Book Review: THE GUILTY DIE TWICE by Don Hartshorn

Book Review: THE GUILTY DIE TWICE by Don Hartshorn

THE GUILTY DIE TWICE offers a memorable cast of characters, two pivotal crimes, lots of deliciously grubby political machinations, and both sides of the death penalty argument. The writing is both fluid and precise, without (thankfully) lots of legal jargon. The smooth pacing and flow make it exceptionally readable and hard to put down.

Travis Lynch is an attorney in Austin, Texas, who is barely able to make ends meet. His wife is pregnant, he works out of his living room, and he’s estranged from the rest of the Lynch family, scions of the Texas legal establishment. The reason for Travis’s difficult situation is tied to murderer Riley Sutton, whose execution takes place early in the proceedings.

Related: Book Review: THIEF OF SOULS by Brian Klingborg

Jake Lynch, Travis’s older brother, is the District Attorney (DA). Jake is a man on the rise. Powerful kingmakers are circling around. He’s the heir-apparent to the Lynch family’s legal legacy. Jake and Travis have not spoken in 10 years, when they prosecuted the Sutton case ten years ago as both friends and up-and-coming attorneys working in the DA’s office.

When a drug deal goes wrong, two high school boys are killed and another left paralyzed. A kingmaker’s son is one of the victims and the media is all over the story. Of course, no one wants the fact to come out that the victims were in a construction zone at 3:00 am to buy drugs.

Two arrests are made. The parents of the suspected shooter turn to Travis. He reluctantly takes the case, knowing he won’t be paid, but hoping to save the kid from a death sentence.

Meanwhile, Jake is pressured into charging the suspected shooter with a capital crime, triggering the death penalty. This pits Travis and Jake against each other in circumstances that hearken back to the Sutton case. Of course the backstory merges with the current timeline here and you finally find out what started the feud so long ago. What I liked so much is that neither brother is a white knight, but each is trying to follow their conscience in a very, very bad situation.

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

Both stories wrap the reader in double suspense. What happened during the Sutton case to create this feud between the two brothers? What will happen to the current murder investigation given all the political strings being pulled? Can this family ever be mended?

It’s a legal thriller but even more, this is a story about a family pulled apart by competing moral values.

Highly recommended. Find THE GUILTY DIE TWICE on Amazon.

The author Don Hartshorn has an interesting website with short stories and writing tips. You can find it here:

THE GUILTY DIE TWICE was published by TCKPublishing, a small press with a unique tagline: “Wealth is in the mind, not the pocket.” How true! You can find TCK here:

Collaboration Opportunity for Food Bloggers

Collaboration Opportunity for Food Bloggers

Are you a food blogger? Love to cook Italian? Are you looking for a fresh, fun collaboration opportunity?

The Galliano Club series of historical thriller books will be released this coming Fall 2022.

The hunt is on for Italian-loving food bloggers and Instagram accounts to help promote the book series and grow their own audience at the same time.


About the Galliano Club books

The Galliano Club thriller series consists of a prequel and three full-length novels that tell a Prohibition-era saga of murder, blackmail and revenge. The year is 1926. The place is Lido, New York, a blue-collar kind of place inspired by my upstate hometown of Rome, New York.

The Galliano Club is a social hub for Italian mill workers in Lido. Club members drop in for bootleg beer or one of bartender Luca Lombardo’s famous sandwiches.

But trouble is always on tap at the Galliano Club . . .

The prequel, ROAD TO THE GALLIANO CLUB is out now.

food bloggers,collaboration opportunity,Italian food,Galliano Club thrillers

More about the series here: Inside the Galliano Club thrillers


Collaboration opportunity

As part of the launch activities for the books during October-December 2022, author Carmen Amato (me) will be collaborating with food bloggers to create tie-ins that highlight the books’ Italian roots.

Collaborations are planned around Italian food, kitchen merch, and Prohibition cocktails.

Collaborations will be highlighted in press releases, interviews, etc.


What’s planned

1. Instagram contests to grow both our account followers. (“follow these accounts and tag a friend, etc) Prize bundles to include Galliano Club books, Italian cookbooks, kitchen merch from your store if available, Williams Sonoma cocktail kits, etc.

2. The free companion Galliano Club Signature Sandwich Cookbook featuring favorite recipes for Italian-style sandwiches from popular food bloggers and authors. There are 4 slots left. If selected, your recipe will be included with attribution and links to your blog/website. You get press release language/blog post draft and PDF copy to showcase on your website. Perfect as a lead magnet to grow your email list.

3. Signed copies of the Galliano Club books to sell in your online shops (US only).


How to participate

Want to take advantage of this collaboration opportunity? Email carmen(at) with the subject line “Collaboration with Italian food blogger.”

Here’s what to include:

Your name, website, Instagram, and email

Tell me a little about yourself and why you love Italian food.

Plus, answer these questions:

1. Do you have a mouth-watering recipe for an Italian sandwich to be included in the Galliano Club Signature Sandwich Cookbook?

2. Do you have items from your shop that you are willing to provide for an Instagram contest? Think about easily shipped items like apron, potholder, napkin set, salt and pepper shakers, etc.(You’ll ship to me. I’ll add to prize bundle shipped to winners. All bundle contributors listed.)

3. Are you interested in up to 5 free signed copies of Galliano Club books to sell in your store? (US addresses only)

4. Who else would be interested in this opportunity? Please provide their email or Instagram.

That’s it! Fire off that email! Let’s collaborate!


About me

In case you were wondering, yes, I’m Italian.

I’m also the author of the Detective Emilia Cruz police series set in Acapulco, the Galliano Club historical thrillers, and standalone novels of suspense.

A 30-year veteran of the Central Intelligence Agency, personal experiences are occasionally disguised as fiction.

With complex plots, fast action, and an exotic location, the Detective Emilia Cruz series includes CLIFF DIVER, HAT DANCE, DIABLO NIGHTS, KING PESO, PACIFIC REAPER, RUSSIAN MOJITO, NARCO NOIR and numerous short reads. All the novels contain Mexican food recipes, too.

The series is a 2-time recipient of the Outstanding Series Award from CrimeMasters of America, and won the Silver Falchion from Killer Nashville in 2019. It has been optioned for television.

A recipient of both the National Intelligence Award and the Career Intelligence Medal, I’ve been a judge for the BookLife Prize and Killer Nashville’s Claymore Award. Nonfiction has appeared in Publishers Weekly, Criminal Element, The Rap Sheet, Mamiverse, and other national-level publications.

My previous collaborations led to two chart-topping books: THE INSIDER’S GUIDE TO THE BEST OF MEXICO and THE INSIDER’S GUIDE TO THE BEST OF MEXICAN HOLIDAYS.

I guide readers through must-read mystery and deception every other Sunday in the Mystery Ahead newsletter. Get it here:


Don’t forget! Email carmen(at) with the subject line “Collaboration with Italian food blogger.”

Researching Prohibition at the West End Brewery #bestjobever

Researching Prohibition at the West End Brewery #bestjobever

Researching the 1920’s for the Galliano Club books naturally means I have to research beer.

Yes, beer.

Notably beer in upstate New York, the setting for the Galliano Club series.

Beer is a hot commodity in 1926. Prohibition forbids it. The Galliano Club wants it. Bootleggers make it.

Murder and blackmail get mixed into the brew. Free refills, too.

West End Brewery

My research led to a tour of the West End brewery in Utica, New York, more recently known as the Saranac Brewery. The brewery is home to the Saranac family of brews, of which Saranac Pale Ale is probably the best known, as well as Utica Club which was the first beer sold after Prohibition. Signs on the buildings still say F.X. Matt Brewing, after the company’s founder Francis Xavier Matt, a German immigrant.

Home of Utica Club

As I drove up, I was hit by unexpected memories. When I was a child, my grandfather took family and out-of-town visitors to tour the brewery. This was before Saranac. Utica Club was very popular across the US and big billboards advertised the tour.

Back then, the brewery wasn’t as big as it is today but the tour was a major regional attraction. I recall it being very crowded. The trolley ride was unique and exciting, not to mention the free root beer for kids and two beers per adult.

Alas, the trolley is no more, but the tour still ends with a complimentary adult beverage in the downstairs bar which I sipped while furiously scribbling notes.

Prohibition beverages

I was mostly looking for information about what the brewery produced during Prohibition and was not disappointed. Tour guide Tom Wynne told me that the brewery managed to hang on during the “dry” years, although just barely, by making a variety of non-alcoholic beverages. He opened a display case and took out half a dozen antique bottles for me to examine.

The carbonated lemon-lime “rickey” looked fairly appealing. Today we’d call it soda.

Malt tonic was probably intended for home beer makers. Perhaps to disguise that fact, the company put out a pamphlet-sized cookbook listing all the yummy things you could make with the syrup.

Then there was a fizzy wine substitute called “Champannetto Mum.” It was the kind of faux high society beverage that hapless accountant and erstwhile bootlegger Owen Fisher would drink as he plots to stay afloat on the wreckage of his life.

Here’s the tour in a 16-image nutshell:

Meet Schultz and Dooley

Just for fun, let’s fast forward a few years.

The Utica Club commercials featuring two talking beer steins named Schultz and Dooley were the height of early 1960’s advertising. Schultz was a Bavarian tankard with eyes, nose and a Prussian helmet. Dooley was a short, lidded earthenware mug with a green shamrock on front.

Schultz and Dooley of Utica Club

Comedian Jonathan Winters voiced both Schultz and Dooley. A puppet troupe made the steins move for the camera. Before he composed Broadway classic Man of La Mancha, Mitch Lee provided the music.

The commercials won a slew of awards, including first and second place in the 1960 Venice International Film Festival and a Clio Award for Best Television Commercial. The one below is why.

Thank you

On a personal note, a big thank-you to tour guide Tom Wynne and to Steve Hamilton, the company’s Visitor Experience Supervisor. Not only is the brewery a fascinating place, but it’s also an event venue helping to revitalize the city of Utica.

I definitely caught the excitement!

Road to the Galliano Club
Buy on Amazon
Book Review: A NEAPOLITAN INTRIGUE by Kate McVaugh

Book Review: A NEAPOLITAN INTRIGUE by Kate McVaugh

Past and present collide in this clever thriller that moves between present-day Naples, Italy, and Berkeley, California in 1969. A NEAPOLITAN INTRIGUE deals with serious topics with a smooth prose and a dab of humor at the right moments. I read it in one day, and learned some history, too.


Letty White is a recently retired security consultant living in Naples. Her background includes stints as a linguist for the Central Intelligence Agency and Interpol. Just as she is wondering if la dolce vita in Naples is what she truly wants, local ex-Interpol friends who own a security company find a photo of Letty as a teenager in the pocket of a dead man.

In the photo, Letty and a girlfriend are with two National Guardsmen in a Jeep, souvenir of May 1969 when Berkeley was occupied by more than 2000 Army National Guard troops. The situation began when an impromptu People’s Park was created without authorization. Attempts to dismantle the park engulfed the area in large-scale protests. Law enforcement tried to quell the protests and fatal shootings occurred. Tensions skyrocketed and the National Guard was called out.

During the second half of May 1969, Berkeley was a city in turmoil, with nearly non-stop demonstrations. Protesters were teargassed, trapped and arrested. The local prison became notorious for abuse. Events culminated with a gigantic march, with many of those present carrying daisies and singing.

Letty was 16 years old at the time, on the fringes of the protest movement with her friends and attending a high school directly adjacent to the hot zone.

As present-day Letty attempts to find out the identity of the dead man in Naples, flashbacks to Berkeley offer clues. Both Naples and Berkeley are painted with compelling visual descriptions.


Letty is a real 3-D character, with dangerous curiosity. She takes thoughtless risks at first but grows more wary as things in Naples go awry. I loved the way that, fueled by gallons of espresso, she gets away from the bad guys, argues with the good guys, crashes a wedding and a bespoke tailor, spurns her Italian lover, and gets away from the bad guys yet again, until at the end, she turns the tables on everybody.

The book is a thriller but has elements of a light-hearted caper, too. It will keep you turning the pages! Find A NEAPOLITAN INTRIGUE on AMAZON

Book Review Cheatsheet

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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. 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.

Still others hack gas pumps to change the price or spit out more gas.

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. 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.”

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.


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.”

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. 

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.”

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.


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.


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.

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:

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


Author Carmen Amato

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