In BARRACUDA BAY, the upcoming Detective Emilia Cruz mystery set in Acapulco, elections for mayor are coming up fast. Incumbent Carlota Montoya Perez, an enigma to Emilia, wants another term but faces a determined and well-funded rival.

This is the second election campaign I’ve created for a female character. The first was relatively easy as the character of Lorena Lopez de Betancourt in political thriller THE HIDDEN LIGHT OF MEXICO CITY was based on Marta Sahagún, the glam but politically tone-deaf wife of then-president of Mexico Vicente Fox.

Lorena is the First Lady of Mexico, believing that with the help of her lover, Mexico’s top official at the Ministry of Public Security, she’ll be able to succeed her husband when his term is up. Little does she realize that her lover is using her to gain power for himself, and has struck a deal with El Toro, an El Chap-like drug lord, to divide Mexico into spheres of influence. Basically, they’ll buy the presidency for clueless Lorena and run it as a narco-state in her name.

The Hidden Light of Mexico City

Finalist, 2020 Millennium Book Award

Carlota is a more enigmatic and crafty character. Unlike Lorena, she’s no patsy. She calls the shots.

In creating her re-election campaign for mayor of Acapulco, I had some challenges. First, the mechanics of a political campaign are more complicated than when I wrote HIDDEN LIGHT. Social media has changed the PR landscape. Second, Acapulco faces big issues of economic recovery amid rising violence and missing persons. Third, Carlota’s big issues (hosting a Summer Olympics and recycling) have already been mentioned in the previous books; she can’t abandon them now.

So where to find inspiration for creating her re-election campaign? Everywhere, it seems.

2024 is shaping up to be the year of elections in numerous countries where I’ve spent considerable time. These 5 elections this year provide plenty of ideas to create Carlota’s fictional re-election campaign.


Mexico's parliament building with decorations

Mexico City by admknowdns via Pixabay


On 2 June, two female candidates faced off in the country’s presidential elections. Claudia Sheinbaum took the prize.

She’s the former mayor of Mexico City and a member of President Lopez Obrador’s Morena party.

State and local elections also took place the same day. The campaign season was the most violent in the country’s history, with 38 candidates killed. AP reported that many Mexicans cast nullified ballots by writing in names of Mexico’s 110,000+ who have disappeared amid drug war violence.

Sheinbaum won with 59% of the vote. Her party and allies also won 7 of 9 governorships as well as two-thirds control over Mexico’s Senate and Chamber of Deputies. While security is a top issue for Mexican voters, Morena’s success is attributed to the decrease in the poverty rate in the past few years. According to Gallup, 73% of Mexicans say their standard of living improved while Lopez Obrador was president.

Interestingly, reporter Ioan Grillo noted that concerns outside Mexico that Lopez Obrador takes cartel money didn’t resonate inside Mexico, perhaps overshadowed by his feisty daily briefings and blustering, bullying style. (Or maybe taking cartel $$ is no longer seen as bad, but inevitable.)

Idea: Amid rising violence, Carlota can bluster past criticism like Lopez Obrador.

Panama City skyline

Panama City skyline by Wilhan Jose Gomes via Pixabay


On 5 May, Panama’s former security minister Jose Raul Mulino won the presidential election in a campaign dominated by former president Ricardo Martinelli, who is living in the Nicaraguan embassy to avoid prison.

As reported by Reuters, Mulino is a pro-business right-wing politician who served as interior and security minister during Martinelli’s administration from 2009 to 2014. “Among his top priorities will be fixing Panama’s pressing economic problems, tackling corruption, and restoring the country’s reputation as an investment haven  . . . Corruption has become a hot-button issue for voters. Local media has recently reported on generous student loans and scholarships granted to the children of politicians and wealthy, high-profile families.”

Idea: Make sure Carlota isn’t seen as catering to her cronies.

Paris from above

Paris from above by edmondlaphoto via Pixabay


After “France’s far-right nationalists clobbered [President Macron’s] centrist party in the country’s vote for European Parliament earlier this month” Macron called for a snap legislative election.

He’ll keep his job; the elections are just for the lower house. Macron’s party is polling a distant third right, now, trailing Marine Le Pen’s National Rally party. The voting will indicate who he may have to select as a new prime minister.

It’s entirely possible that after the final round of voting on 7 July, France’s new prime minister is National Rally’s Jordan Bardella, a 28-year-old wonder kid with 1.7 million followers on TikTok.

Idea: Give Carlota a top-notch social media presence.

London aerial view

London aerial view by liushuquan via Pixabay


On 4 July, the UK votes. It doesn’t look good for Prime Minister Rishi Sunak who is down around 20 points in opinion polls with a giant budget deficit. Stopping illegal immigration via small boats crossing the English Channel and sending illegals to Rwanda are part of his campaign message.

His main opponent is Labour Party leader Sir Keir Starmer, who is heavily favored to become Britain’s new prime minister in July. Starmer is seen as the person who remade the Labour Party after multiple scandals and an unpopular swing to the far left.

Interestingly, Labour says Sunak and the Conservative Party haven’t gone far enough to reduce illegal immigration. “Labour will act to bring down migration, strengthening wages and conditions for Britain’s workers, linking our skills plans for young people with the jobs our businesses need to fill, and implementing a practical plan to tackle the small boat chaos.”

Idea: Find a galvanizing issue for Carlota to hang her hat on.

Washington DC with Capitol building

Washington DC with Capitol building via Pixabay


The recent presidential debate between current president Joe Biden and his predecessor Donald Trump ended up not so much about substance but about the health of the incumbent before the 5 November election.

Prior to the debate, video footage of President Biden appearing confused was refuted or excused by noted US media outlets, White House spokespeople and pro-Biden influencers on social media. | |

Following the debate, many reversed course and called for him to leave the presidential race, including the New York Times which wrote “It’s too big a bet to simply hope Americans will overlook or discount Mr. Biden’s age and infirmity that they see with their own eyes.”

Idea: Ensure that Carlota has unwavering support from the media and online influencers.


Acapulco at night by Lk Drak via Pixabay

Carlota’s campaign in Acapulco

Against the backdrop of these real elections, what lessons can the fictional mayor Carlota Montoya Perez apply to her campaign in BARRACUDA BAY?

First, she can bluster past criticism like Lopez Obrador and rely on economic progress to forgive all. Under her guiding hand the economy in Acapulco is improving even as the security situation worsens, but she’ll need something else to beat a drum about. Summer Olympics, anyone?

She’ll have to refute charges that she is corrupt–not because she’s taking money from cartels but because she caters to rich cronies.

Plus, she’ll have a super social media presence with loyalists ready to deny her faults and lambaste the opposition.

Finally, she’ll make sure everyone votes early and often!


The 9th book in the Detective Emilia Cruz series was put on hold while I worked on a thriller about Havana Syndrome with other former CIA officers. This means that the projected summer release of BARRACUDA BAY will likely be pushed to Fall 2024. Thanks for your patience!

in the meantime, catch all the tantalizing book excerpts in the Mystery Ahead newsletter every other Sunday. Subscribe here;

Author Carmen Amato

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