Mystery Ahead 2 May 2021 😎 50% Off Sale | False Fingerprint | All THE DEVILS

Mystery Ahead 2 May 2021 😎 50% Off Sale | False Fingerprint | All THE DEVILS

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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The Hidden Light of Mexico City

1. HIDDEN LIGHT Book Birthday & 50% SALE

My debut novel, THE HIDDEN LIGHT OF MEXICO CITY, was published 8 years ago this month. A political thriller set against the backdrop of Mexico’s presidential elections, with a complicating Cinderella-style love story and corruption at the highest levels of government, the novel incorporated some of my own experiences in Mexico.

Longlisted for the 2020 Millennium Book Award, it is even more relevant today than it was in 2013.

THE HIDDEN LIGHT OF MEXICO CITY launched my writing career, despite the publishing insiders who rejected the novel for having too many Mexican characters. I still think it is the best thing I’ve ever written.

To celebrate the milestone, the Kindle version of THE HIDDEN LIGHT OF MEXICO CITY is 50% off all month on Amazon.


  • “A rivetingly dramatic tale of politics and corruption, and a man and a woman from opposite ends of the social spectrum who fall in love.” – Literary Fiction Review


  • “An intensely exciting political thriller that fires on all cylinders, The Hidden Light Of Mexico City is one of those rare novels that promises much and over-delivers.” – BookViral



Acapulco Black Book is an unpublished Detective Emilia Cruz short story.

Part 5

Frowning with curiosity, Emilia followed the coroner to the stitched-up body on the table. There was nothing remarkable about the dead man. His waxy face was composed, his eyes closed. He wasn’t tall or well-built or good looking. An ordinary  fisherman, student, taxi driver.

Or cartel killer.

“How old was he?” Emilia asked. For a moment she wondered if anyone missed him, was worried that he hadn’t come home.

“According to his previous arrest record, he was 26 years old,” Prade said briskly. The coroner turned both of the dead man’s hands to show the palms and spread the fingers apart. “Nine fingers identify him as the late Julio Lira Valdez, reportedly dead in a car fire two months ago.”

“Nine fingers?” Emilia repeated. She could plainly see ten.

Prade reached up and adjusted the light fixture above the table, concentrating the gleam on the man’s right hand. “The print from his right index finger belongs to a man named Tito Sandino Hernandez. There’s no record of his death anywhere.”

Emilia didn’t need further prompting to see what Prade meant. Tidy stitches ringed the pad of the right index fingertip.

“Someone else’s print was sewn onto his finger,” she said. “Madre de Dios.”

“Whoever sewed it on was a gifted surgeon,” Prade said. “No infection and minimal scarring.”

“When was this done?”

“Perhaps six or seven weeks ago. From the healing, I’d estimate no more than that.”

Madre de Dios,” Emilia swore again. “Around the same time as the car fire?”

“A coincidence?”

“What do you think?” It was a rhetorical question.

Prade didn’t answer.

The body on the table, wearing someone else’s fingertip, supposedly died in a car fire two months ago. Presumably with all of his original body parts.

If the grafted fingertip had lifted and beckoned, Emilia would not have been surprised. A secret was hidden behind that carefully attached piece of skin. But as the concrete block walls of the sterile examination room closed in and her lungs screamed for fresh air, she didn’t care.

Emilia hated the morgue, but never so much as today.

“Quite a surprise, I tell you.” Prade gently set the dead man’s hand back on the table.

“You’re sure about the fingertip belonging to Tito Sandino Hernandez?” Emilia  asked.

Prade came to the worktable and found a clipboard. “That’s what the database told us.”

Emilia pulled off mask and gloves made some notes, thanked Prade, and reeled out of the building. Leaning against the side of the Suburban, she called the hospital. The patient Tito Sandino Hernandez was still in critical condition. Yes, he had all ten fingertips. None were scarred or surgically altered.

Emilia cut the connection, her thoughts whirling. The man in the hospital had been identified as Tito Sandino Hernandez from the contents of his wallet. Identity card. Store credit card. The vehicle registration documents found in the truck.

But who was he?





A Gamache mystery that doesn’t take place in Three Pines? What is the world coming to??


Armand Gamache is once again head of Homicide for the Sureté de Quebec. He is on vacation in Paris to visit his grown children and await the birth of his newest grandchild. His billionaire godfather Stephen is there, too, making for a happy family reunion. That is, until Stephen is critically injured by a hit-and-run driver.

Witness to the accident, Gamache and his wife know this was no random accident but attempted murder.

Aided by his son-in-law Jean-Guy Beauvoir, until recently Gamache’s second-in-command and now working for a Paris-based multinational engineering firm, Gamache is determined to find out who wanted to kill his godfather. Together, they will uncover a string of mysteries, including a dead body in Stephen’s lux pied-a-terre and questionable links to the French Resistance during World War II, plus funny business at the engineering firm.

The action ranges across Paris, giving us an armchair tour through rainy arrondisements. We are swept across the city, from the legendary Georges V hotel to the wounded Notre Dame cathedral to the Luxembourg Gardens and dozens of points in between. Secrets and the unexplained nip at our heels.

The style is often staccato, with short, sharp sentences to heighten emotional impact.

She grabbed him to her again, and they held on to each other.

Weeping for Stephen.

For themselves.

A little of that goes a long way for me and I wish it was used more sparingly, but this technique keeps the drama high.

The plot of ALL THE DEVILS ARE HERE, the 16th Gamache mystery, is solid. The climax was wholly believable and connected all the dots, especially when it comes to character development.

I loved the way the ending became a happy turning point for the Gamache narrative. My guess is that subsequent books will enjoy the original atmosphere and framework which underpin the success of the series.

Highly recommended. Get ALL THE DEVILS ARE HERE on Amazon.



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List of Carmen’s books

Mystery Ahead 2 May 2021 😎 50% Off Sale | False Fingerprint | All THE DEVILS

Mystery Ahead 18 Apr 2021 😎 5 Sins | SALE | Danger Man | TRANSIENT DESIRES

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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Inside the CIA


1. Deadly Sins

Even if you aren’t a writer, “The 5 Deadly Sins of Women Writers” is for you. Envy, Shiny Object Syndrome, and other distractions can derail us from achieving our best.

Published in BooksByWomen, I wrote this essay for all of us, with a little help from fellow authors Elizabeth Martina, Jane Rosenthal, D.V. Berkom, and Lynda L. Locke.


2. 43 MISSING on sale

Mexico has had a difficult time lately, with high Covid rates, a slow vaccine rollout, and ever rising rates of violent crime. However, there has been recent progress against one of the country’s most notorious unsolved crimes: the September 2014 mass disappearance of 43 students in the state of Guerrero. (FYI, Acapulco, the setting for my Detective Emilia Cruz series, is the largest city in that state.)

Last month, Mexico’s Attorney General said three members of the Guerreros Unidos gang confessed to burning the students’ bodies. Authorities recovered evidence, including bones and teeth, in a remote river area. Remains were sent to the University of Innsbruck, Austria, for identification.

This shocking crime and the need for accountability inspired 43 MISSING, the sixth Detective Emilia Cruz mystery. It was certainly the hardest book I’ve ever written.

43 MISSING is currently on sale for $1.99 for Kindle.



Acapulco Black Book is a Detective Emilia Cruz story. It is a “work-in-progress” exclusive to the Mystery Ahead newsletter.

Part 4

Emilia took her coffee back to her desk to check her inbox before the morning meeting. She’d just clicked to open an email from Doctoro Antonio Prade, the coroner, when Silvio’s office door opened.

A man dressed in back stepped out, still talking over his shoulder to Silvio. Emilia nearly choked on a mouthful of hot brew when she recognized Victor Obregon Sosa, the head of the police union for the state of Guerrero. He was also the brother of Silvio’s late wife and had stymied Silvio’s career for years in an effort to break up his sister’s marriage. Isabel’s death had led to an uneasy true between the two men, but animosity always simmered just below the surface.

As Silvio’s partner before his promotion to lieutenant, Emilia had been on the receiving end of Obregon’s ruthless attention herself.

Handsome, powerful, and vindictive, Obregon used the police union as a weapon. He was a hawk, always circling above looking for prey. Every interaction with him was laced with tension and distrust. There was always a hidden agenda in his back pocket.

He made little distinction between his professional and personal appetites. Although never directly stated, Obregon made it clear that there was an offer on the table if Emilia cared to accept. Any time, any place.

It was ridiculous. Emilia was committed to Kurt. Yet the way Obregon brazenly raked his eyes over her could reduce Emilia to a handful of iron filings drawn to a magnet. The more she fought against it, the more sexual tension Obregon exuded. It was in every half-smile, lingering glance, and seemingly innocent question; an ember waiting to be fanned into a fire that would destroy her, body and soul.

Emilia slouched down, trying to hide behind the computer monitor. Hopefully, Obregon would walk through the squadroom and out the door without speaking to her. But it was not to be.

“Detective Cruz.” Obregon strode over to her desk, the line of his perfectly tailored black suit jacket wrinkling as he reached inside to pull out a pair of sunglasses. “Just who I needed to see.”

“Good morning.” Heart sinking, Emilia shut down her email program.

“I was just mentioning to Lieutenant Silvio that the union will be representing you to the inquiry panel.”

“Excuse me?” Emilia stood up, but kept her desk between them.

“The department is convening a board of inquiry into your actions in Colonia Alta Progreso earlier this week,” Obregon said.

“A board of inquiry?” Emilia tried not to show how surprised she was. The only thing notable about a shooting in Acapulco was that a cop had actually stopped one. That was hardly a reason to convene a board of inquiry.

Obregon tapped the sunglasses against a thumbnail and gave her the hungry look of a hawk spotting a mouse. “Without waiting for backup, a female officer discharged her weapon, resulting in the death of one civilian and critical wounding of another. Rather unusual circumstances.”

“The department can certainly hold an inquiry,” Emilia said. “But I stand by my report of the incident. They were attacking a residence. When I identified myself, they attacked me. I shot both in self-defense.”

“Yes, I’ve read your report. It left out how you knew where and when these two particular sicarios would mount an assault.”

For a second, the squadroom floor shifted under Emilia’s feet. Her police career, not to mention her life, could be in real jeopardy if the board decided that a rival gang had bribed Emilia to take down the sicarios.

“I was simply at the right place at the right time,” Emilia said. Even to her ears, the words sounded lame.

“You’ll need to expand your report. What route you took and why. Traffic and such.” Obregon’s eyes lingered on Emilia’s cotton blouse before lazily meeting her stare. “While you’re doing that, remember who’s going to represent you to the board. I’m sure you want your best interests to be at the top of their agenda. Wouldn’t want your career hanging by a thread, now would we?”





Commissario Guido Brunetti is back in the 30th book in Donna Leon’s legendary series set in Venice. Far from being formulaic, TRANSIENT DESIRES pits our familiar cast of characters against a seemingly unrelated series of tragic events.

Two American girls are left on the canal dock of the city hospital. One has severe injuries that suggest she was badly beaten. The hospital’s security camera allows the police to quickly identify the two men who dropped off the girls. Marcello Vio is a rising young attorney. His friend Filiberto Duso is a boatman for his uncle’s commercial transport company on the island of Guidecca, the huge island across the lagoon from the famous Piazza San Marco.

Guidecca is a world unto itself, and out of Brunetti’s jurisdiction.

The young men admit that they cruise around on Saturday nights, in a boat surreptitiously borrowed from Duso’s uncle, to pick up girls for some wine and swimming. Innocent fun, until the night in question when Duso hits an underwater pylon in the dark, injuring all on board. Knowing Duso would be in deep trouble for damaging the boat, the men bring the girls to the hospital’s dock. Before leaving, they ring the emergency button, not knowing that it is broken.

Two questions frame the initial investigation. Why did the men leave the girls so hastily and did they commit a crime by doing so?

Yet the real story lies elsewhere. Using his long list of both friends and police contacts, Brunetti ferrets out key complications. The size of the motors on the boats. Guidecca’s insularity. Tortured relationships.

In one of the best action scenes in the entire Brunetti series, the uncle’s human trafficking activities are pinpointed and interdicted. Brunetti has laid the groundwork but must rely on the Guardia Costiera to prowl the lagoon. The scene is exceptionally well done and lives up to the high bar Leon sets in every one of the books in this absorbing and authentic series. Bravo!

Highly recommended.



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List of Carmen’s books

Mystery Ahead 4 Apr 2021 😎 Fake News | Shooters | THURSDAY MURDER CLUB

Mystery Ahead 4 Apr 2021 😎 Fake News | Shooters | THURSDAY MURDER CLUB

Welcome to the website edition of the Mystery Ahead newsletter, with fresh #booknews, thrilling #excerpts, and #reviews of must-read mysteries.

Need to subscribe? CLICK HERE.



Media analysis by Carmen Amato

1. Detecting Fake News

My blog series about life in the CIA is getting quite a bit of attention, especially this post about media analysis:

Inside my CIA Career: Media Matters – Studying the Cold War methodology of fake news

Find other CIA-related content by clicking the #truestory hashtag in any post.


2  Ark Builders Wanted

My corner of the world has been pummeled of late. Tornadoes, pandemic, a mad Christmas bomber, and now torrential rains. My local bookstore, Harper’s Books, got flooded.

Along with other volunteers, I helped pack surviving inventory (why are books on cat health SO HEAVY??) so the store can be refurbished, which means it will be closed for some time. To paraphrase Winston Churchill, it’s not getting knocked down that matters, it’s the getting back up.

If you are not aware of, ( it allows you to shop online from independent bookstores and find unique offerings not on Amazon. Between a GoFundMe and online gift certificates through Bookshop, my local independent bookstore will survive, but yours might not without a little help from friends.


Inspired by a writing contest sponsored by Moleskine, a black notebook immerses Detective Emilia Cruz in a strange case of names, dates, and cartels  in Acapulco.

Acapulco Black Book, Part 3

Emilia was behind the wheel of her Suburban. The afternoon sun beat down on the roof of the vehicle. She wore the big dark sunglasses that always made her feel like a masked superhero. Sunshine reflected off the glossy covers of a couple of magazines sliding around the passenger seat.

Driving through the colorful Colonia Alta Progreso residential neighborhood meant traversing the hills on the west side of the bay. Houses with a sea view preened over their lowly neighbors.

Neither too close to the tourist areas nor too far, Colonia Alta Progreso clung to a slowly fading dignity. Violent crime was encroaching, like everywhere else, but the narrow streets were clean. No graffiti marred the walls enclosing each property. No litter lined the gutters. Each household probably paid a street sweeper a few pesos each week to collect trash and scrub stucco.

Up ahead, a truck swerved as if to avoid a pothole. With the sixth sense of a cop who’d beat the odds more than once, Emilia knew something bad was going to happen a split second before it did.

The truck jumped the curb and screeched to a stop. The passenger side tires left skid marks on the sidewalk. Two men with long guns leaped out and ran to an ornate wrought iron gate bisecting a cherry-colored stucco wall. The upper floor of a house in the same bright shade peeked over the top. The men didn’t jump the wall or bust down the gate but fired through the iron filigree at the house.

Sicarios. Cartel killers.

Even as she yelled into her radio for backup, Emilia threw herself out of the Suburban. Crouching behind her open door for protection, she trained her automatic on the shooters. “Stop! Police!”

One of the sicarios turned toward the Suburban, his weapon carelessly sweeping rounds that chipped cement off the sidewalk, chewed a mangy bush, and thudded into the passenger side of the SUV. The vehicle rocked. Her glossy magazines slithered onto the floor. Heart pounding, Emilia squeezed off four rounds. All hit the man in the center of his chest.

He pitched backwards and slumped against the wall by the still-closed iron gate. A young man’s soft mouth hung slack below glassy and sightless eyes.

The other shooter let out a cry. He grabbed his fallen comrade’s arm and headed for the truck.

“Stop right there,” Emilia shouted, her ears still ringing with the echo of gunfire. “Police!”

Even as the sicario kept his hold on the dead man, the ferocious rattle of his weapon shook the air. The windshield of the Suburban exploded like an atomic bomb, spewing a mushroom cloud of glass and chrome. Emilia flinched away and stumbled into the middle of the street, far from the protection of the big vehicle.

She saw the whole scene as though hovering above. The shooter vibrated with the constant recoil of his automatic weapon. His long hair danced against a high forehead.

Leaden fire raked Emilia’s body. She swayed and flopped, as helpless as a corn husk doll in a threshing machine.

The street became a slaughterhouse. Her skin was a sieve that leaked blood. Her screams went unheard in the bright afternoon sunshine.

“Em, Em. Wake up.” A quiet voice broke through the nightmare.





What happens when the residents of a bucolic senior living community in England get together to investigate a murder? For starters, one murder becomes . . . many.

I’d read so many positive reviews of this book that I was primed to love it. And I did.

A local developer wants to add on to the Coopers Chase Retirement Village, home to Elizabeth, Joyce, Ibrahim, and Ron. They are the nucleus of the Thursday Murder Club, which gets together to review cold case files. The files belong to Penny, a retired police officer who has suffered a stroke and is incapacitated. The club is kept afloat by Elizabeth, Penny’s best friend and a wily former intelligence officer with contacts everywhere.

When the property developer dies under mysterious circumstances, throwing his plans to destroy the adjacent cemetery into disarray, the club decides to solve his murder. Elizabeth is the prime mover and uses the skills of each of the members to brilliant effect. Along the way, they’ll solve several other crimes that drift across the book like errant red herrings.

The novelty of the book is not only the subject matter, but the format. Joyce’s first-person diary entries are interspersed with scenes written from other points of view. All the voices carefully pull each other along through the complex case as each goes on their own small “hero’s journey.”

The more we get to know them, the more we love shrewd and mysterious Elizabeth, Joyce the man-chaser, Ibrahim the methodical retired therapist and Ron, the still-famous union activist and his son, a prize fighter making the circuit of talent competitions for the formerly famous. Add to the mix the two police officers who end up helping the club, as well as each other.

These well-drawn characters are so relatable that by the end of the book you’re ready for a drive to Coopers Chase. Luckily, I hear there is going to be a sequel.




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List of Carmen’s books

All the best,Carmen

Mystery Ahead 4 Apr 2021 😎 Fake News | Shooters | THURSDAY MURDER CLUB

Mystery Ahead 21 Mar 2021 😎 Inside Secrets | Dirty Cops? | V2

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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Inside the CIA

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:



The prequel, MEET ME AT THE GALLIANO CLUB, is coming along nicely. Watch this space for the release date!
More about the forthcoming GALLIANO CLUB series here:



Acapulco Black Book: A Detective Emilia Cruz Story

Part 2

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?”

“In here.”

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 on Amazon


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.

Highly recommended.

Find V2 on Amazon


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List of Carmen’s books

All the best,Carmen

Mystery Ahead 4 Apr 2021 😎 Fake News | Shooters | THURSDAY MURDER CLUB

Mystery Ahead 7 Mar 2021 😎 CIA Secrets | New Emilia Cruz tale | TRUE FICTION

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. Secrets of a CIA Career

I’m pulling back the curtain on my 30-year CIA career. In a series of blog posts, find out how being an intelligence officer led to a second career as a mystery author.

New posts are published every Monday. Look for the #truestory hashtag.

Start here:


2. 300+

A giant thanks to all who rated CLIFF DIVER, the first Detective Emilia Cruz mystery, on Amazon. It’s great to kick off a series with a rating of 4.5/5 with over 300 readers weighing in. Thank you very much!

Find CLIFF DIVER on Amazon.



Inspired by a writing contest sponsored by Moleskine, a black notebook immerses Detective Emilia Cruz in a strange case of names, dates, and cartels  in Acapulco.

Acapulco Black Book, Part 1


Acapulco might be Mexico’s homicide capital and the tourism industry might be dying, but the police evidence locker gave the impression that the city was winning the fight.

Detective Emilia Cruz ignored the beep of the metal detector as she passed through and made her way to the counter spanning the width of the warehouse-like space. A thick shield of bulletproof glass stretched from the counter to the ceiling. The immediate impression was of denial of access; the glass was so thick that a diagonal glance distorted the view. The next impression was of limitless size. The uninitiated could be lost in the gray abyss beyond the glass, swallowed alive by the color of bureaucracy.

Sergeant Alvaro Cruz Ochoa, overlord of evidence and Emilia’s first cousin, looked up from his computer screen. His desk was the last barricade protecting the enormous iron cage that was the actual locker. A shopping mall’s worth of automatic weapons, technical gadgets, and miscellaneous items were stored there.

Emilia spoke into the speaker in the bulletproof glass. “Hola, primo. Got a minute?”

“Of course.” Alvaro hit a button on his side of the glass, a solenoid sounded, and a door by the counter popped open.

“I’m here unofficially.” Emilia gave her cousin a quick hug.  She’d timed the visit perfectly; Alvaro’s minions had already gone home for the day.

“Of course.” Alvaro raised his eyebrows. “What do you need? Unofficially, of course.”

“Personal effects from yesterday’s arrest of Tito Sandino Hernandez.”

“I heard about that. Congratulations.” Alvaro motioned her into the chair by his desk and tapped on his keyboard. “Looking for anything in particular?”

“I’ll know it when I see it,” Emilia said and raised her hands in a gesture of surrender. “I know, I know. But I have a feeling I missed something.”

“Such as?” Alvaro leaned back in his chair, ready to gossip.

A tiny alarm bell rang in the back of Emilia’s mind. She stood and fanned herself with a hand as if her skinny black jeans and denim jacket were overly warm in the gloomy space. “Just point me in the right direction.”

Alvaro scribbled the row and bin number on a scrap of paper, unlocked the entrance to the locker, and led the way through the maze.

Tagged and inventoried and never solved, Acapulco’s violent crimes sat smugly on rows and rows of floor-to-ceiling steel shelves.

More than 90 percent of all crime in Acapulco went unsolved. Part of the problem was sheer volume. The city was a prize to be fought over by rival gangs and cartels.

The other part of the problem was the police department and its unspoken rules.

Keep your head down. Collect your pay. Collect your bribes.

After leading her to the correct shelf, Alvaro left Emilia to sift through the bin assigned to the effects of Tito Sandino Hernandez. Arrested for murder, the young sicario hitman was also the primary suspect in half a dozen other homicides.

Emilia knew if she could prove Tito committed the other murders, he’d stay in jail. Cases had to be ironclad these days. Judges were routinely bribed to free criminals on the basis of technical or procedural errors. Tito might beat one murder rap, but not six.

A fluorescent ceiling light buzzed faintly as Emilia examined the contents of the bin. A hoodie, a pair of cross trainers, a book by Walter Isaacson, a key ring, a Mont Blanc pen, and a black notebook with a hard cover.

Emilia leaned against the steel shelves and gingerly unfastened the loop of elastic that kept the notebook closed. A cubist logo adorned the inside front cover. The facing page provided a space for the owner’s name. It was blank.

The silky pages were cream with a faint black rule, heavy enough to keep the ink from the Mont Blanc fountain pen from bleeding through.

The first half of the notebook was filled with names, followed by a number and a date.

Filip Soares Villahermosa, 106, 10 December 2019

Luisa Diaz Moreno, 24, 11 June 2020

Julio Rosas Peña, 58, 16 January 2021.

Emilia slipped the notebook into her shoulder bag and added the key ring.

Alvaro raised his eyebrows as Emilia walked out of the locker. “Good hunting?” he asked.

“Not today,” Emilia lied, adding a rueful grin. She gave him a kiss, promised to have coffee with his family after Mass on Sunday, and walked out.

As head of the evidence locker, Alvaro had the power to add or subtract. Win favors or punish enemies. He kept the position by knowing everyone’s secrets and not flaunting the rewards that came his way.

Now and then, like today, Emilia availed herself of Alvaro’s position. That’s how things got done.

She loved her cousin.

But that didn’t mean she trusted him.



Book Review True Fiction

TRUE FICTION by Lee Goldberg

This outrageously campy thriller is pure escapism. Prepare to suspend disbelief, enjoy a zany premise, and get carried away.

Ian Ludlow, author of the he-man soldier of fortune Clint Straker thriller series, is a former TV writer from L.A. who is nothing like his heroic protagonist. But Ian is famous enough to be invited to a CIA-sponsored retreat with other action-adventure writers to dream up villainous scenarios so the Agency can prepare for the world’s emerging threats.

(Note: the CIA has lots of folks imaginative enough to write their own scenarios. See blog series above, thanks 🙂

Two years later, Ian is on a book tour in Seattle when the crazy scenario he developed for the CIA actually happens. Panicked, he reaches out to the other retreat writers, only to find out that they are all dead.

Suddenly, Ian’s recent rash of accidents don’t seem so random. When another attempt is made on his life, he goes on the run, dragging along a dog walker who works part-time for his publisher.

Ian doesn’t know the retreat wasn’t sponsored by the CIA but by a power-hungry corporation determined to use his scenario to take over US national security agencies. Ian is a loose end that needs to get tidied up.

Knowing that he’s being tracked, Ian needs help. Luckily the TV show he wrote starred the sort of help he needs. As the TV show comes into focus, it’s one of the funniest parts of the book.

Hollywood and the Vine. The tagline of the TV show is hysterical: Half man, half tree. All cop.

Sort of Starsky and Hutch meet The Ents.

Overall, the pace is slick, the writing is punchy, the situations are almost believable, and the campy fun never stops.

Although TRUE FICTION wraps neatly at the end, Ian’s saga continues. I can’t wait to grab the next book in this series.

Find TRUE FICTION on Amazon.



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Mystery Ahead 4 Apr 2021 😎 Fake News | Shooters | THURSDAY MURDER CLUB

Mystery Ahead 21 Feb 2021 😎 Winter Survival | Explosion! | THE COMPLAINTS

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. Polar odyssey

For those sick and tired of A) pandemic, and B) cold weather, meet Lt. Victor Campbell, a personal hero. In 1912, he kept his team alive through an unendurable winter on Antarctica’s Inexpressible Island.

I wrote about it here:


2. 300+

A giant thanks to all who rated CLIFF DIVER, the first Detective Emilia Cruz mystery, on Amazon. It’s great to kick off a series with a rating of 4.5/5 with over 300 readers weighing in. Thank you very much!

Find CLIFF DIVER on Amazon.


3. And the winner is . . .

More thanks to all who answered my question in the last edition of Mystery Ahead! A prequel to the GALLIANO CLUB series won with 92% of the vote.

How’s this for a working title?




In the upcoming GALLIANO CLUB series, the Galliano Club’s jack-of-all-trades Luca Lombardo is at his cousin Enzo’s farm outside Lido, New York, when the unexpected happens.

“Pa! Pa!” The back door slammed. Matilda and Rocco jostled each other as they ran into the dining room.

“Pa, you should see this,” Rocco said. “The pumpkin patch is fizzing.”

“Fizzing?” Enzo stood up and threw his napkin on the table. “What are you talking about?”

“Fourth of July sparklers,” Matilda said excitedly.

“Sparklers? We don’t have any sparklers.” Enzo pushed the girl toward Rosaria. “Stay with your mother.”

Luca and Enzo ran out the back door. In the murky twilight, they followed Rocco around the side of the barn and into the field ridged with frozen furrows. A cow lowed from inside the barn, informing the universe that she was ready for the evening milking. A second cow took up the refrain.
Despite the cows, Luca heard the sizzle before he saw the line of sparks racing across the ground. It was travelling straight toward the hay silo by the barn.

“Look, Pa!” Rocco knelt in the dirt. “It’s a great big firecracker.”

Enzo began shouting, but Luca shot forward on wings of fear. He snatched Rocco around the waist and pulled him off his feet. The next second, the silo exploded with a deafening roar, the ground rose like an angry ocean, and Luca was lofted backwards, both arms still wrapped around the boy.

They slammed into the ground. Luca rolled on top of Rocco as debris rained down. Clumps of hay, shards of tin, and scraps of lumber battered his back and shoulders. Roiling echoes like the booming beat of a drum battered his ears. Luca’s mouth filled with frozen grass and the taste of bile.


More about the forthcoming GALLIANO CLUB series here:






We all know and love Ian Rankin’s iconic and irascible, not to mention irreverent, Edinburgh detective John Rebus. He’s a heavy drinker, perpetually on the outs with higher authority, and has a murky sense of professional ethics.

Rankin practically invented the tartan noir genre with this character. The Rebus plots are complex, motivations are every shade of gray, and the streets and skyline of Edinburgh are on full display. If you haven’t read a John Rebus novel, you have my condolences.

But this isn’t a Rebus novel.

THE COMPLAINTS introduces a new character into Rankin’s familiar Edinburgh crime fiction landscape. Malcolm Fox is a well-respected inspector in the Complaints department, which in the US we’d call Internal Affairs. In short, he investigates crimes committed by other cops, which doesn’t necessarily make him a popular guy outside of his tight-knit team.

Unlike Rebus, Fox isn’t a drinker but a recovering alcoholic. Divorced, a bit stiff, wears a suit and suspenders every day. Drives a Volvo.

As the book opens, Fox is wrapping up a case against a cop who is taking kickbacks. The cop has powerful allies but Fox has prevailed. Now, Fox is asked to look into another cop. Jamie Breck is on the career fast track but might be part of an online child porn ring.

But before Fox can start the new probe, his sister’s abusive partner is murdered. Breck is assigned as lead detective. Fox’s bosses say to ignore the obvious conflict of interest and stay on the child porn ring investigation by tagging along with Breck as he investigates the murder.

What happens next is the careful wrapping of multiple streams of mystery into single strand to snare the real culprits. And there are many. Fox and Breck begin swapping details about the murder victim and his associates, which in turn tracks back to . . . which in turn leads to . . .

Sorry, no spoilers apart from saying the climax is superb.

Complicated, but believable, Rankin gives Fox layers and layers of deception to peel away. Along the way we grow to like Fox. He’s starchy, but clever. Honest, but able to deceive.

Fox appears in the most recent John Rebus novels, including IN A HOUSE OF LIES but he’s best met in THE COMPLAINTS. Highly recommended.




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Mystery Ahead 4 Apr 2021 😎 Fake News | Shooters | THURSDAY MURDER CLUB

Mystery Ahead 7 Feb 2021 😎 A, B, or C | Blackmail tips | MOONFLOWER MURDERS

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. Your vote needed

Would you be interested in a free intro to the forthcoming GALLIANO CLUB series? If so, would you prefer:

A  Prequel story introducing the main characters,

B  The first chapter of the first book, or

C  Who’s Who guide to the series.

Just reply to this email with your vote for A, B, or C.

Thank you!

2. Where to find Detective Emilia Cruz and Galliano Club news

If you are looking for the latest news about the forthcoming GALLIANO CLUB series, including the family stories that inspired the books, find it all here:

Not to be outdone, go inside the Detective Emilia Cruz series with my research into Mexican cartels, Acapulco’s sand and sin, and more:



In the upcoming GALLIANO CLUB series, Benny Rotolo is a Chicago hitman who ran afoul of Al Capone and fled to the relative safety of Lido, New York. His breakfast conversation with new friend Al Genovese takes an interesting turn.

“Not my problem.” Benny rattled the newspaper to signal the conversation was done.

“Like I said, I figure you would know what to do with my information. With what I seen.” Genovese was clearly angling for some dough.

Benny started to say the information racket was small potatoes compared to beer and hookers, and that Genovese should shut up and go back to the farm. But then Benny remembered Vinnie Salerno, a sometime pal from Chicago. Big Vinnie always had new suits and expensive dames on his arm. Nobody ever shot at Big Vinnie, neither.

“I know a buddy,” Benny said, making up his mind. “He’s got this system. Say he’s got a friend whose got the goods on somebody but doesn’t want to tell the mark direct, just in case they finger him to the cops. So he writes a letter and sticks it in two envelopes, and sends it to my buddy Vinnie. Different post office, is the trick, see?”

“Okay,” Genovese said dubiously.

“Vinnie takes the letter in the clean envelope to the post office and mails it to the mark. This way the letter comes from a place the mark don’t know at all. It can’t get traced, see?” Benny snapped his fingers to make the point. “The mark pays, the friend picks up the dough, and Vinnie gets a cut. Everybody’s happy.”

“Except the mark,” Genovese said.

“That’s right,” Benny said, pleased that Genovese caught on so fast.

“Do you think your buddy would help?”

“Sure,” Benny said. “But Big Vinnie don’t work for nothing.”

“Okay,” Genovese said again.

“You ever been in the information racket before?” Benny asked.

“No,” Genovese said. “I have cows.”

Benny slurped up more coffee and regarded the cafone across the table. A rookie partner with more brains than Nick and dirt to sell.

This could work out real good.

With Big Vinnie’s system, extortion was fool proof. Benny could steal the Galliano Club right out from under Vito Bottini’s feet, with Bottini’s own money.

More about the forthcoming GALLIANO CLUB series here:



Moonflower Murders on Amazon

MOONFLOWER MURDERS by Anthony Horowitz

In this sequel to the hugely popular MAGPIE MURDERS, book editor Susan Ryeland must once again confront swarmy bestselling mystery author Alan Conway. But this time, Conway is already dead.

Following the messy collapse of her publishing house thanks to Conway in MAGPIE MURDERS, Susan is the co-owner of a hotel on Crete when she is contacted by the owners of a posh hotel in England. Their daughter has gone missing after claiming that an 8-year-old murder at the hotel sent the wrong man to prison.

Before disappearing, she said that the real killer was revealed in Atticus Pünd Takes the Case, a whodunit featuring Alan Conway’s mild-mannered German private detective. The distraught parents convince Susan–as editor of the Atticus Pünd books she knows them better than anyone still alive–to investigate the connection between the novel, the murder, and their missing daughter.

Leaving a shaky personal life behind in Crete, Susan flies to England. Of course, trouble ensues.

Not everyone wants her help. Everyone Susan encounters has something to hide, from the missing woman’s sister to the man jailed for murder. The victim gave several people reason to wish him dead and there’s a sordid link between him and author Alan Conway.

Susan’s contacts try to help, but the real clues may be in Conway’s novel.

So when Susan settles down to read it, not as the editor but from the perspective of current events, we do, too.

MOONFLOWER MURDERS is spliced in half by Atticus Pünd Takes the Case, including cover and copyright notice. Basically, we get two novels in one!

Just like Susan, we read Atticus Pünd Takes the Case to find clues. Yet, this Agatha Christie-style whodunit set in the 1950’s bears little resemblance to current events. While author Alan Conway was known to hide riddles in his books and many characters are recognizable as real people from the hotel, Susan remains baffled.

But not for long.

The book-within-a-book format is brilliant, making for multiple red herrings, wonderful details, and superb subplots. The character of Atticus Pünd stands with Hercule Poirot. It’s easy to imagine this fictional character created by a fictional character coming to life on the screen.

Don’t try to guess whodunit in either the current timeline or Atticus Pünd Takes the Case. Just let yourself be carried along.

The writer/creator of BBC television series Midsomer Murders and Foyle’s War, Anthony Horowitz is a phenomenal writer. MOONFLOWER MURDERS stands alone, but if you get the chance, start with MAGPIE MURDERS. Highly recommended.




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Mystery Ahead 4 Apr 2021 😎 Fake News | Shooters | THURSDAY MURDER CLUB

Mystery Ahead 24 Jan 2021 😎 Books on tap | Blabbermouth | SNOW

Welcome to another edition of the Mystery Ahead newsletter, with fresh #booknews, thrilling #excerpts, and #reviews of must-read mysteries.

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Galliano Club webpage

1. One beer, coming up

A new website page about the GALLIANO CLUB books is on tap, with descriptions of all 3 books and historical images from the city that inspired the Prohibition-era series.

Find it here:

Set in 1926, the series takes you to a mill town in upstate New York during Prohibition. Gangsters, bootleggers, murder, love, and jealousy shake the foundations of the Galliano Club, a hangout for Italian mill workers.

The fictional upstate town of Lido, New York, is based on my hometown of Rome, New York. My late grandfather’s experiences as Deputy Sheriff of Oneida County and my mother’s childhood tales underpin the books.

2. Great book deals x 2

While you wait for the GALLIANO CLUB books, my author friends are filling the gap with great deals on new reads!

– DEAD SILENT features books by 18 mystery authors in one GIANT box set for Kindle readers. Dan Petrosini, Fiona Quinn, J.D. Weston and more are included. The introductory price is only $0.99! I don’t know how long that price will last.

– This new collection from StoryOrigin features 40+ mystery and thriller books which are all free to read on Kindle Unlimited:


In the upcoming GALLIANO CLUB series, Benny Rotolo is a Chicago hitman who ran afoul of Al Capone and fled to the relative safety of Lido, New York. His breakfast is interrupted by a blabbermouth with information to sell.

“Mr. Rotolo?” One of Lido’s local yokels stood by Benny’s booth. A real cafone, from the smell of cow dung that clung to him.

“You know who I am?” Benny grunted.

“Sure, you’re Benny Rotolo, the big wheel from Chicago.” The farmer twisted a tweed cap between his hands.

“Sure, that’s right.” Benny took a second look at the cafone. Wool jacket, dungarees, old-fashioned moustache on a head like a pumpkin, but Benny liked his attitude. Real respectful-like.

“I’m Al Genovese,” the fella said. “I’ve got a farm on Bell Road. Biggest in the county.”

Benny swallowed some coffee. “You selling eggs or what?”

“Information,” Genovese said. “The kind of information someone like you might find useful.”

“Someone like me?” Benny wasn’t sure if he liked the implication or not.

“Someone with street smarts,” Genovese hastened to clarify.

Benny gave Genovese a hard look but the fella didn’t wilt. “Okay,” Benny said. “Have a seat.”

Genovese slid into the booth across from Benny. The waiter came by with the coffeepot, but a scowl sent him scurrying away.

“So what’s the scoop?” Benny asked when the waiter was out of earshot.

“The newspaper’s wrong,” Genovese said, with a meaningful glance at the pages on the table. “The story about Nick Procopio dumping Jimmy Destito in the river. He didn’t do it.”

“Yeah, says who,” Benny said, ready for some scam.

“The night Jimmy Destito went missing, I saw Vito Bottini’s Chrysler drive down to the riverbank,” Genovese said, lowering his voice. “Bottini owns the Galliano Club. I think Bottini and his barman Luca Lombardo put Destito in the river.”

More about the forthcoming GALLIANO CLUB series here:


SNOW book review

Book review SNOW by John Banville


SNOW by John Banville

This book got a hearty endorsement from several hard-core mystery reader friends and it lived up to expectations in every way except one.

1957. It’s a freezing, snowy winter in Ireland. Detective St. John (pronounced Sinjun as he takes pains to note) Strafford is sent to the country home of the Osborne family to investigate the murder of a visiting Catholic priest.

It’s quickly apparent that this is a locked room mystery. Someone in this highly dysfunctional family must be the villain.

Ireland’s troubled religious history and enduring divisions are on full display. The family is Protestant, as is Strafford, but the priest was an avid horseman and hunter who was great pals with the dad, a retired military man.

Of course, the all powerful archbishop in Dublin wants everything hushed up. Strafford is caught between the powerful Catholic Church, a long-suffering boss in the police department, and his own notions of justice.

Everyone in the family qualifies as a suspect. The lady of the house is an addict who seduces Strafford, the son and daughter dislike parents and ancestral home, and the father might have murdered his first wife. No one seems terribly upset about the dead priest in the library.

The author’s sense of time and place is excellent. The writing is superb, with descriptions that lure us into this cold, murky winter investigation.

Strafford makes keen observations about the family as they drift through the investigation like actors on a stage fulfilling typecast roles. The author cleverly makes Strafford an actor on the stage, too.

He’s the second lead who creates ripples that are resolved in Act III but isn’t enough of a presence that we remember the actor’s name after the curtain falls. Strafford is still finding his way, still unsure of what he wants out of life, and that makes him an enigmatic officer of the law.

SNOW has the same vibe as the tv series Endeavour, about the young Inspector Morse. If SNOW is ever made into a movie, actor Shaun Evans would make the perfect St. John Strafford. More about the tv series on imdb:

Given the quality of writing, my one complaint about SNOW was that the motive was sadly unimaginative. Basically, we’ve seen this before. Or maybe I have just read too many mystery novels.

Find SNOW on Amazon


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Mystery Ahead 4 Apr 2021 😎 Fake News | Shooters | THURSDAY MURDER CLUB

Mystery Ahead 10 Jan 2021 😎 What’s Ahead | Chicago-style | SLEEP NO MORE

Welcome to the website edition of the Mystery Ahead newsletter, with fresh #booknews, thrilling #excerpts, and #reviews of must-read mysteries.
Want it in your inbox? CLICK HERE.


Galliano Club 3 book series

1. A brand new year

Happy New Year and welcome to 2021’s first edition of Mystery Ahead. Let’s embrace the new year with optimism.

My themes for the year are gratitude and organization. I’m grateful for friends who keep me active, family stories that underpin the forthcoming GALLIANO CLUB books, and readers like you who make this writing journey a joy.

Of equal importance, 2021 will be my Year of Organization.

The primary goal is to finally organize my office. Who knows what I’ll find in there!

What’s your theme for the year?

2. Meet Me at the GALLIANO CLUB

Many things were disrupted in 2020, including release dates for the 3-book GALLIANO CLUB series. New dates are still being worked out. Watch this space.

Set in 1926, the series takes you to a mill town in upstate New York during Prohibition. Gangsters, bootleggers, murder, love, and jealousy shake the foundations of the Galliano Club, a hangout for Italian mill workers.

The fictional upstate town of Lido, New York, is based on my hometown of Rome, New York. My late grandfather’s experiences as Deputy Sheriff of Oneida County and my mother’s childhood tales underpin the books.

Read more on my blog:


In the upcoming GALLIANO CLUB series, Benny Rotolo is a Chicago hitman who ran afoul of Al Capone and fled to the relative safety of Lido, New York. But things haven’t worked out and Benny is now at a crossroads.

Benny nearly spit out a mouthful of coffee. Hymie couldn’t be dead. He was Benny’s ticket back to Chicago.

But the article was the real deal, not the funny papers. Henry Earl Wojciechowski, aka Hymie Weiss, was shot by gunmen on October 11, 1926. Weiss and four associates had attended the jury selection for the murder trial of Joe Saltis earlier that day. They parked cars on Superior Street and proceeded on foot to Schofield’s Flowers, Weiss’s place of business, on State Street across from Holy Name Cathedral. Gunmen hidden in a nearby rooming house opened fire, killing Weiss and associates.

A slow burn started in Benny’s gut that had nothing to do with the food at McSweeney’s. Al Capone and Hymie Weiss were deadly enemies. Hymie was the only man that Al Capone feared, and everybody in the Chicago rackets business knew it. Nobody else but Capone and his chief enforcer, Frank Nitti, could have rubbed out Hymie so methodically.

Without Hymie’s protection, there was no way Benny could go back to Chicago. Al Capone’s torpedoes would cut him down before he got off the train at Union Station.

All of Benny’s plans were in trouble, it seemed. The beer business wasn’t exactly coining money. Fisher lost the Lido Outfit account book and turned into a cream puff. Nick got himself dead. Bodies floated out of the river.

Now Hymie was gone, too. Chicago was off the short list of what to do next.

NOTE — For the historian in all of us, Hymie Weiss was a real person. He led Chicago’s North Side gang after Al Capone’s outfit took out florist and thug Dean O’Banion in 1924. Two years later, Weiss was murdered in a meticulously planned operation.

Weiss was a rough customer. According to the Chicago Tribune, “At the inquest over Hymie Weiss his brother gave this precious bit of testimony: ‘I saw him only once in twenty years. That was when he shot me six years ago.’”

More about the forthcoming GALLIANO CLUB series here:




The late P.D. James is the much-awarded doyenne of British crime fiction, with over 21 books and innumerable short stories to her name. Many books feature her detective-poet hero Adam Dalgliesh. She inspired scores of mystery writers, no doubt including Louise Penny’s Armand Gamache series.

The subtitle of SLEEP NO MORE is “Six Murderous Tales.” These stories are each brilliant little gems of smooth writing, satisfying twists, and Britian’s class-conscious social landscape. Each is a relatively short read but packed with page-turning tension.

The style puts us in the mindset of criminal or accomplice. We’re immersed in motive, memories, and sublime rationalizations.

Most are told in the first person, including the brilliant opener, “The Yo-yo,” in which a schoolboy manages a murder. “Mr. Millcroft’s Birthday” had the kind of twist ending that makes you simply admire the author’s cleverness.

My favorite is “The Victim,” narrated by a man who seeks revenge, only to become a different type of victim. The prose is terrific. Witness this memorable line: “My mind fed voraciously on the thought of his death, savoured it, began systematically and with dreadful pleasure to plan it.”

If you haven’t read P.D. James before, this little volume is a wonderful place to start.

Find SLEEP NO MORE on Amazon


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Book review: Sherlock Holmes, twice as nice

Book review: Sherlock Holmes, twice as nice

A KNIFE IN THE FOG and DUST AND SHADOW are both sensational thrillers. The two books have a few things in common, including exceptional historical research, an investigative trio, and a satisfying conclusion, yet each offers an original take on Victorian London’s most heinous true crime.

Sherlock Holmes vs Jack the Ripper

A KNIFE IN THE FOG by Bradley Harper goes beyond the familiar Sherlock Holmes construct with a truly unique set-up: all of the main characters are real-life historical figures who influenced Victorian society. The book rings with authenticity and the historical elements are executed faultlessly.​​​​​

The narrator is Arthur Conan Doyle himself.

In the summer of 1888, Doyle is a practicing doctor in  Portsmouth and has published A Study in Scarlett, the story which introduced Sherlock Holmes. His wife is pregnant with their first child and his future looks to be that of a general practitioner and family man, writing stories on the side to augment his income and amuse himself.

Doyle receives a summons to London from the office of former prime minister William Gladstone, whose secretary has read Doyle’s story and wishes him to become a paid consultant to find the killer terrorizing London’s East End.  Doyle agrees on condition that his former mentor, Professor Joseph Bell, joins the effort.  Bell, a Scottish surgeon and lecturer at the medical school of the University of Edinburgh and widely regarded as the real-life inspiration for the character of Sherlock Holmes, soon joins Doyle in London.

A third real-life figure joins Doyle and Bell. Margaret Harkness is an investigative journalist and social commentator whose writings expose London’s poverty and social injustices. Often using the pen name John Law and disguising herself as a man, Margaret will be an invaluable guide and ally.

By giving Doyle a voice of his own, author Harper has created a character as appealing as Holmes. Doyle is considerate and charming, with the formalities and vocabulary of the British gentleman of 1888. Doyle draws the reader into his confidence as the three develop a working relationship, navigate Victorian social rules as well as London’s dark and dangerous passageways, and encounter Jack the Ripper’s missives and victims. Margaret is tireless and Doyle’s growing feelings for her provide a quiet complication.

With deductive reasoning worthy of Sherlock Holmes, the three encounter danger and deceit on the way to identifying Jack the Ripper. The end is a heart-stopper.

DUST AND SHADOW by Lyndsay Faye delivers a more familiar construct in which Dr. John Watson narrates an investigation conducted by the famous detective Sherlock Holmes. Watson, as in the Conan Doyle stories, is the perfect everyman foil to his brilliant friend. Faye amps up the legendary Holmes formula, however, immersing the reader in the details of life with Holmes: his moodiness, restlessness, investigative prowess, the many trials of Mrs. Hudson the housekeeper. Holmes’s dialogue crackles with acerbic personality and sharp wit. I swear I heard Benedict Cumberbatch’s voice in my head.

An investigative trio is also formed in DUST AND SHADOW when Holmes hires Mary Ann Monk, the friend of one of the Ripper’s victims. The investigation initially turns on the whereabouts of an Army man supposedly seen with an early Riper victim.

Warned by his Baker Street Irregulars—the group of street urchins that provide Holmes with intelligence—Holmes and Watson are able to arrive first on more than one murder scene. When Holmes is stabbed in pursuit of the Ripper, the gutter press begins to question if he is the killer.  With his credibility strained and vigilantes out to get him, Holmes goes undercover to ferret out the Ripper. Mary Ann and Watson carry on until the three reunite for a stunning and wholly believable climax.

If you are a Sherlock Holmes fan or a student of the Ripper’s crimes, both A KNIFE IN THE FOG and DUST AND SHADOW are unmissable treats. The only spoiler I’ll reveal is that the identity of the Ripper is different in each book. Both are highly recommended.

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Mystery and thriller author. Retired Central Intelligence Agency intel officer. Dog mom to Hazel and Dutch. Recovering Italian handbag addict.


Detective Emilia Cruz series

Find the Detective Emilia Cruz mystery series on Amazon

Book Review: 2 Tickets to Venice

Book Review: 2 Tickets to Venice

Venice is one of the most beautiful cities in the world. Architecture, canals, and history make it a prime setting for a mystery. Two favorite authors, Donna Leon and Martin Cruz Smith have new books set in Venice that take you on two very different journeys to La Serenissima.

THE WATERS OF ETERNAL YOUTH by Donna Leon is as intricate, glorious, and absorbing as a trip to Venice can be. As Commissario Guido Brunetti, aided by fellow detective Claudia Griffoni—a relatively new character in this long-running series—and the stouthearted uniformed cop Vianello, you walk the riva on the side of the canals, you crowd with them into the vaporetto water taxis, and you share the unfamiliarity of riding in a car. But most of all, you are inside Brunetti’s questioning mind as he investigates an accident that occurred 15 years ago which left a young woman with the mind of a child. Her grandmother, an aging socialite who runs a foundation dedicated to preserving Venice’s sinking architecture, believes that her granddaughter did not fall into a canal by accident. With little to go on besides the woman’s intuition, Brunetti begins to poke into the past. In the process, he must enlist allies, manipulate his superior, and uncover a related murder. Much of the time he comes up empty-handed, but Leon leaves tiny clues like diamonds in a handful of sand. The writing is brilliant, the characters are fully-developed and endearingly familiar, while the meals never failed to make me reach for the nearest Italian cookbook.

Related: Book Review: The Golden Egg by Donna Leon

Unlike some of the other Brunetti mysteries, this one closes with all the loose threads woven into a cloth nice enough to be the pocket square in Brunetti’s suit jacket. Having read all the books in the series, THE WATERS OF ETERNAL YOUTH (a double entendre but I can’t say why) ranks in my personal Top 5.

I consider Martin Cruz Smith to be a role model as well as a favorite writer. Author of the ground-breaking Arkady Renko series set in Russia, he is also the author of several romantic thrillers. After a several-year break, he’s got a new website, new book covers, and THE GIRL FROM VENICE is his new romantic thriller.

It is the end of WWII. Venice is riven by suspicion and fear as Mussolini’s regime cracks apart. The action takes in the muddy lagoon and poor fishing communities that fringe the palazzos and piazzas of central Venice.

Cenzo Vianello is a barefoot fisherman barely scraping by and hoping to avoid the chaos of his collapsing country. The Germans continue to prop up Mussolini and Cenzo frequently runs into German patrols as he cruises shallow waters in his fishing boat. One night, he finds a dead woman floating in the lagoon.

But Guilia isn’t as dead as he thought. A strong swimmer, she faked her death to escape the Gestapo after her Jewish family’s hiding place was betrayed. Cenzo kills a German officer hunting for her, then hides the girl in his fishing shack on the outskirts of Venice.

Cenzo has enough problems without being arrested for murder or protecting a Jewish girl for whom the Germans are hunting. He was kicked out of the Italian Air Force when he refused to gas the populace in Ethiopia. His wife was stolen by his brother who is a famous actor and Mussolini insider. She died, leaving Cenzo and his brother with unfinished business.

Turning to a friend from his piloting days, Cenzo arranges for Guilia to be spirited out of Venice and sent to the partisans in the mountains. When the friend is killed, Cenzo goes looking for Guilia in an odyssey that sees him reunited with his brother and plunged into the strange court of Mussolini’s last days. While I was impatient for him to find Guilia, the book became an absolutely fascinating glimpse into this suspenseful snippet of WWII history, as seen through some superbly drawn characters: a would-be moviemaker, the wife of a Brazilian diplomat who is also an expert forger, and Cenzo’s matinee-idol brother who is also Mussolini’s radio spokesman.

Cenzo is a marvelous vehicle for this fishing trip through Italian history. He’s decent and unambitious; hardly fearless but willing to find his courage when he needs to. The attraction between him and Guilia, who is both younger and much better educated, develops slowly. You can see why it works—improbably—for each of them.

All of the pieces were in place for a big and stunning climax, but the ending wrapped without too much drama. There were also a few continuity errors; for example, Cenzo and Guilia have sex for the first time at least twice. But the prose is beautiful, the sense of history is remarkable, and THE GIRL FROM VENICE is worth a prime spot on your TBR list.

These books made me wonder if Venice is really sinking. Yes, it is. Read about the looming issue in this article from The Guardian.

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Mystery and thriller author. Retired Central Intelligence Agency intel officer. Dog mom to Hazel and Dutch. Recovering Italian handbag addict.


Detective Emilia Cruz series

Find the Detective Emilia Cruz mystery series on Amazon

Book Review: Weapons of Mass Deception

Book Review: Weapons of Mass Deception

Like spy and military thrillers? Books based on current events? Polished prose? Great plots? WEAPONS OF MASS DECEPTION is for you.

WEAPONS is a high caliber thriller, using a very plausible Iraq War scenario as its core: Saddam’s sons move the country’s nuclear weapons to Iran for safekeeping as US forces begin to move against his regime. They use the same frenemy as welcomed Iraq’s fighter aircraft in the Gulf War, knowing the terrible gamble they are taking.

That frenemy turns out to be three half-brothers. One is a ayatollah, one a military intelligence officer, and one whom the other two are able to manipulate into joining a sleeper cell in South America.

Related post: Book Review: Smokescreen by Khaled Talib

The action moves from the Middle East to the US where the action follows main character Brendan McHugh as he graduates from the Naval Academy, becomes a SEAL, and fights in Iraq. By accident he runs into one of the Iranian brothers, beginning an odd connection that underpins the rest of the novel. McHugh’s career is stalled by a serious combat injury, taking him in an unforeseen direction during which he comes full circle back to the Iraq war and the hunt for nuclear weapons.

Some of the best parts of the novel are scenes in which the three Iranian brothers create their private nuclear arsenal with the appropriated Iraqi weapons. They are a team in some ways, but also three separate entities who have different motivations, backgrounds, and personal lives. The set up is plausible and wonderfully described with a great visual narrative.

After such a phenomenal story, the ending wasn’t the big deal I expected but upon reflection probably more in keeping with real life. I hope this writing team of Bruns and Olson has more to offer and the McHugh character is welcome to repeat his starring role. Highly recommended.

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