The Big Pivot of 2021

The Big Pivot of 2021

The Big Pivot

Do you remember the sofa moving scene in Friends? They guys are doing their best, but it’s too big to get up the stairs. Ross keeps yelling “Pivot, pivot” to no avail.

That’s 2020. In 2021 we’ll turn the corner.

My personal pivot

In 2020 I felt the need to write about something more uplifting than Mexican drug cartels.  (hmmm, wonder why?)  So after releasing NARCO NOIR (Book 8) and the box set of Books 1-6, I put the Detective Emilia Cruz series on pause and pivoted into the past.

(Don’t worry, there is more to come for Emilia.)

The GALLIANO CLUB historical thriller series is a BIG pivot. I’m going from contemporary crime on the mean streets of Acapulco (cell phones, video forensics, drug smuggling plazas) to a Prohibition era thriller trilogy (Tommy guns, Model T Fords, illegal breweries).

Related: The Galliano Series webpage

Playing the pivot

Not only have time and place changed, but style as well. In the Detective Emilia Cruz series, the reader is inside Emilia’s head the entire book. In the Galliano Club historical thriller series, there are multiple points of view, each with their own cadence and style. I’m reveling in the creative challenge.

Related: Mini Masterclass: how to write a mystery series

Galliano Club 3 book series

The 3 books in the Galliano series are meant to be read in order. Each book’s central plot unspools against the backdrop of a series-spanning story arc:


Luca Lombardo is the jack-of-all-trades at the Galliano Club, a hangout for Italian mill workers. The club is both home and family for Luca and he’ll do whatever it takes to keep it afloat, including staying silent about a murder.

From her apartment over the club, Ruth Cross witnessed the crime, but a scandalous past keeps her quiet.

Could hitman Benny Rotolo be involved? Run out of Chicago by Al Capone, Benny fled to Lido determined to establish his own bootlegging empire. Turning the Galliano Club into a speakeasy is Step 1.

The longer the murder at the Galliano Club goes unsolved, the bigger the trap of lies.

Who will get out alive?​



The heat is on in Lido, New York, when blackmail letters land on the Galliano Club’s doorstep. The message is simple: Pay or die.

Explosions follow. Will the club burn before Luca Lombardo, the club’s jack-of-all-trades, figures out who is behind the threats?

Warning: Blackmail is contagious. Police officer Sean O’Malley uses Ruth Cross’s past against her to get what he wants. Chicago hitman Benny Rotolo dabbles in the extortion racket, too.

As blackmail terrifies everyone connected to the Galliano Club, murder may be the only way out.



The body of a strangled woman is fished out of the Mohawk River near Lido, New York. With the help of Galliano Club members, she is identified as a waitress from Chicago.

Hanna Gorski travels to Lido, determined to find her sister’s killer. She’ll bring him to justice any way she can.

Luca Lombardo would help, but he’s in jail facing kidnapping charges. This is good news for Chicago hitman Benny Rotolo, who figures he can finally steal the Galliano Club and expand his bootlegging empire.

But Benny didn’t bargain on Hanna Gorski.

Neither did anybody else.


Leap of faith

When I started my writing career, I was worried about being pigeon-holed as a person who only writes books set in Mexico. It would have been easy to hang my hat on that, with a website decorated like a piñata, etc, etc. Instead I kept the focus on being a mystery and thriller author writ large.

But branching out into US historical fiction feels like a huge leap. Will my readers follow?

I hope so. The Galliano Club historical thriller series is packed with great new characters, dramatic events, and atmosphere from my home town.

Related post: From New York to Mexico and back again

This isn’t a Manhattan speakeasy tale with flappers and bathtub gin. This is illegal beer and blue-collar toughs.

Will you meet me at the Galliano Club?


Pinterest image The Big Pivot

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


The Face that Launched 1000 Words

The Face that Launched 1000 Words

Some authors look for visual cues to help create setting and characters. Most call it research.

I call it antiques hunting.


To build the Galliano Club series, I have my grandfather’s account books from when he was City Marshall, as well as a wealth of family stories.

But when I saw this photo hanging on a pegboard in an antiques mall, I knew it was the face of my protagonist. Gianluca “Luca” Lombardo is bartender and jack-of-all-trades at the fictional Galliano Club in fictional Lido, NY.

Vintage portrait

The man in the sepia photograph is 19 or 20 years old, younger than Luca, who is 27 at the start of the first Galliano Club thriller, MURDER AT THE GALLIANO CLUB. He is wearing a suit that is far too big. The jacket is puddled around his waist and the trouser legs spread like a tablecloth.

He’s posed on a leather chair that fairly gleams. His gaze is direct and clear, which is what caught my eye.

The oval frame is beautiful burled wood and in near pristine condition. The glass over the photograph is domed, an expensive feature rarely seen any more. (which accounts for the glare in the photo here.)

Someone in the 1920’s invested heavily in this portrait of a handsome man.


It seemed crazy to buy a photograph of someone I didn’t know. But to make a long story short, I lugged Luca home and hung him on my office wall. To further immerse myself in 1926, I also brought home a giant red cigar box, which at least is a useful organizing item.

The youthfulness of the man in the photograph led to a great backstory element that has already made its way into the first book in the series:

Luca came to the United States as a 19-year-old immigrant from Italy in 1919. Like many others who came from Italy at the time, he lived in a New York City tenement on Elizabeth Street. With little English and no professional skills, he took any job he could find, including bare knuckled prizefighting.

In between bouts, a photographer offered Luca $20 to have his picture taken to display in the studio window. The photographer was hoping a handsome face would entice female customers. Luca agreed and wore clothes provided by the photographer for the picture-taking event.

With the money in his pocket, Luca never gave the portrait another thought.

See more about the forthcoming GALLIANO CLUB series here.


This is a different process than I followed with the Detective Emilia Cruz series. My mind’s eye saw Emilia very clearly but there was no actual face to go with that image until around Book 5, PACIFIC REAPER, when I stumbled upon this image of a Latina boxer.

She’s the spitting image of Emilia. Don’t you agree?

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


New York to Mexico and Back Again

New York to Mexico and Back Again


My hometown of Rome, New York, was a close-knit community where almost everyone was Italian, Irish, or Polish and a Roman Catholic. Five hours away from New York City and the Statue of Liberty by train, the city was surrounded by dairy farms, with milk delivered to the insulated box on our back porch every day. The backbone of the local economy was Revere Copper and Brass. The company turned out tea kettles and ship hulls, earning Rome its “Copper City” nickname.

Spargo Wire and Rome Cable made more things out of metal. Griffiss Air Force Base kept us all safe, with the occasional sonic boom to prove it. Going to Goldberg’s or Nelson’s department stores with my grandmother was an Event, as was church on Sunday and sleepovers with my cousin.

The Fourth of July meant picnics. Christmas meant shopping downtown with my sisters and lunch at the Candyland Restaurant. We all shoveled snow before school on wintry mornings.

Rome was Mayberry, just colder and more Catholic.

Copper City

The illuminated sign over the bridge proclaims that 90% of the copper used in manufacturing in the US comes from Rome.


Related: Announcing the new GALLIANO CLUB series


By the time I graduated high school, I was ready to explore the wider world.  I headed off to college in the big city of Syracuse, an hour away. I took the train and saw the Statue of Liberty. I spent my junior year in Paris.  Graduate school at the University of Virginia led to a job with the Central Intelligence Agency outside Washington, DC.

Through the years, every time I visited Rome the city had lost another round in the quality of life sweepstakes. New York state’s high taxes sucked up wages and jobs. The federal government shuttered the air base. Prolonged union strikes led to the closure of major manufacturers. A major facility for the disabled and mentally handicapped was turned into a prison. The commercial district was razed to build an exact replica of Fort Stanwix, but the expected influx of tourists never came.


An assignment in Mexico brought unexpected reminders of my childhood. Despite the stress of the drug war that no one seemed to be winning, I embraced life there. In this mostly Catholic country, where family comes first, I rediscovered familiar rhythms and values.

In Mexico, family bonds were formed and strengthened in the kitchen, from preparing meals together to eating together. Community was built around a Catholic church tending its flock, not just with Sunday Mass, but with numerous opportunities to gather.

Not everything was instantly available; money was tight for most Mexicans. Necessity led to creativity, just like when I was growing up.

My past and present sparked together to make new energy, like flint striking steel to build a fire. I began to write fiction.


Now with 10 books set in Mexico under my belt, I’m being tugged home. Not to present-day Rome, which is still struggling, but to the vibrant city where my grandparents built their family.

Bustling Rome, New York, of the early 20th century is the inspiration for fictional Lido, New York, in my forthcoming GALLIANO CLUB series. I’m writing through the lens of history but also through the eyes of my grandparents.

Dominick Street in Rome

Color postcard, circa 1919, showing a main street in Rome, NY. Few of those buildings exist today.


They got married in Rome, during the height of Prohibition. My grandfather played saxophone in the civic band. My grandmother’s nickname was Sheba, slang for a sexy girl.

My grandparents, circa 1928

Ann and Joe, circa 1928


None of the characters in the GALLIANO CLUB novels are directly based on either of my grandparents, but my memories of them make the books echo with authenticity.

Yet, if I’d never gone to Mexico, would I be writing fiction today?

If I’d never written books set in Mexico, would I have learned how to create a setting that pulls at a reader’s heartstrings?

I have come full circle, from New York to Mexico and back again.

All the way to Lido, New York, circa 1926.


From New York to Mexico

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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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