Welcome to the website edition of the Mystery Ahead newsletter, with fresh #booknews, thrilling #excerpts, and #reviews of must-read mysteries.
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1. Inside my CIA career
For those wanting the inside scoop, my new blog series has it all. Check out new posts about the intelligence use of video, wordsmithing for national security decisionmakers, and more: https://carmenamato.net/shop-talk/
2. GALLIANO CLUB update
Acapulco Black Book: A Detective Emilia Cruz Story
The sun was setting by the time Emilia headed for the spit of coastline called Puerto Marques on the southeast corner of Acapulco Bay. On her right, glimmers of pink and tangerine rippled across the Pacific. On her left, the mountain that sheltered the bay rose straight up just beyond the safety rail. She turned off the Carretera Escénica and rode the brake down the steep privada road to the cliffside paradise that was the Palacio Réal hotel complex.
The opulent drama of the hotel’s lobby was a million miles away from the gray intimidation of the evidence locker. Wrapped in thousands of tiny lights, royal palms soared to the vaulted ceiling from blue and white talavera pots as big as barrels. Past the white grand piano and jazz quartet, the lobby merged into the multi-level Pasodoble Bar, where rock stars, business tycoons, and world leaders came to sip mojitos and margaritas.
Emilia took the elevator to the penthouse.
It was always a jolt to think she lived in such a place. Emilia never planned to fall in love with a yellow-haired gringo, much less the general manager of Acapulco’s most luxurious hotel, but she had. Everyone was more or less used to the idea now, including Emilia.
“Hello,” she called and closed the front door behind her. “Kurt?”
Emilia followed his voice to their bedroom. She stopped in the doorway to admire the view of a physique tempered by an addiction to endurance sports and years in his country’s military before making a success of the hospitality industry. Kurt Rucker gave her a kiss before pulling on his after-hours uniform of board shorts and tee shirt.
“Long day?” he asked.
“Yes,” Emilia admitted. She plunked herself on the bed, suddenly overcome with fatigue. Yesterday’s drama had finally caught up to her. “Plus, I have homework.”
“I’ve already ordered dinner.”
“You read my mind,” Emilia said gratefully.
A shower and food revived her. After the meal, Emilia took the black notebook to the balcony outside their bedroom. Far below, enormous ceramic lanterns created a flickering barrier between the ocean and the edge of the Pasodoble Bar’s lower terrace. Reflectors on the hotel’s floating dock threw bobbing pinpoints of light against the inky horizon.
Her second study of the notebook confirmed her first impression. All of the entries were the same. A name, a number, and a date.
The list was in chronological order. The first entry was in early 2019.
“Where did you get a Moleskine?” Kurt came outside with two snifters of brandy.
Emilia looked up. “A what?”
“Moleskine.” Kurt sat and put the glasses on a table between the chaise lounges. “It’s a brand of notebook. I’m always looking for that kind with the hard cover.”
“What does this list of names say to you?” Emilia passed him the notebook.
Kurt leafed through it. Emilia closed her eyes, the better to collect her jumbled thoughts. Snatches of laughter and guitar music drifted up from the Pasodoble Bar, along with the hypnotizing rhythm of waves lapping against the shore.
“Ages and birthdays,” Kurt said at length.
“Can’t be,” Emilia said. “Some are more than 200.”
“Golf scores? Bowling team?”
“Not the type.”
“Is he a pedophile or a con artist?” Kurt asked. “List of victims?”
Emilia opened her eyes. “Thirty lines to a page. That’s a lot of names.”
“This guy wouldn’t have time to do anything else.” Kurt flipped a few more pages. “That leaves payoffs.”
“I know,” Emilia said quietly. “Add a zero to the number after the name and it’s a list of dirty cops.”
Kurt gave the notebook back. “Who knows you have this, Em?”
“Nobody.” Emilia closed her eyes again, willing the restless ocean to slow her pounding heart.
If the notebook was a list of dirty cops, how long did she have before they came for her?
V2 by Robert Harris
V2 is an excellent World War II drama, especially if you love technical details. Think The Hunt for Red October meets Foyle’s War and V2 will earn a place on your bookshelf.
This thriller runs on parallel lines, telling the intersecting stories of Kay Caton-Walsh, an intelligence officer in Britain’s Women’s Auxiliary Air Force, and Dr. Rudi Graf, a civilian engineer with Hitler’s rocket troops launching V2 rockets at London from the Dutch coast.
An intriguing style continually adds snippets of backstory into the current timeline. You are quickly drawn into each character’s perilous situation while the unfolding backstories make them relatable.
Meeting her married lover in London on a weekend pass from her job as an overhead imagery analyst, Kay is caught in a V2 attack. A senior officer, he survives but their affair is found out. In part to escape the scandal, Kay volunteers for a risky new assignment.
In an attempt to take out the V2’s mobile launch sites, her team in newly liberated Belgium will calculate the trajectory of an incoming V2 to determine its point of origin. If they are fast enough, bombers circling the English Channel can target the launch site before the Germans dismantle it. Using slide rules for the complex mathematical calculations, the team has only a 6 minute window once a rocket is fired.
Meanwhile, on the Dutch coast, Graf is caught between panicked SS officers, the limitations of the hastily built V2s, and the need to keep the launch operations hidden in the woods until the last possible moment. Faulty components cause horrific accidents and Graf knows the ambitious launch schedule is impossible to meet. He is disillusioned with the brutality of his SS minders and increasingly desperate to escape the horrors of war. Yet he is loyal to long-time friend and rocket pioneer Werner von Braun.
The pages practically flipped themselves. The technical details of the V2 rocket were fascinating, so much so that you’re at every launch. But they were never overdone or too academic or dry.
V2 is an excellent World War II tale told from two different but equally absorbing perspectives, bolstered by excellent research and historical details. The ending brings the main characters full circle, at which point you can let out your breath.
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List of Carmen’s books
All the best,