 pages with large, easy-to-read print
  • 32 mini-reviews of the best mystery series from around the world
  • 80+ pages with easy prompts to write your own reviews
  • Annual reading log with space for 100 entries
  • Quotes and reflections on the reading life

Mystery Ahead reading journal interior view 1


Mystery Ahead reading journal interior view 3


Mystery Ahead reading journal interior view of blank review page

It’s the perfect keepsake reading companion. Get it for book club friends, grandparents, teachers, armchair travelers and anyone else who wants to keep a record—or an archive as Mr. Goidadin would say—of their reading life.

Find the reading journal on Amazon

Many fiction authors, self included, write longhand first. The act of putting pen to paper creates a connection between thoughts and letters to form words that the rushing demand of typing does not.

One of a dozen notebooks I filled writing THE HIDDEN LIGHT OF MEXICO CITY.

One of a dozen notebooks I filled writing THE HIDDEN LIGHT OF MEXICO CITY.

Once I hit “Publish” on this post, I’ll start channeling Pearl S. Buck by putting pen to paper to scratch out the next Detective Emilia Cruz mystery.

In a mood of faith and hope my work goes on. A ream of fresh paper lies on my desk waiting for the next book. I am a writer and I take up my pen to write.- Pearl S. Buck

Life Lessons from a Christmas Nutcracker

Life Lessons from a Christmas Nutcracker

When I was 11, I made a nutcracker for my mother for Christmas.

As a child, I was entranced by Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker Suite. I’d never seen a real nutcracker but loved the music and a glimpse into a faraway place so different from my hometown of Rome, New York.

That homemade nutcracker is mine now, gracing the mantel every Christmas along with infinitely fancier and more expensive nutcrackers from travels in Austria and Germany. Yet he’s always the centerpiece of the display, not only for nostalgic reasons but because he represents a challenge met and a refusal to back away from a goal.

Tall nutcracker

As I had no money, a traditional nutcracker was far out of reach even if there had been a store in my hometown that sold them (not an Italian thing).

Figuring out how to make one wasn’t easy. I did, however, have some resources:

  • My grandfather’s workbench in the basement,
  • His collection of random cans of paint (remind me to tell you about the year he painted the picnic table a violent shade of orchid),
  • Access to household stuff, and
  • A vivid imagination.

I didn’t have the skill or equipment to make a traditional nutcracker but was willing to adapt to get close. Instead of a traditional figure with a belted waist, mine is made from straight pieces of lumber I convinced my grandfather to cut from a template I made.

A square block of wood is sandwiched between the two flanks, with space for the lever that forms the “jaws” to crack the nuts, affixed by a long nail running from shoulder to shoulder with the lever threaded through it. A marvel of engineering that actually works.

Profile of homemade nutcracker

He wears the color of paint from those random cans, including the eye-popping purple from the previous summer’s picnic table. The gold and silver paint came from my brother’s model car hobby.

I repurposed ordinary things to create the design. His nose is a One-a-Day vitamin (still intact after 50+ years), his buttons are pastina pasta painted silver–missing a few now–and his beard and hair are scraps of fabric.

IMHO he looks a little bit like Luigi Mario 🙂

Face of the homemade nutcracker

As I look back, there’s a big lesson. Adapt. Repurpose. Complete.

I’ll bet there are moments in the past that shaped the person you are now.

It doesn’t have to be an earth-shaking moment. Did you solve a problem? Take on a challenge? Achieve something unexpected?

The end of the year is a good time to reflect on those moments and let yourself be inspired anew by the positives.

Adapt. Repurpose. Complete.

New mantra for 2024?

Shepherd is a better Goodreads with a unique recommendation feature

Shepherd is a better Goodreads with a unique recommendation feature

It’s time to celebrate! Shepherd.com is your new go-to book recommendation wonderland.

Shepherd.com, is a new(ish) platform to find books. It’s considerably more interesting than Goodreads and has fewer trolls, too.

shepherd .com logo

What makes Shepherd so different is the vast number of recommendations that link similar books, plus a clean and easy to use interface.

Shepherd has a unique take on recommendations. Select authors are invited to recommend books similar to their own, both to give authors visibility but also to group “like with like” for the reader.

Most recently, Shepherd invited me to write about my 3 favorite reads of 2023. It was very hard to narrow down the list, but ultimately I chose books featuring strong female investigators. If you enjoy the Detective Emilia Cruz books, you’ll want to read these books, too.

Read my favorites page here and surf around Shepherd. I think you’ll find it refreshingly different and reader-friendly.

>> You can also read my list of Thrillers set in exotic locations on Shepherd.

Featured image of woman in desert by hudson-hintze-via-unsplash

Your top books of 2023, according to Mystery Ahead

Your top books of 2023, according to Mystery Ahead

Every year, I calculate which books in the Mystery Ahead newsletter were most popular with readers. The top books of 2023 were clicked on the most out of the 75 books featured in the newsletter this year.

One of my books claimed the top spot (not always the case!) followed by 2 sensational mysteries that are each part of a series but can be read as standalone novels.

Without further intro, here are the top 3 books Mystery Ahead readers loved this year. (All make great holiday gifts 🙂


Murder at the Galliano Club quote


MURDER AT THE GALLIANO CLUB is the first full novel in the Galliano Club saga.

In 1926, thanks to Prohibition, it’s hard to find a beer in Lido, New York. But trouble is always on tap at the Galliano Club in this explosive start to the riveting Prohibition-era historical fiction crime series.

Winner, 2023 Silver Falchion Award for Best Historical

Social hub for the Italian immigrant community, the Galliano Club serves bootleg beer and Luca Lombardo’s signature sandwiches to workers from the city’s copper mills. The club means everything to Luca, who arrived in Lido with nothing left to lose.

He’ll do whatever it takes to keep the club afloat, even staying silent about a murder in the alley behind the building.

From her second-floor window, Ruth Cross witnessed the murder, but a scandalous past keeps her quiet.

Could gangster Benny Rotolo be involved? Run out of Chicago by Al Capone, he fled to Lido with a gun in his pocket and plans to establish his own bootlegging empire. He wants to turn the Galliano Club into his private speakeasy.

It’s hard to review my own books so here’s what Jim Nesbitt, author of the Ed Earl Burch series, had to say:

The book opens with what should be an un-adulterated moment of triumph for the working stiffs crowding the club and their cross-town Polish co-workers at the Lido Premium Copper and Brass Rolling Mill . . . In walks Jimmy Zambrano, mill foreman, shaking hands like a politician. He jumps up on the table to deliver a message from the bosses. The deal was done, the men would get their bonus money. But not all at once. It would be paid out across three days, in alphabetical order.

An uproar ensues . . . Cooler heads prevail and help Zambrano sell the payout schedule, including Luca Lombardo, [Vito] Spinelli’s right-hand man and club manager.

The party cranks back up and keeps rolling until closing time.

Less than an hour later, Lombardo steps outside the back of the club and finds Zambrano’s body partially stuffed under the frame of Vito Spinelli’s Packard. The dead foreman has been garroted with copper wire that bit deeply into his neck.

That shifts the story into overdrive. Murder, blackmail, rum-running, intrigue and double-crossing treachery introduce a cascade of characters, including crooked Irish cops, a Chicago fugitive from Al Capone’s gunsels, a larcenous blue-blood wannabe mill accountant, a fallen Broadway chorus girl with a horrible secret and a vivacious Irish bank employee who steals Lombardo’s heart.

Splicing this all together is Amato’s knowing eye for detail and intuitive feel for the temper of the times, the class divisions and the clannishness of immigrant communities struggling to make it in America.




most popular books of 2023

#2 RED WOLF by Liza Marklund

Earning more than Welcome to Stockholm, Sweden and the outstanding Annika Bengtzon series! I actually picked up this book because of the very cool cover and was immediately hooked, so much so that I found all the rest of the books in the series and absolutely devoured them.

Annika Bengtzon is an investigative reporter for Sweden’s #1 tabloid newspaper. She is a young mom with two kids, a faithless husband (who gets his comeuppance later in the series) and a big load of emotional baggage from having been trapped in a tunnel with a murderer on her last assignment.

Her new assignment is a retrospective on a 20-year-old terror attack on a Swedish air force base near the Arctic Circle. No one was ever found guilty. She heads up there to interview a local journalist who claims to have new information. When she gets there, he’s dead.

More murders follow, including that of a teen who might have seen the man who killed the journalist. Each murder is accompanied by a strange snippet of an essay, which eventually leads Annika to the Communist student clubs that flourished in Sweden in the 1960’s and 70’s. Some of her information comes from Q, the head of Sweden’s national crime squad, a shadowy figure who feeds her tidbits in exchange for what she’s found out.

What I loved about this series is Annika’s deep point of view and the ongoing sense of the character’s life from one book to the next. We are really inside her head, experiencing the highs and (mostly) lows of the investigation, newsroom politics, and her disintegrating marriage. Other points of view function as a supporting cast, including husband Thomas whom we love to hate, and perpetually harried editor Anders. Later in the series, author Marklund introduces a female cop who becomes both rival and friend, and her point of view becomes important as well.

I really got caught up in the series, in which crimes and characters from one book bleed into the next, almost as if Marklund wrote one enormous tome, then cut it into manageable books. You also get a great view of life in Sweden and its social conventions and norms, not to mention the biting cold when the action moves to the Arctic Circle.

For whatever reason, the series is misnumbered on Amazon and the book covers are not cohesive. But don’t let that stop you from enjoying this best-selling Swedish series, which was made into the Swedish-language television show Annika Bengtzon Crime Reporter (Not to be confused with Annika, starring Nicola Walker as head of a UK Marine Homicide Unit). It is exceptional. https://geni.us/redwolf

Get RED WOLF on Amazon


most popular books of 2023

#3 THE MONOGRAM MURDERS by Sophie Hannah

Mystery fans can’t get enough of Agatha Christie’s fussy Belgian detective (cue 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?

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.

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.


The Inspired Gift Guide for Mystery Book Lovers

The Inspired Gift Guide for Mystery Book Lovers

When it comes to online shopping, it can be hard to find that unique something special for someone special. But I’ve done the hard part, scrolling and sifting to find gifts for the mystery book lover in your life.

My exclusive gift guide offers a variety of gifts inspired by both the Detective Emilia Cruz mystery series and the Galliano Club historical thrillers.

Jewelry to help her get through a tough day? Check.

Cookware designed by an iconic Italian chef? Check.

A coffee subscription to power midnight reads? Check.

Adult beverage kit and glassware for toasting success? Check and check.

Best of all, the gift guide features small businesses and those who support our veterans.

Check out all the gifts that will take the stress out of the holiday season. Curated with love for those who love a good mystery book.

Click here to see the complete Gift Guide for Mystery Book Lovers

For your Pinterest board


What you can expect from Organized Crime in Acapulco after Hurricane Otis

What you can expect from Organized Crime in Acapulco after Hurricane Otis

With winds of up to 165 mph, Category 5 Hurricane Otis tore through Acapulco in late October, leaving a trail of unprecedented devastation.

It strengthened so quickly there was little time to prepare for the strongest storm to ever hit Mexico’s Pacific coast. In just a few hours, Otis left Acapulco in shambles, changing the iconic tourist destination into a water-logged war zone. At last count, 39 people are dead.

Before the storm, Acapulco was already staggering under the weight of one of the highest homicide rates in the Western Hemisphere, high poverty, and a sagging tourism industry.

Can it recover from Hurricane Otis?

Maybe the bigger question is what will the region’s powerful organized crime cartels do now?

My ties to Acapulco

Acapulco is the setting for the Detective Emilia Cruz mystery series in which the first female police detective takes on cartels, corruption and Mexican machismo. The Detective Emilia Cruz series was inspired by my experience as an intelligence officer focusing on counterdrug issues.

I chose Acapulco as the setting for the series for three reasons:

Stunning backdrop: Acapulco is undeniably one of the most beautiful places on earth, with its horseshoe-shaped bay and mountain backdrop.

Familiarity: Most readers instantly recognize the name of the city. It’s been an iconic destination for generations.

Have vs have-nots: I knew that social and economic factors could be a source of tension (something you always want to build in a mystery) for the character of Emilia Cruz.

The series explores the two faces of Acapulco; the one that tourists see made up of glittering water, white skyscrapers, luxury hotels and fabulous nightclubs. Then there’s the other face of Acapulco–street gangs, endemic poverty, crooked cops. The port is a drop zone for incoming shipments of fentanyl precursors from China and a drug distribution route into the United States.

The Detective Emilia Cruz series doesn’t flinch when addressing the impact of organized crime in Acapulco including missing persons, cartel rivalries, and widespread official corruption.

Detective Emilia Cruz mystery series

Detective Emilia Cruz mystery series set in Acapulco, books 1-8

Sometimes the series can be a little too authentic, but I’m following the old adage of write what you know.

Related: #free Detective Emilia Cruz Starter Library

Acapulco was flayed alive

As i write this, Acapulco’s infrastructure is all but obliterated.

The basics are gone for half a million people in the city: no drinking water, electricity, shelter, transportation, etc. Widespread looting is going on. https://www.reuters.com/world/americas/mexico-starts-clearing-up-hurricane-otis-wreckage-casualties-reach-27-2023-10-27/

According to CNN, “Otis rapidly intensified from a tropical storm to an extremely dangerous Category 5 hurricane – the area’s strongest storm on record – in just 12 hours.” After the rain, photos show ravaged buildings and mountains of debris against an unflinching blue sky. https://www.cnn.com/2023/10/26/weather/hurricane-otis-acapulco-mexico-impact-thursday/index.html

The picture-postcard row of iconic white beachfront skyscrapers were flayed; their skeletal framework exposed after walls and windows were torn away. Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador lamented the loss of every electrical pole. The main highway along the Pacific coast was battered. The Acapulco airport closed. The Mexican National Guard is there now. and about 10,000 members of the military have been sent to help.

An initial estimate put total losses at $15 billion, according to the Reuters report. Yes, billions.

Acapulco skyline in happier days

The famed view of Acapulco’s skyline around the bay, before Hurricane Otis.

The aftermath (and opportunities) for organized crime

The aftermath of Hurricane Otis almost certainly will provide violent plot lines for the Detective Emilia Cruz series.

Organized crime has a history of exploiting vulnerabilities and crises. The aftermath of Hurricane Otis is unlikely to be the exception.

Here’s how criminal entities could use the chaos and destruction left by the hurricane to extend control:

Disrupt Law Enforcement

As military and law enforcement prioritizes disaster response and recovery, organized crime elements will be working overtime to reestablish their own supply routes and communication links. The two opposing forces will be after the same resources in short supply, potentially leading to violent clashes when the city can least afford it. Criminal alliances may shift as deals are made to oppose law enforcement and access supplies.

Exploit New Vulnerabilities

Despite the glitz of Acapulco’s waterfront, the state of Guerrero (where Acapulco is located) is Mexico’s second poorest. https://www.worldatlas.com/articles/the-poorest-states-in-mexico.html

Neighborhoods that were already home to grinding poverty and rival street gangs are now even more ripe for exploitation. Organized crime organizations, flush with money from drug sales, extortion, kidnappings and other illegal operations, can extend their territory and influence by offering financial support. They may offer aid in exchange for protection, cooperation, and information.


The destruction of so many hotels and residences mean thousands are without shelter in Acapulco. Cartels can infiltrate these displaced communities, offering security and services that the government or private charities don’t provide. New members join because they see the government as ineffective, understand that working for a cartel means their family can eat, or need the sense of belonging offered as a way out of the chaos. Basically, by offering economic incentives or promises of protection, organized crime groups can swell their ranks during times of crisis. They might use these communities as cover for their operations, too.

Corruption and Infiltration

The uncertainty following a hurricane can provide an opportunity for cartels to corrupt local officials or even infiltrate emergency response organizations. This allows them to manipulate relief efforts to their advantage and further their control and potentially even seize control of vital resources such as food, water, and medicine. By controlling distribution, they can manipulate and exert influence, possibly even making deals with officials to allow vital resources to get through to populations in dire straits in return for favors, influence, territorial access, the proverbial blind eye, etc.

Exploit Rebuilding

As Acapulco rebuilds in the hurricane’s aftermath, cartels will want to influence construction and development projects. By controlling contracts and decisions related to reconstruction, they can launder money, invest in legal businesses, and expand their economic assets. The construction business is a known vehicle for money laundering and it will be interesting to see how, when and to whom such contracts to rebuild are awarded.

Bottom line

The factors that led to Acapulco’s high poverty, homicide and violent crime rate will all intensify in the aftermath of Hurricane Otis. Organized crime will seek to exploit the situation and will probably be successful, depending on the government’s effectiveness in restoring services and supporting the city.

It’s crucial for the Mexican government and international organizations to provide swift and effective disaster relief, enhance security measures, and address the socioeconomic factors that make communities susceptible to cartel influence.

Unfortunately, with claims that the destruction is being overestimated by his political rivals, President López Obrador is already being accused of gaslighting the public.

I won’t be writing a happy ending any time soon.

Detective Emilia Cruz Starter libraryGet the #free Detective Emilia Cruz Starter Library

Book review: RECKONING by Baron Birtcher

Book review: RECKONING by Baron Birtcher

New favorite series alert! Sheriff Ty Dawson solves murder and corruption cases in must-read police procedural RECKONING by Baron Birtcher.

Dawson joins Walt Longmire and Cork O’Connor as lawmen whose investigations are driven by a personal code of honor and the strength it takes to live and prosper in rural places. RECKONING is the long-awaited next book in Baron Birtcher’s police procedural series that takes place in Oregon in the 1970’s.

With Baron Birtcher

With author Baron Birtcher at the Killer Nashville international writer’s conference.

A rancher as well as a lawman, the suspicious death of a city cop in an abandoned resort puts Dawson at odds with power players in Portland. Meanwhile, a federal agency attempts to block a fellow rancher’s access to water. Both high-velocity issues take Dawson down roads littered with deception and false friends.

As the two investigations converge, Dawson finds himself practicing shuttle diplomacy, yet cannot trust anyone at the table.

The story moves briskly, propelled by crackling dialogue and descriptions that engage every one of the reader’s senses. More than any other writer I’ve read, Birtcher delivers a powerful sense of smell; it’s uncanny how this draws the reader into the scene.

There’s more corruption in 1970’s Oregon than you expect, and RECKONING delivers multiple shades of gray when it comes to those looking to grab what they can get, including a couple of really grasping cops you can’t wait for Dawson to outsmart.

Like Longmire and O’Connor, Dawson cannot prevent bad things from happening, but he can coax justice out of hiding.

Evocative writing, a human-sized hero, and a well-told story full of intrigue.

Highly recommended.

Get RECKONING on Amazon

Book Review: GRIMM UP NORTH by David J. Gatward

Book Review: GRIMM UP NORTH by David J. Gatward

Now and then, you stumble across a series that is simply captivating and you have to inhale one book right after the other.

The DCI Harry Grimm series set in the Yorkshire dales, is that kind of addictive series. GRIMM UP NORTH is the first and a terrific introduction to the character as well as the place.

Harry Grimm’s face was rearranged by an IED in Afghanistan when he was an elite British paratrooper. Years later, he’s a senior detective in Bristol, his hometown, handling investigations his own way. Not only is he a bit heavy-handed, he’s bent on showing every criminal he comes across a photograph of his father who 20 years ago killed Harry’s mother and messed up his baby brother. The dad was never caught but Harry’s determined to bring him to justice any way he can.

Irritated by his latest escapade, Harry’s boss bundles him north temporarily to Wensleydale, land of All Creatures Great and Small and Last of the Summer Wine. Culture shock ensues.

Part of the magic of the series is seeing the undulating rural landscape through Harry’s eyes.

Yorkshire Photo by Illiya Vjestica on Unsplash

Photo by Illiya Vjestica on Unsplash


His first task is to deal with reports of a missing teen girl.  Of course a body turns up, half submerged in a lake popular for nighttime swimming. But the body is not the girl.

It’s up to Harry to find the connections and expose the liars, of which there are many, all while getting to know his new team and come to grips with the fact he could be stuck in the hinterlands for an extended period.

The descriptions of the landscape are so evocative, you’ll feel almost there. All the books primarily focus on the central crime, without too many distractions. While Harry’s family situation is a running subplot through this book and the ones to come, it’s not a looming presence. As a result, the books move fairly quickly, punctuated by strong dialogue, expertly drawn characters, and Harry’s growing attachment to the dales.

Highly recommended. Get GRIMM UP NORTH and all the Harry Grimm books on Amazon.

If you want more Yorkshire landscape, check out the latest film adaptation of All Creatures Great and Small starring Samuel West and Nicholas Ralph as vets Siegfried Farnan and James Herriot. The series has been on PBS, with the 4th season coming in January. https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/masterpiece/shows/all-creatures-great-and-small/

Sound of Freedom movie producer wants to be president of Mexico

Sound of Freedom movie producer wants to be president of Mexico

I guess he won’t have time to star in the film adaptation of my book.

Eduardo Verástegui, the impossibly handsome Mexican actor and film producer, announced 8 September on Instagram that he’s running for president of Mexico as an independent candidate. His platform is simple: “Mi lucha es por la vida, la familia y la Libertad. Neustro camino la comenzado.”

My fight is for life, family and liberty. Our journey begins. 

Eduardo Verastegui's Instagram announcement

Instagram announcement @eduardoverastegui


As of 12 September, the Instagram announcement has more than 89,000 likes and over 8280 comments, many of which call on God to bless his efforts. He’s got 905,000 followers on Instagram, 320,000 on X and 2 million on Facebook. Dedicated fans have multiple accounts across all platforms. The Milenio media group’s YouTube report of his candidacy got 37,000 views in 3 days. The Spanish-language edition of People magazine, which has followed him for years, jumped on the story, too. https://peopleenespanol.com/celebridades/eduardo-verastegui-candidato-presidente-mexico/

Perhaps not exceptional attention, but Eduardo Verástegui is just getting started on an uphill battle to be elected president of Mexico as an indie candidate from outside the political system.

His new logo is a stylized  “V” against an orange background, using the colors of the Mexican flag. The V riffs on his name but also Verástegui’s signature “V for Victory” gesture, which of course reminds us of Winston Churchill. In motion, the letter cleverly twirls like clock hands, as if counting down the days to the election. His signature hashtag #junotsomosmas (together we are more) is catching on.

Verastegui was the producer for the movie Sound of Freedom, currently the #1 movie in Latin America. https://www.washingtonexaminer.com/news/sound-of-freedom-number-1-movie-latin-america That he would run for president of Mexico shouldn’t surprise anyone who follows him online or paid attention to the movie’s release. I wrote last July that the movie delivered one surprise after another. The buzz about him being introduced jokingly at release events as the next president of Mexico now doesn’t seem so surprising.

Squarely in the conservative camp, Verástegui was a featured speaker at CPAC events in the US, Japan and Hungary over the past year, burnishing his bona fides with global leaders. He’s credited with bringing the CPAC brand to Mexico. He is a Roman Catholic who has made a return to religious worship a cornerstone of his platform. His move follows the Mexican courts’ decriminalization of abortion, according to the Human Events blog. https://humanevents.com/2023/09/08/breaking-sound-of-freedom-producer-eduardo-verastegui-registers-to-run-for-president-of-mexico

Over the past two years, his Instagram feed has shown him with a parade of notables such as former president Donald Trump, Speaker Kevin McCarthy, the presidents of Central American countries, Pope Francis, Tom Cruise, and Spanish politician Santi Abascal. In July, he joined Donald Trump and friends for a private screening of Sound of Freedom at the former president’s golf club in Bedminster, New Jersey.

He’s traveled extensively, speaking passionately against pedophilia, human trafficking, and abortion. He champions a return to faith-based values as well as combating poverty and corruption. Crowds have gotten progressively larger and his team is doing a good job of capturing presidential-like moments when he is speaking to packed stadium-sized venues or signing pledges like the “Carta de Compromiso” against trafficking with the mayor of Lima, Peru. The Catholic faithful flock to prayer events with him, such as during a May visit to Aguascalientes.

English-language media isn’t going to make too much of his quest for the Mexican presidency and probably wouldn’t have noticed at all if Verástegui wasn’t affiliated with the Sound of Freedom movie. Of course, The Guardian couldn’t resist referencing QAnon when reporting his candidacy, resorting to clickbait keywords before discussing political dynamics in Mexico. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2023/sep/08/mexico-president-sound-of-freedom-film-producer

In outlook and personal appeal, Verástegui has much in common with Republican presidential contender Vivek Ramaswamy. Although Verástegui is more than 10 years older, both candidates have an appealing youthful energy. They’re both good looking, well spoken, comfortable before the camera or the big crowd, are motivated by religious faith, family values, and espouse strong conservative views. They both have significant grassroots support.

With Ramaswamy in the White House and Verástegui in Los Pinos, US-Mexican relations would certainly enter a new phase.


Los Pinos presidential residence Mexico City

Los Pinos, the presidential residence in Mexico City. Photo via https://www.journeymexico.com/


While Ramaswamy has an outside shot at winning the Republican nomination, Verástegui is shut out of the two major parties in Mexico, both of which have selected female candidates.

Yet at the very least, Verástegui can force the major parties to address his message about human trafficking and rampant corruption. Perfectly bilingual, Verastegui’s message will resonate with Mexicans living in the US who agree with his views, especially about corruption, and wish to vote in their country’s election. The Catholic vote could also prove pivotal for him. According to The Daily Caller, “Verástegui is supported by several religious groups and the Republican Mexico party.” https://dailycaller.com/2023/09/08/eduardo-verastegui-sound-of-freedom-producer-announces-running-president-mexico/ 

Culture and business law commentator James Hirsen dives into Verastegui’s background and sources of support in a thoughtful essay, saying “In Mexico, Eduardo Verástegui is a household name. He’s a musical entertainer and telenovelas superstar . . . An amazing arc of success surrounds Verástegui’s life. A providential win of the presidency could be forthcoming.” https://jameshirsen.com/2023/09/11/sound-of-freedom-producer-eduardo-verastegui-offers-mexico-a-presidential-choice/

Even if he doesn’t win Mexico’s presidency this time around, it could be the start of an extended political career for the photogenic conservative.

The Mexican election is 2 June 2024. Between now and then, I expect to see the pace of Verástegui’s public appearances skyrocket. More global conservatives and Spanish-language media outlets will take notice as his campaign builds up steam.

The Hidden Light of Mexico City thriller

In a curious coincidence, the book is about an upcoming presidential election in Mexico. Find it on Amazon.


Meanwhile, my dream of having Eduardo Verástegui play crime-fighting attorney Eduardo Cortez Castillo in the movie adaptation of political thriller The Hidden Light of Mexico City is on hold. Of course, maybe he’ll be available later next year.

Or maybe not.

The Galliano Club’s signature Italian Sandwiches

The Galliano Club’s signature Italian Sandwiches

Readers of the Galliano Club historical fiction series have fallen in love with the Italian sandwiches made by bartender Luca Lombardo.

And why shouldn’t they? His sandwiches are heaped full of tasty Italian meats and cheeses and topped with an array of mouth-watering condiments like pesto, roasted peppers and more.

You can make Luca’s creations at home, too, with the directions below!

Make a sandwich, grab an adult beverage and start the series with the award-winning MURDER AT THE GALLIANO CLUB!

Murder book on a mug

The Napoli

Layer prosciutto, capicola ham, and provolone on focaccia bread split lengthwise. Add marinated artichoke hearts, thinly shaved fresh garlic, and roasted red peppers.

The Genoa

Spread a generous dollop of pesto on crusty rolls. Layer on Genoa salami and provolone cheese. Top with roasted red peppers and oil-cured pitted black olives.

The Roma

Layer sliced turkey, mozzarella and arugula on crusty bread. Top with sundried tomatoes, fresh basil, squeeze of lemon, salt, pepper.

The Palermo

Layer soppressata salami and thick slices of beefsteak tomato on crusty bread. Top with mozzarella cheese and onions pickled in red wine vinegar. Drizzle with olive oil.

The Verona

Spread a generous layer of fig jam on crusty bread. Top with slices of asiago cheese, razor-thin slices of prosciutto ham and arugula lettuce, drizzle with balsamic vinegar.

The Milano

Slice leftover meatballs; layer with pepperoni and asiago cheese on crusty bread. Top with arugula lettuce. Drizzle with oil and vinegar.

If you’d like a free PDF download of these instructions, plus more sandwich ideas, click here.

Sandwich Photo by amirali mirhashemian on Unsplash.

Galliano Club coversFind all the Galliano Club books on Amazon.

Winning an Award, Losing My Mother

Winning an Award, Losing My Mother

Murder at the Galliano Club, the first novel in the Galliano Club historical fiction thriller series won the Silver Falchion Award for Best Historical at the 2023 Killer Nashville International Writer’s Conference.

I’m still shell-shocked.

Mystery author Carmen Amato with award

Wearing my Silver Falchion medal at the Killer Nashville awards dinner.


The Galliano Club series wasn’t supposed to be a major project. Just something to keep my mother Jean entertained as we endured lockdowns in 2019 and 2020.


4 Galliano Club covers

My mother had just moved into a lovely, assisted living facility in upstate New York about 90 minutes from my three siblings. Suddenly she was confined to her apartment, no longer enjoying three-course meals in the beautiful dining room with chandeliers and cloth napkins. Gone were the group activities. No more outdoor walks, movie nights, duplicate bridge, or spirited political discussions in the library.

An extrovert, my mother has always had a morbid fear of being alone. Far too many times after my stepfather passed, she ended up in the emergency room in the throes of a panic attack. The decision to move out of her own home and to the assisted living facility was driven in good measure by that fear.

For a time, it was a good decision.


As New York state locked itself into panic mode, she spent hours by herself, agitated and crying. Days went by when she saw no one besides a harried staffer in a mask delivering a box of food.

As my mother’s world shrank, so did her cognitive abilities. She forgot how to operate the television remote control, often confusing it with her cell phone. She re-read the same book over and over. She mixed up her medication.

“There’s something wrong with my brain,” she’d cry angrily.

When my siblings visited, they stood below her window for a shouted conversation. But I live in Tennessee, hardly within shouting distance. The miles between us stretched into an unknown infinity of time.

Pandemic project

During the pandemic, I couldn’t face writing another book in the Detective Emilia Cruz mystery series full of cartels and corruption. I needed something easier. More hopeful and comforting.

Family and hometown provided the answer.

I’d write historical fiction inspired by my hometown of Rome in upstate New York and the stories my grandfather told of the days when he was a deputy sheriff of Oneida County during Prohibition. To give my mother something to think about besides her lonesomeness, she could give me authentic details.

killer nashville,galliano club,pandemic project

My mother Jean, circa 1965, when she was working for RCA at Griffiss Air Force Base in Rome NY.


And so every evening as she sat alone in her apartment, we had long telephone calls about her childhood. The Italian community in East Rome revolved around Saint John’s Catholic Church, the convent, and festivals. Men worked at the Revere Copper and Brass Rolling Mill, Rome Cable, and other large manufacturers. There was a handball court behind the house when she was growing up.

Her grandfather moonlighted as the bartender at the Liberty Club, his faithful black dog at his feet. Rival to the real Galliano Club across the street which had a dance studio above it, the men-only social club was an impressive sight at parades when members formed a phalanx of tricolor sashes and banners.

I asked her what the men did at the club every evening. “Drink,” she said with a sniff of derision. “And play cards.”

Making Lido

As weeks turned into months and the evening ritual went on, my mother provided the details that would build the fictional city of Lido in the Galliano Club books. Details such as Nelson’s department store where ladies’ silk stockings were sold in flat boxes. The cleanliness of Red’s Meat Market. Madonia’s fruit stand smelling like citrus and bananas. Civic band concerts. Bocce tournaments. Pastries, habits, shops, friends.

“You should put this in,” she’d say, then proceed to tell me about her grandfather butchering a pig and making blood sausage.

Eventually the pandemic lockdowns lifted but the damage was done. My mother, now 94, suffers from dementia that has robbed her of the ability to do everyday things like read, turn on her television, or remember to brush her teeth. She lives in the memory care wing of a different assisted living facility. Given that she no longer answers her telephone or will call me, we rarely speak.

Carmen's wedding day with her mother

My mother Jean and I on my wedding day in 1989. Poofy sleeves were in. Don’t judge. Also my bouquet looks like it is trying to eat her.


She doesn’t know that all 4 of the Galliano Club books have been published, each a gripping thriller novel in its own right. She doesn’t know that publishing distributor Ingram liked the cover of Revenge at the Galliano Club so much that the book topped a display in the company’s lobby. She doesn’t know that author, poet and educator Michael Hogan compared the writing to that of E.L. Doctorow.

She doesn’t know that Murder at the Galliano Club won a prestigious literary award.

Yet the award belongs as much to her as it does to me.


Murder at the Galliano Club

Find Murder at the Galliano Club on Amazon or your favorite online bookstore.

A Different Point of View

A Different Point of View

She Said, He Said

A CLIFF DIVER scene from Franco Silvio’s Point of View

2nd edition CLIFF DIVER a Detective Emilia Cruz novel

The Detective Emilia Cruz series is written from Emilia’s point of view as the first female police detective in Acapulco. She’s got some tricky geography to navigate in that position. Not only has Acapulco become Mexico’s deadliest city for those tracking homicide statistics, due to rival cartels fighting over routes north into the US and port facilities for incoming shipments of fentanyl ingredients for China, but the lucrative drug trade has spawned official corruption and human trafficking.

Basically, Emilia lives in a pressure cooker.

But what about those who inhabit Emilia’s world with her? What about their pressures, triumphs and despairs?

Let’s go inside the head of Franco Silvio and the first major confrontation between him and Emilia. It sets the tone for their future relationship as crime fiction’s odd couple.



Silvio’s thoughts punched and jabbed at random theories as he drove back to the police station. He was a boxer in the ring with a ghost. Whoever bludgeoned Lieutenant Inocente to death, then sent the body out to sea in the man’s own speedboat, was a more elusive opponent than anyone Silvio fought during his championship years.

This late in the day, traffic on la Costera was a mess. Tour buses and hotel vans lumbered in the fast lane, spewing fumes and garish advertisements to See Acapulco by Night or rent fleabag shacks along the coast at Punta el Pesquero. Silvio swore as he rode the brake, unable to get around them.

Next to him, Fuentes sat slumped against the passenger door and kept his mouth shut, the smartest thing he’d done all day. Silvio’s young partner hadn’t exactly covered himself with glory in the abandoned water bottling plant.

Silvio glanced in the rearview mirror. In the back seat, both Cruz and Portillo were mindlessly staring outside. As if she was telepathic, Cruz glanced up and saw him watching her.

The sluggish traffic immediately had Silvio’s full attention again.

Cruz made him uneasy. Too smart. Too curious.

Too pretty. When Portillo took her on as partner, the rest of the detectives assumed he was doing her. Portillo once said that sex with Cruz would be like wrestling a bag of cats and he’d prefer not to bleed to death, but the rumors persisted, gleefully linking her with any man who wasn’t dead or on fire.

By the time they got back to the police station, the sun was a ball of fire sinking behind the stucco walls of the building. Twilight spread a purple haze over the parking lot. Silvio lifted his hand to the guard at the entry gate, drove through when the barrier lifted and swerved into his assigned spot.

Portillo and Fuentes bailed out.

A moment later, Silvio was crowding Cruz in the back seat. Before she could scramble away, he pressed the button on his key fob. The sedan doors locked with a beep.

“We need to talk,” he growled. “Why did you go to my house?”

Cruz tensed but she didn’t pull any panicky girl shit. “Who says I went to your house?”

“My wife is pretty accurate in her descriptions.” As soon as Isabel told him about the lovely young woman in skinny jeans and a denim jacket asking questions, Silvio knew it was Cruz.

Sneaking around his own neighborhood of El Roble. Looking for a weakness, something to exploit. He would have done the same.

“You called Lt. Inocente the night of his death.” Cruz gave him a hard look. “From your cell phone. Twice.”

“You think I killed him?” Silvio asked with a snort.

“You were his last known contact. Takes your call, walks out and never comes back. Dead the next morning. You don’t mention it to anybody, just let us run around trying to figure it out, knowing that we’d see the phone records sooner or later.”

“Did you tell Obregon?” It wasn’t the question Silvio intended to ask, but her answer would make all the difference.

He and Obregon had been sworn enemies for a long, long time. Was the union boss using Cruz as a proxy to take him down?

“Tell me what happened,” Cruz said, her tone hinting that she was ready to trade information.

Silvio decided to play. “I called Inocente,” he said. “Went to his place and we talked. He owned me money. He said he’d pay up in a day or so. I saw him go back into the building. He unlocked the door and went in. I went home.”

“He owed you? For what?”

“Nothing to do with you, Morelos da Gama or this water business.”

Cruz narrowed her eyes at him. “Was it a money scam? Trading drugs for counterfeit?”


“I think you two were running a money scam. Involving counterfeit dollars.” Cruz shoved a handful of bills in his face.

Silvio stared at the money in surprise. “Where’d you get that?”

“The ransom for the Morelos da Gama kidnapping was paid in counterfeit dollars,” Cruz said. “Just like these.”

What?” Counterfeit was a punch from outside the ring that he never saw coming.

“Is that what you were talking to el teniente about?” Cruz pressed, her voice loud and harsh inside the sedan.

“You’re accusing me of killing Inocente over some money laundering scheme?” Silvio leaned closer to her and fury pulled his lips into a snarl. “Go ahead, Cruz. Try to pin a murder on me and I’ll put you in the ground.”

A piercing siren filled the air. Silvio jolted back as he realized that Cruz had pressed the panic button on her own key fob. Two spaces away, her big white Suburban honked and flashed like a carnival ride.

The gate guard galloped up to the big SUV. Inside the sedan, Cruz banged on the window to get his attention.

Silvio hit the unlock button on his fob.

The guard wrenched open the rear passenger side door. Cruz flung herself out before silencing the Suburban. Silvio got out, too. The normal sounds of traffic beyond the razor wire-topped perimeter wall replaced the clanging in his ears.

He spoke to the guard over the roof of the sedan. “Sorry. Technical problem.”

Cruz backed against the side of the Suburban as the guard hustled back to his shack. One hand was on the driver’s door handle and she was breathing hard. “Answer my question. Why did Lieutenant Inocente owe you money?”

“I run a book,” Silvio said. It was a poorly kept secret; cops throughout the department placed bets with him. “Did it when I was suspended and just kept going. Inocente put down a bet, lost, and paid up with counterfeit norteamericano dollars. Fake, same as those.”


“The week before. Tried to trace it with a couple of my informants but nobody knew anything. I didn’t know what to do and finally decided we had to have it out. I needed the money.” He was torn between telling Cruz to mind her own fucking business and making her understand why he needed Inocente to pay his debts.

“You needed it for Monday,” Cruz said slowly. “If you don’t get the accounts settled on Monday the kids don’t eat on Tuesday.”

So she knew his weak spot after all.

“My wife is a good woman,” Silvio said. He jabbed a finger at Cruz as she stood there by the Suburban, her face revealing nothing. “This means a lot to her. Things haven’t always been easy. She . . . she lost a lot of babies over the years. So these kids on the street . . . they’re like hers.”

“I want to believe you but you should have said something. You were the last person to see el teniente alive.”

Silvio wanted to shake the woman until that ponytail slapped her face. “I didn’t kill Inocente. You can call Obregon if you want and he’ll ruin my career but he won’t find any evidence that I killed him. I knew you wouldn’t believe me about the phone call so I just kept my mouth shut figuring we’d find the killer before the records came. Rayos, when was the last time we got phone records that fast?”

“Your story better check out,” Cruz warned.

“I just wanted what he owed me,” Silvio said. He was about to walk away when one of those phantom jabs rattled his brain. “Before you start chasing your tail, what did you say about a ransom?”

“Do you remember the day Rico and I got a reward for saving the kidnapped kid? Morelos da Gama’s kid?”

Silvio nodded.

“Counterfeit. Same as what I showed you.” Cruz fished out another fake bill.

A world of bad possibilities opened in front of Silvio.  “Inocente gave it to you.”

“This hulk was full of it and somebody knew,” Cruz cocked her head toward the Suburban. “You remember that el teniente told me to take Kurt Rucker back to his hotel after he made his statement? Well, the army checkpoint was gone and we were ambushed by a truck full of shooters. We never made it to the hotel but I got us to my uncle’s garage. We took the car apart and found the money. A bank told us it was fake. So we left the vehicle on the side of the road and the next day the money was gone and the child was there.”

“Morelos da Gama paid his kid’s ransom with counterfeit? That’s this water company crap’s all about?”

“I don’t know exactly what happened,” she admitted. “The Pinkerton agent who worked for the family turned the ransom over to somebody who claimed to be Lt. Inocente. An accomplice, I guess. He was supposed to do the actual handoff to pay the kidnappers. The Pinkerton agent turned over pesos. But the ransom the kidnappers got in exchange for the child was in counterfeit dollars.”

Silvio took the fluttering counterfeit bill from her hand but his thoughts went back to the first day Fausto Inocente took charge of the squadroom. Suspicions that the smooth talker was on the take were soon confirmed. From the selective way Inocente assigned cases to his constant gambling, the signs were easy to spot. Not to mention the swank apartment, the speedboat, and expensive wife.

“So Inocente and his pal switched the money,” he said and gave back the bill. “They knew where they could get counterfeit at a discount, did a switch, and kept the real.”

Cruz gasped like she just took a right cross to the jaw. “Of course, el teniente kept the real money. Took it from the person claiming to be him, switched it for the counterfeit to pay off the kidnappers. Kept both the real ransom and some of the counterfeit to cover his gambling debts.”

Silvio enjoyed a spurt of satisfaction that he was the one to fill in the puzzle piece instead of her. “Who do you like for the accomplice? Or maybe that’s not important. Maybe Morelos da Gama found out that he was tricked and killed Inocente.”

“His alibi checks,” Cruz pointed out. “He was in Chicago with his wife and child at some hospital for amputees.”

“Maybe he contracted for the kill,” Silvio surmised. “Or maybe the kidnappers took out Inocente because they know he delivered fake cash.”

“But what about Lt. Inocente having had sex right before he died?” Cruz asked.

“Well, I didn’t bang him,” Silvio scowled.

Cruz’s mouth twitched.

“So what have we got?” Silvio decided to ignore both her almost-laugh as well as the sex angle. “Morelos da Gama’s kid got snatched because papa is dealing drugs in somebody else’s territory. The kidnapping sends a message to either cut them in or get out. Let’s assume Inocente was his partner. A way to get gambling money that he can’t squeeze out of his brother. Inocente isn’t worried about the message, he’s too busy seeing the kidnapping as an opportunity to get something for himself. He switches the ransom with the help of a friend, but never tells Morelos da Gama. Takes the real money but also pockets a little of the fake stuff thinking it will come in handy at some point. Like paying his detectives a reward. He probably kept the real reward cash, too, you know.”

“What if el teniente was actually one of the kidnappers?” Cruz countered. “Morelos da Gama doesn’t know. Just thinks Fausto Inocente will help because he’s Bruno Inocente’s brother and all.”

“Maybe.” Silvio was back in the ring again, testing theories with short, swift feints. “But why ask the police to deal with a kidnapper when Pinkerton was already on the case? No, I think they were partners. Morelos da Gama trusted him and Inocente double-crossed him.”

“What happened to your partner?”

The question caught him off guard. “My partner? As far as I can tell, Fuentes is a calculating rat out to get what he can.”

“I meant Garcia,” Cruz said quietly.

Silvio didn’t answer right away. The brainstorming evaporated and he remembered why he never wanted to work with a woman. Too interested in poking fingers in things that were nobody’s business.

A couple of uniforms barreled out of the rear door to the station, their laughter competing with the steady sounds of traffic beyond the gate.

The sun had completely set, leaving behind a crimson tinge in the darkening sky. Cruz leaned against the door of the Suburban, letting him know she had all the time in the world.

Too smart. Too curious.

“Besides my wife, he was my best friend,” Silvio said finally. “He was just in the wrong place at the wrong time.”

“Inocente questioned your judgment pretty strongly,” Cruz said.

Inocente wasn’t in Silvio’s corner when Garcia was killed. Silvio always wondered if Obregon paid Inocente to step aside and let the police union mete out punishment. “Inocente was a fucking asshole,” he told Cruz. “If I was going to kill him, I’d have done it then.”

That was enough heart-to-heart crap for one day. He turned around, dismissing her with a flick of the hand over his shoulder.

El teniente was interested in tunnel construction,” Cruz called after him. “He’d talked to some specialist in hydraulic concrete. Built a strange prototype tunnel with these ventilation holes. I think it’s got something to do with the Maxitunel and the El Machete gang.”

Silvio stopped. “The Maxitunel is the main artery into Zetas territory.”

“The Maxitunel is Zetas territory. Every kid who sells candy by the tunnel toll booths knows it.”

“You think Morelos da Gama and Inocente were using it to distribute?”

“I know that El Machete is a feeder gang for the Zetas.”

“Lots of connections,” Silvio said.

The mercury lights on the top of the perimeter wall flicked on. The parking lot got busier as the day shift headed home, relieved to have made it through another day. The evening shift arrived, walking into the station with the hunched tension and worried faces of cops who knew that Acapulco’s streets were dangerously different in the dark.

Silvio walked back to the Suburban where Cruz waited, one hand on the door handle.

As the mercury lights hissed high above their heads, they crafted a workable theory. The kidnapping, the counterfeit, the tunnel, the water company. To Silvio’s aggravation, they worked well together, taking turns pulling threads and weaving them into a narrative that finally made sense.

Inocente and Morelos da Gama were pushing drugs into Zeta territory using the water company as cover. El Machete gang members kidnapped the child, then killed Inocente over the counterfeit for their Zetas overlords who were now doubly angry.

“Big question now,” Silvio summed up. “Did Morelos da Gama keep the business going alone? Or did the kidnapping scare him into closing it down?”

“He took his wife and child out of the country,” Cruz pointed out. “They’re safe. The thing is too big and profitable to shut down.”

“I want to see Inocente’s tunnel project. Compare it to the Maxitunel construction. You remember how to get there?”

“You’d better be playing straight with me.”

The chica still suspected him! Their momentary rapport burst like a bubble. “You can believe whatever the fuck you want to, Cruz,” he said angrily and turned on his heel.

“I’m not supposed to make any arrests in the case,” she said, stopping Silvio in his tracks. “Just let Obregon know when I’m close to the killer. He’s supposed to take it from there. Gave me some bullshit story about cleaning up Guerrero.”

Too smart.

Smart enough to put two and two together and conclude that Obregon had an angle on Inocente’s murder that he needed to protect. But Silvio couldn’t discount the rumors that stuck to Cruz like a second skin.

He pivoted back to her. “Are you sleeping with Obregon? Is that why he put you in charge?”

“No, you pendejo.” Cruz rolled her eyes. “Along with you, he’s the last man on earth I’d ever sleep with.”

Silvio snorted. Either she’d never been Obregon’s proxy or she’d just chosen sides.

“I’ll bring the doughnuts tomorrow,” he said.

Cliff Diver


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