My Fijian romance and other Unforgettable Taxi Tales

My Fijian romance and other Unforgettable Taxi Tales

To get in the right mindset for NARCO NOIR, in which Detective Emilia Cruz goes undercover as a taxi driver to catch a killer, friends and I are sharing some outrageously memorable taxi rides.

Which of these are you happy to have missed?

Related: The True Story Behind NARCO NOIR


Carmen AmatoArriving in Fiji alone at 1:00 am after a 12-hour flight was unnerving but that’s the way the flights went so there I was, in the middle of the Pacific, with a heavy suitcase, an even heavier bag of scuba gear, and reservations for a hotel that was 20 miles away. I’d never been in Fiji before.

A nation of islands, Fiji was a former British colony. When the Brits found out that it was the ideal climate for sugar cane, Indian workers from the subcontinent were brought in the raise the crop. Sugar became Fiji’s main export, sweetening British candy and giving rise to local rum production as well. But land in Fiji–and accompanying political power–is reserved for native-born Fijians, disenfranchising the Indian population. The Indian population’s economic and political power grew with the population, until an Indian was elected prime minister. A coup by a native Fijian army officer was swift and bloodless. It returned the former native Fijian prime minister to an interim status but a second coup occurred when the army ringleader took power himself.

I arrived two weeks after the second coup, when the situation was still delicate.

I hauled my heavy bags outside the terminal and got directed into a taxi driven by a turbaned Indian gentleman. We headed off in the pitch-black Pacific night for Suva, the capital.

Half a mile down the road we encountered an army roadblock. A single Fijian soldier stood guard, wearing a military uniform shirt tucked into a traditional Fijian sulu, or kilt. He had an assault rifle, a flashlight, and a long wooden barrier.

Let me digress here and say that Fijian men are the most handsome men on earth. Apologies to my husband (whom I hadn’t yet met) but Fijian men are Pacific gods. All are about seven feet tall, muscular to the point of sculpture, and have wavy dark hair.

So back to the taxi. We stopped in front of the barrier.

The soldier, who stood about 6’8”, approached. The driver stared ahead, steering wheel locked in a death grip. He didn’t say a word but shook like he was caught in a high wind. Sweat poured down his face.

The situation seemed up to me. I rolled down my window, smiled shakily, and held out my American passport.

The soldier bent down to peer through the open window. Up close he was gorgeous; dark mustache, lose-yourself-in-them brown eyes, perfect teeth. “Hello,” he said, making it sound as if I was the woman he’d been waiting for all his life.

“Hello,” I replied, now confused as well as nervous.

He stepped away from the car and studied my passport in the beam of his flashlight. There were no streetlights, no other cars, the airport far behind, the empty road unspooling in front of us only to disappear into the darkness. The taxi driver continued to shake like soupy gelatin.

The soldier came back to the car and leaned down to look at me again through the window. He handed back the passport. “Goodbye,” he said, infusing his voice with Casablanca-like drama.

“Goodbye,” I said, matching his emotional tone.

He moved the barrier, the taxi driver gave a little sob, and we sped off, leaving Sargent Fiji by the side of the road.

Get NARCO NOIR on Amazon now >>>


Khaled Talib’s English Lesson

Narco NoirWe were two, my cousin and I, sitting comfortably at the back of a taxi in Singapore, heading to Shenton Way, the business district. With a mild traffic and fair weather, we chatted away as the Chinese driver took us to our destination.

We didn’t suspect anything since the driver showed no signs of distress, and the ride was smooth. But as we neared our destination, his behaviour became erratic. In broken English, the driver blasted us for speaking proper English. My cousin and I stared at each other, mouth agape. What just happened?

In a jerky voice, the driver complained we didn’t have to rub it in that we spoke better English than him. We didn’t reply to the complex-ridden man and allowed him to ramble on. We assumed he had an unpleasant encounter earlier, possibly with another passenger, which may have hit a nerve.

At least we arrived at our destination in one piece, and obviously, someone badly needed a holiday.

Khaled Talib is the Singapore-based author of thrillers SMOKESCREEN, GUN KISS, and SPIRAL. Check out >>> The Big Thrill Interview with Khaled Talib


Jerry Last’s lesson in speaking the wrong language in the Netherlands

Narco NoirEarly in my scientific career I flew to Amsterdam in The Netherlands to present a paper at a major scientific meeting. This was going to be my first ever visit to Holland.

I took a taxi from the airport to my hotel downtown, a pretty long trip.  I gave the driver the address.  He nodded and off we went.  I asked if he could tell me what we were passing as we drove along.  He told me his English was too limited to do that, so we drove along in silence. I don’t speak Dutch.

I’d had a few classes in German in college and grad school, and the languages are pretty similar. I asked him in German if he could tell me the about what we were driving by. I knew some words, but I’m sure my accent was incredibly bad and my verbs were all in the present tenses, randomly sprinkled into my sentences.

My driver wasn’t happy.  He delivered a lecture in perfectly fluent English about his generation’s experiences in World War II requiring him to listen to more German than any respectable Dutch person would want to hear in a lifetime. He then explained to me how unwelcome my attempt to speak German to him was.

Like most people I’ve met in Holland he was basically a very friendly person, proud of his native country.  Once the floodgates of English speech had opened, he was downright chatty and a pretty good tour guide.

As we neared my hotel, he very sternly admonished me never again to experiment with speaking German to a Dutch person, all of whom, especially in the big cities, could be assumed to speak English as a second language.

Jerry Last is the author of the Roger and Suzanne mystery series. Check out ABRA CADAVER, from the series on Amazon: >>>


Vee James on the art of racing in Naples

Vee James1995, Naples, Italy

My buddy and I had the most beautiful view, sitting out on our little Sorrento hotel balcony overlooking Naples Bay. Beyond the glittering city of Naples, Vesuvius loomed like the sleepy monster it is. The small disadvantage was that we had to take the short train ride around the bay to get to Naples proper and the one big item on our To Do list was to make it to the famous Naples Museum of Archeology. When the ruins of Pompeii and Herculaneum were discovered, Italy’s king financed tunneling operations in order to bring the rich spoils of the cities to him. Later, these treasures, retrieved for their monetary value but preserved for their historical significance, were ensconced in this brilliant museum.

We learned the museum sat high up on one of the many steep hills in Naples so, in order to save our already aching feet, we hailed a taxi. The swarthy driver nodded curtly. My broken Italian must have been good enough. My friend, a tall, lanky Texan, sat in front with the driver, and I, the more “compact” of us, sat in the rear. Just as we got the doors shut behind us, the taxi lurched from the curb, our driver answering the protesting horns with his own and dodging as many pedestrians as were dodging him.

No turn was taken at a responsible speed, no lane change was made without peril, no intersection crossed without the threat of oncoming traffic. Hurling up the narrow streets, we hung on tightly to the vinyl handles above our heads and hoped we would live to see the museum.

Just then, at the intersection in front of us, two motorcycles screeched to a halt, barring our taxi’s way. Each cycle had its rider and a passenger, both decked in the snappy blue uniform of the local police. The man on the back had a wooden hexagonal paddle, painted red with bright letters declaring something to the effect that cars should stop for them. Our driver waited just enough time before braking to scare both my friend and I and the policia, who gave him a stern frown and some choice words. A large police car flew through the intersection, accompanied by several more motorcycles, all with lights flashing and sirens wailing. The cycles nearest us sped off to join the others.

Our driver slammed down the gas pedal and we careened across the intersection in a wide, dangerous arc, falling in behind the police motorcade. With speeds reaching motorsport levels, we snaked up through the narrow canyons of buildings, deeper into the Naples neighborhoods.

The rider on the last police motorcycle saw us approaching and frantically began to wave his warning paddle. Our driver, with what can only be described as a demonic grin, rapidly closed the distance. The policeman went from red-faced anger to white-faced terror, waving his paddle like a flyswatter. Just as we got close enough to clip the man’s heels, our driver spun the wheel and took the next sharp left turn, leaving the motorcade behind.

A few minutes later, we exited the taxi on shaky legs, in front of our goal, the huge gray edifice of the museum. It was no surprise to see the taxi roar off down the hill, horn blaring and pedestrians scattering. We shook our heads as we climbed the stone steps.

“Crazy Napoli,” I murmured and looked up. The museum was closed.

Vee James is the humor fantasy author of the Neccabashar series and The Little Ship of Horrors. Find more about Vee James >>>


Jinx Schwartz on riding responsibly

Jinx SchwartzSo, I got to a booksigning/bookfest in central Texas (the name of the town and fest shall remain untold in order to protect the guilty).

The smallish town had no Uber, and only one taxi service. I was at an RV park, and didn’t have a car, so I called for a ride.

Just for background, when I know when it is certain that I will have a couple. I do not drive…at least in towns with cops.

Like many Gringos in Mexico that rule goes down the tubes in places were there are: no pavement, no police, and no rules.

At any rate, I am slightly paranoid about driving anywhere in the US after imbibing, so I left my RV put, and walked to the gate to wait. And wait. And wait.

When I was about to give up, along comes a taxicab.

Since Uber is my ride of choice, I had forgotten what a crappy old taxi looked and smelled like.

My driver was very pleasant. Very. Downright chatty and jovial.

Five minutes into a ten minute ride, my driver lit up a joint, and called a friend. Did I mention he wasn’t wearing a seatbelt, was talking on the phone, taking sips from a suspicious-looking bottle and speeding?

As you can tell, I lived to tell the tale, but caught a ride back with a fellow writer.

Lesson learned? Never take a taxi when sober.

Jinx Schwartz is the author of the Hetta Coffey mystery series. Learn more about Jinx >>>


Reader Phillip Jones on camels, goats, and 6 hours he’ll never get back

From 1996-2000 I taught at the Royal Saudi Naval Academy. Living on a Saudi military base was austere to say the least, we lived in a BOQ, Bachelor Officer Quarters, served 3 meals daily in a mess hall, and expenses for living came to less than $10 monthly. Frequent vacations improved morale, 2 weeks at Hajj, 3 weeks at Ramadan, and usually 4-5 weeks during the summer.

The Saudi Navy frowned on late arrivals from vacations, pay was docked and it was always good to follow guidelines whenever possible. Vacations and plane flights were scheduled to return the evening before classes resumed, to eke every possible moment of pleasure out of the country.

I was returning from the United States and a colleague, Derek Whitefield, was on my same flight back to Riyadh, where we were to catch a smaller plane to fly from the capital to Dammam, next to our Navy Base. We landed in Riyadh, began to pass through security to grab our one hour flight to get back to base, unpack, and get some sleep before we resumed teaching, jetlagged for the next 7 days. Derek was ahead of me in the security line, and they found 5 or 6 bibles in his bags. One Bible was fine, for personal use, but the Saudis strictly prohibited proselytizing any religion but Islam. Since contraband Bibles were found, more security was called, and his bags were double and triple checked again and when I stepped up, my innocent bags were inspected minutely. By the time we got to the gate, plane doors were closed and we were denied boarding.

Dejected, we went to the Saudia Airline counter and checked on the next available flights. The next 3 flights out, both that evening and the next morning, were full and no bookings were possible. What to do? I suggested that we hire a taxi, split the cost, and make a 6 hour, 258 mile trip to get back to work on time. Derek agreed and we searched for a taxi driver willing to drive 6 hours to Dammam, then 6 hours back to Riyadh. We negotiated a price and loaded up in the winter darkness. I sat up front to monitor progress and Derek settled in the back and promptly went to sleep, not a care in the world. During the 6 hour drive through the Saudi desert, the driver kept his overhead light on and read Islamic prayers hanging from the rearview mirror. Since the driver’s attention was constantly distracted, I watched for stray camels, sheep and goats to warn the driver or take the wheel if necessary. We stopped only once or twice at roadblocks, and I would ask the soldier if he thought Saudi Navy instructors would smuggle opium. After peering at me with sleepy eyes, we would be waved on.

After 6 hours of leaning forward and peering into the darkness, we arrived safely on base. I woke Derek from his innocent slumber, and we headed to our rooms, class beginning in 3-4 hours. Derek never apologized for preventing my one hour flight or causing a harrowing 6 hour drive. A letter to Saudi Airlines brought me reimbursement for the entire taxi fare, which I did not share with Derek.


Narco Noir cover reveal

Don’t forget to grab Narco Noir on Amazon >>>

In NARCO NOIR, Acapulco’s first female police detective drives into a Hollywood film starring lies and murder when she goes undercover to catch a killer. A bitter past, maddening clues, and her deepest fears all collide in the 8th book in the award-winning series.

As the camera rolls, Detective Emilia Cruz faces the ultimate decision.

“A thrilling series” — National Public Radio

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


Mystery author Lisa Preston: new series, dinner with Twain & tech advice

Mystery author Lisa Preston: new series, dinner with Twain & tech advice

Fellow mystery author and former cop Lisa Preston stopped by to talk about her new series and share a great protip.

1. Carmen Amato: Lisa, thanks so much for stopping by. We met at the Killer Nashville mystery writer’s conference and discovered that we have a few things in common, like our love of smart dogs!

You are a retired police officer, as well as an equine expert. Why did you add mystery author to the resume?

author Lisa Preston

Lisa Preston: The mystery form is so engaging, a great combination of both character-driven and plot-driven story; I’ve enjoyed reading it and I wanted to write it. When I did my book clubby, psychological thriller and suspense novels, readers wrote emailed asking what was next for those characters, and my agent said it was time for a series. I had this interesting idea of having a horseshoer as an amateur sleuth, and he sold it on a multi-book deal.

Related: 9 Mystery Authors Tell All

2. CA: Your upcoming release (November) is DEAD BLOW. Your main character is a female with a very unique occupation. What can you tell us about her and the book?

Dead Blow by Lisa Preston

LP: Seeds for the mystery in DEAD BLOW were planted in the series debut, THE CLINCHER, which came out a year ago. The main character is Rainy Dale, a young woman with a lot of room for growth. She traces her childhood horse to the fictional small town of Cowdry, Oregon, then stays to try earning a living as a newly minted horseshoer.

She made a breakthrough in THE CLINCHER. In DEAD BLOW, she needs to keep learning to love herself and others, while she solves one of the town’s old mysteries.

3. CA: How do you use setting to create and build suspense? Tell us about a favorite location that you used in a book.

LP: I live at the edge of a million-plus acre backcountry wilderness that offers endless trails, unreliable cell service, plus encounters with bears, cougars, and the occasional deranged person. The majority of the country lives in much higher population density, but is interested in visiting these vast western locales, and enjoys imagining the unique difficulties the setting presents.

Rainy Dale is similarly situated down in Oregon. Both THE CLINCHER and DEAD BLOW offer a setting as distinct and challenging as my own stomping grounds of steep scrawny trails and magnificent panoramas.

4. CA: You can invite any author, living or dead, to dinner at your home. What are you serving and what will the conversation be about?

LP: This week, I’ll say let’s spend the evening with Samuel Clemens. I’ve just gotten Twain’s unabridged works and was surprised to see he’d done a takedown of Fennimore Cooper. Then reading the details, I had to agree that a firearms scene is which the writer has the hero shooting a nail head located one hundred yards away is cringe-inducing. As a retired cop, poor law enforcement action or emergency medical procedure (I was a paramedic before I was a cop) makes me stop reading. Join us, Carmen, and we’ll eat a meaty stew and drink beer, while talking about everything.

Related: Best of the Book Savor Dinners

5. CA: What is your best protip? Tell us about a writing habit, technique, or philosophy that keeps your writing sharp.

LP: I think many new writers do not revise enough. They think they have a finished, but it’s what you or I would call a draft.

When I teach revision, two things I have students do are deconstruct the written manuscript to make sure each scene is doing its job. I also tell folks to have their computers read the entire manuscript out loud. It’s amazing what you hear in the computer’s flat reading that you do not see.

Thank you, Lisa. That is great advice! Technology is (occasionally) our friend.

More about Lisa:

Lisa Preston started her fiction career with the bestselling psychological thriller ORCHIDS AND STONE, followed by the acclaimed psychological suspense THE MEASURE OF THE MOON. She now writes the Rainy Dale horseshoer series. Find all her books on Amazon.

Connect with her at

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


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The creative process according to Tolkien (and me)

The creative process according to Tolkien (and me)

Last week I sat down with fantasy author Vee James to talk about the creative process. He’s the author of NECCABASHAR, the tale of a young demon climbing the corporate ladder in Hell with hilarious results. (Comedy Channel, take note. This is your next breakout franchise.)

The question

Both Vee and I are often asked the time-honored question of “Where do you get your ideas?” I’ve especially been pinged with questions about the penultimate scene in PACIFIC REAPER, the 5th Detective Emilia Cruz novel. No spoilers, but think desert and double-cross.

The answer

Our conversation turned to J.R.R. Tolkien’s explanation for the source of literary inspiration. Writing for the Plumfield and Paideia website, Sara Masarik offered this quote from fellow creative Jonathan Rogers:

“Tolkien talks about the leaf-mould of the mind–those stories and ideas that go into your head and decompose into rich soil from which new stories grow. We don’t always know what has influenced us.”

That’s exactly how it happens. Small details accumulate like fallen leaves on the forest floor, the input of everything we experience, learn, read, hear, touch, smell, and see. Details are stored away in the back of our minds, more added all the time, without us really conscious of this great gift of accumulated awareness.

Related post: 10 Tips to amp up your creativity


I think a writer best uses the “leaf mould” that comes out of the process of accumulation by having an “open mind,” not only in terms of  what we absorb, but how we process.

An open mind allows us to pair disparate details to end up with something new. Random connections. Mix and match.

For example, I paired my own experience teaching in a prison (yes, you read that right) with a nervous stroll through a bad neighborhood in Mexico to create the pivotal scene in KING PESO in which Emilia visits her incarcerated partner Franco Silvio.

Sometimes pairing disparate details comes naturally. Other times we have to grab and smash them together to have a story bigger than the separate bits.

Creative process?

Creative power.

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


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Friends with Books: The Founder of

Friends with Books: The Founder of

This week I stumbled upon the great site, run by reader and chef Anu-Riikka. Half of the site is devoted to book reviews of romantic thriller and suspense novels and the other half has recipes from her kitchen, complete with photos. The books are rated by the spoonful and the recipes are straight comfort food. It’s fun, folksy, and well written.

I love combining books and food—all of the Detective Emilia Cruz novels include a recipe from something served in the book—and I know readers do, too.

Anu-Riikka was nice enough to chat with me this past week.

Carmen Amato: I love the premise of your website, Tell us how and why you started the site, which now has 14,000 weekly page views, and about your background as a chef.

Anu-Riikka: I found my passion for food, and baking especially, as I was working in a kitchen while in college to get my Bachelor’s degree. A couple of years after graduation I went back to school, and first got my degree in baking and pastry, and then in culinary technology. So I’m both pastry chef and a chef.

I have worked in variety of kitchens including as a baker in a country club, kitchen manager in a conference center, and a catering chef in a large sports arena environment. I’ve had the opportunity to cook and arrange events and private parties for royalty in Scandinavia  and managed hot dog stands in a World Cup sporting event. I have managed all the fresh food departments in gourmet grocery store, and catered private parties for all the life events one could have.

Due to some medical problems I have been partially handicapped, ‘mobility challenged’ as I like to call it, for about four years now. That changed my life drastically. After finding the balance with the new life and treatments, I needed something meaningful to do. So after planning and months of research, I started the website that is now Books & Spoons.

CA: You review many romantic suspense and thriller novels and always give a very well-rounded view of the book, including details about characters, pacing and writing style. I especially loved the way you described Cavanaugh in the Rough as having a “drizzle of clues.” What makes a book stand out for you as a reader? What don’t you like?

A-R: A great story for me has a balance, everything in moderation (yes, even those sexy scenes!) My first choice of genre is romantic suspense, and I love when both the romantic part and the action/suspense are well reasoned, the book has a good foundation that is built upon through the story, has feelings I can relate to, and solid characters I want to cheer for and wish them all the best. I like conflict when it comes outside of the couple, not something they cost themselves. I like angst, fear, danger, as long as it is balanced with sweetness and a little humor; I need both smiles and sighs. When it comes to the sex scenes I want them to be taking the plot and the couple forward. When it is obvious there’s a sex scene just because of it, I start to skip pages.

I don’t read stories with cheating issues, third party involvement, and a cliffhanger at the end is a deal breaker for me. I want the crimes solved, at least some of them if a series, and if there is something that is left open, please tell me the next book is out soon.

I have gotten a little feedback from readers that I use funny expressions sometimes. I know that, but I speak three languages daily, and it is possible that I take an expression from other language and make a translation that is ‘unique’. I would like to call that my trademark (hahaa)!

CA: Tell us about a favorite suspense novel? What snack you recommend to eat as we read it?

A-R: Oh wow. Nope, I can’t, too many to choose from. I can only give you some of my favorite authors.

The first romantic suspense book that I bought was Sandra Brown’s UNSPEAKABLE–and I was sold on the genre. Then there are Linda Howard’s MR. PERFECT and OPEN SEASON that I have reread countless times. But those are paperbacks before my first Kindle opened a new world to me, with countless stories just seconds away from my fingertips without waiting 3 to 12 weeks for the book order to arrive in Europe.

This year I have already read some excellent romantic suspense stories, one that stands out is AT CLOSE RANGE by Laura Griffin. The perfectly balanced story, in my mind.

When I write in a review that something is nail-biting intense or toe-curling scary, it means I actually did that while I read the book. So when I read suspense, to save my nails, I like to snack on something chewy. Salted licorice is often my first choice. My go-to snack is fresh berries and fruit, but the snack has to be something that doesn’t get books or my Kindle messy.

CA: On your site, which are more popular, the reviews or the recipes? (BTW I am trying the roasted cauliflower tonight). What is the most popular recipe on the site?

A-R:  I normally do one food post a week, and during a busy week, there can be up to 20 book posts. So BOOKS gets much more attention but SPOONS does very well when you count the overall number of viewers to the website.

The baking recipes get a lot of attention and the most popular recipe has been the Gingerbread Fudge.

There has been a lot of social media attention on the posts that are just a basic meal idea with a twist, for example, use rainbow carrots instead of regular ones to bring intensity to your plate.

CA: If you could invite any authors, living or dead, to dinner, who would you invite and what would you serve?

A-R: The menu part is easy; something seasonal, three courses. Right now it is the worst time of the year when it comes to local fresh produce. But since we are going towards the spring I would start with a gazpacho, a cold tomato soup. For the main course I would serve roasted pork loin with citrus avocado salad and couscous. For the dessert I would serve petit fours so we could taste as many different flavored cakes as possible.

As who I would invite, that’s a hard one. I’m sure I am in a minority when I say I prefer not to know too much about the authors whose books I read. Social media has twisted the concept of what we all share with the world, and what we know about total strangers. I don’t have the need to know every activity, meal, lipstick color and a cup of coffee for most people. That said, here are some authors I would like to have a conversation with:

Pat Conroy – Because of THE GREAT SANTINI and the growth experience reading it was for me

BT Urruela – A soldier turned into a cover model turned into an author must have great stories, and really, have you seen him?!

Jasinda and Jack Wilder – Because I admire their journey and their books were the first indie books I read.

Jill Mansell – Her books took me through some dark times when my disability was first diagnosed

Liliana Hart – I admire her business sense, the fresh look she has with the industry, and adore many of her early works

Sally Ann Phillips – An author I met on Twitter who has turned into a soul sister whom I haven’t had a chance to meet face to face.

Thank you, Anu-Riikka!

Readers, check out for all the reviews and recipes.

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



Author to Author: DV Berkom and Carmen Amato

Author to Author: DV Berkom and Carmen Amato

I love swapping ideas and stories with other mystery authors and this week I had the opportunity to chat with DV Berkom. Her Leine Basso and Kate Jones thrillers have been topping Amazon’s mystery and thriller genre charts of late, possibly because the author is as interesting as her books.

author DV Berkom

Carmen Amato: DV, thanks so much for stopping by. I confess to discovering you as an author when Amazon’s ticker said that people who bought my books also bought yours! As a result, I find myself in very good company.

DV Berkom: I’d have to say the same thing. Your character, Detective Emilia Cruz, is fantastic. Good company, indeed.

CA: You write both the Leine Basso crime thriller series and the Kate Jones adventure thriller series. Juggling two series at once is impressive. How do you maintain continuity? Do you have a process for each series?

DVB: Continuity can be tricky. Unfortunately, I don’t compile story bibles. That would take too much planning. I’ve been writing each character for so long now that I remember most if not all of what I need. It’s like accessing each character’s memories, if that makes sense. If I get stuck, I’ll re-read sections of previous books just to make sure I’m not mis-remembering. A Killing Truth was the trickiest, by far. As a prequel, I had to make sure to adhere to what I’d written before about Leine’s early life, which made things tricky. Especially the ending. I re-read Serial Date and Bad Traffick and then did a search for certain character’s names to refresh my memory about what I’d written. From reader comments and emails, it seems to have worked, thank goodness.

Related: Meet David Bruns, thriller author of JIHADI APPRENTICE and WEAPONS OF MASS DECEPTION

CA: Your main characters are strong, multi-dimensional women. But they aren’t perfect. Where did you look for inspiration when creating these women?

DVB: Perfect characters are {yawn} so boring. I don’t want to invest my precious time reading about someone who can’t do any wrong. How is that compelling? Strong, flawed women are all around us—you just have to look. And let’s face it—nobody’s actually “perfect.” A bit closer to home, my mother is one of the most fearless women I know, as is my sister. I believe that we’ve all got that strength inside us, and I love to tap into the character’s reserves to find out what she’ll fight for and what she won’t. It’s a deep well.

CA: Setting can drive the tone and tempo of a mystery. Tell us about a favorite setting you have used in a novel and why did you choose it.

DVB: Mexico is one of my favorite settings. I’m sure you can relate  Even though I lived there for a time and traveled there extensively, it’s still mysterious and I keep going back. Take your pick: jungles, deserts, ruins, cosmopolitan and rural areas, resorts, etc. The country is so diverse, I doubt I’d ever exhaust the possibilities. Of course, the same could be said for the US, and I’ve set books in California, Arizona, Hawaii, Alaska, and Washington State. I’ve lived in most of the places I write about, or at least have visited them, and enjoy writing about the ones that made an impression.

Related: The Insider’s Guide to the Best of Mexico

CA: Transition is a huge part of a mystery or thriller novel. Change amps up tension and forces characters to adapt in order to keep moving forward. Can you share a significant transition that you experienced or that you wrote for a character?

DVB: Life is change. If you lack that basic element in your novel (especially in thrillers or mysteries) you will lose 99.9% of your readers. My own life transitions have taught me so much. For instance, my family moved a lot when I was young, forcing me to adapt to change: new location, new school, new friends, new cultures. At the time it sucked, but now I’m grateful. Having to adapt to new situations taught me the art of observation. When you’re the new kid on the block, you avoid a lot of unpleasantness if you first observe how others react. As a result of moving so much as a kid, for several years after I graduated college I changed addresses every 6 months or so. I loved being on the move. It wasn’t until I was in my forties that I settled down (more or less). Needless to say, during that time I had a lot of adventures—great fodder for novels.

CA: What is the first grown-up mystery you remember reading? Was it the one that inspired you to write that genre yourself or did another?

DVB: I’d read other spy novels before him, but Ken Follett’s Eye of the Needle had the greatest impact. What a master. It was the first novel I’d read with a strong, realistic female character who fought back without making excuses. I also was inspired by Carl Hiaasen. His books showed me that you could write about social issues and still be highly entertaining.

CA: What can we expect next from Leine Basso and Kate Jones?

DVB: I’m currently in the middle of the first draft of the next Kate Jones thriller. I’m taking her in a slightly different direction, and it’s been a lot of fun. I don’t have the title yet, but I assume it will appear when it’s ready. Then, on to the next Leine Basso. I can’t get enough of either of them. If that does happen, or a high percentage of readers tell me I should kill one or the other of them off, I’ll know it’s time to start something new.

CA: Can you leave us with a quote, a place, or a concept from a book that inspired you?

DVB: “One day I will find the right words, and they will be simple.” ― Jack Kerouac

Thanks for allowing me to be part of your world today, Carmen. I appreciate it.

Want to know more about fellow mystery author DV Berkom? Here’s her official bio:

DV Berkom is the award-winning author of two action-packed thriller series featuring strong female leads (Leine Basso and Kate Jones). Her love of creating resilient, kick-ass women characters stems from a lifelong addiction to reading spy novels, mysteries, and thrillers, and longing to find the female equivalent within those pages. She makes her home in the Pacific Northwest with her husband, Mark, and several imaginary characters who like to tell her what to do.

Find her across your digital devices!








Amazon Author Page: US, UK

A Killing Truth by DV Berkom

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DV Berkom


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


DV Berkom

Lighting the Path

Lighting the Path

“Surround yourself with those who light the way.”

It was just another pithy Pinterest graphic; worth a nod and a smile. Forgotten in the wake of a great chicken recipe or a cat playing the piano.

But I recently had occasion to reflect on the wisdom of “lighting the path” when a friend and I had a long conversation about career decisions. She’s got two opportunities to choose from, both with pros and cons to them. Meanwhile, I was wondering if my writing career can expand into a website devoted to time management and productivity for fellow writers, and if the Emilia Cruz series will ever get off the midlist.

Tipping points

As we talked, my friend–a social scientist–unwittingly defined for me what “lighting the path” means when faced with a decision:

1.How many people will it help? Do we want a life that is self-contained and narrowly focused? Or a life that impacts others for the better?

Will the next decison create well-being or lead to better health? Solve problems for others?

2. Just because an opportunity is available doesn’t mean it is the right one. Will a short-term gain wipe out the chance to fulfill a long-term dream?

Yes, this is why Penny quit waitressing at the Cheesecake Factory.

3. It is worth spending time defining and owning your long-term goal. My friend and I discussed our career goals. Where would each like to be 5 years from now.  Once we did that we could apply one of Stephen Covey’s 7 habits of highly successful people: “Begin with the end in mind.”

Ongoing process

We didn’t bring peace to the Middle East but the conversation clarified things for both of us. We can both see a better–albeit highly ambitious–path.

Now the question is one of courage.

I hope you have a chance now and then to have such conversations with friends who help light your path.

No flashlight? Dead battery? Strike a match and keep going. Brainstorm, weigh options, find your heart’s desire, own a long-term goal. Don’t aim at nothing.

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lighting the path


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


lighting the path

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