Detective Emilia Cruz’s Origin Story

Detective Emilia Cruz’s Origin Story

What is Detective Emilia Cruz’s origin story? How was the mystery series invented?

Well, it started with poinsettias.

Many, many poinsettias.

The following is from the Author’s Note in the new edition of CLIFF DIVER, the first book in the Detective Emilia Cruz mystery series.

Cliff Diver

Where it started

The little church in Mexico City was decorated for Christmas with 100 red poinsettias. Every pew was filled, many with sleepy but excited children, for a special Christmas Eve midnight Mass.

Father Richard was leading us in the Prayer of the Faithful when an armed man staggered up the center aisle, his limbs jerking as he alternately murmured and shouted incomprehensible words. We all shrank back as he made his way towards the altar, an unexpected and volatile presence.

As the congregation looked on in growing panic, the man accosted Father Richard. The priest didn’t move or stop the prayer, just dug through his robes for a pocket. He pulled out a few pesos and pressed them into the man’s hand.

By that time several of the male congregants had come onto the altar as well and they gently disarmed and propelled the drug-addled man through the church to the rear door.

Christmas Mass continued. The addict remained nameless to the shaken congregation. But he stayed with all of us, evidence that Mexico’s own problems were growing as more and more drugs transited the country en route to the insatiable United States.

Growing Violence

We were an American family in Mexico City, embracing a new culture, exploring a vibrant city, and meeting people who were to impact our lives for years to come. But we always knew that the bubble was fragile and as if to prove it, Mexico’s news grew worse in the new year: shootouts in major cities, multiple drug seizures, rising numbers of dead and missing, the murders of mayors, governors and journalists.

Father Richard was murdered three years later. His killer was never found.

Fr Richard Junius

Father Richard Junius

I carried my memories of Mexico with me when we left. I poured them into a new novel, bringing a fast-paced contemporary style to a Cinderella story set against the backdrop of political corruption and cartel violence. The result was the 2012 political thriller The Hidden Light of Mexico City, a story from the heart that took on both Mexico’s rigid social system and the corruption that flows from huge drug profits. The reviews made me sure that contemporary fiction could ignite popular interest in what was happening in Mexico better than the news could.

The Hidden Light of Mexico City political thriller

Related: About The Hidden Light of Mexico City political thriller

Detective Emilia Cruz, the first female police detective in Acapulco, followed soon after.

She lives in a beautiful pressure cooker

Once one of the most glamorous tourist destinations in the world, Acapulco has fallen on hard times, thanks to the drug trade. With one of the highest homicide rates in the Western Hemisphere, Acapulco is a prize being fought over by rival drug cartels.

Tourism continues to be the city’s lifeblood but Acapulco has two faces; one of luxury and one of poverty. Both claw at Emilia and force her to survive between them.

Acapulco, Mexico

Related: Emilia Cruz’s Acapulco

The series is as authentic as the Mexico I experienced and the drug war I fought as a US intelligence officer.

Emilia and I are in it for the long haul. We’ll see if a mystery series can raise awareness of what’s going on in Mexico, with plot elements straight out of the headlines, an authentic dive into one of the most beautiful settings on earth, and a little salsa fresca from my own years living in Mexico and Central America.

An origin story with hope and purpose

When Felix Contreras, the host of NPR’s ALT.Latino show, asked me about the Emilia Cruz character, I told him that she represented hope. Despite Mexico’s drug cartels and high murder rates, good people there are fighting for their country.

Related: Latino Noir broadcast with Felix Contreras

Part of the proceeds from sales of the Detective Emilia Cruz series support children’s cancer research, global water inequality, and US military veterans and first responders.

Detective Emilia Cruz series

The drug addict unknowingly gave a gift that Christmas. The Emilia Cruz series will pay it forward.

Book Review: Blue Light Yokohama by Nicolás Obregón

Book Review: Blue Light Yokohama by Nicolás Obregón

BLUE LIGHT YOKOHAMA by Nicolás Obregón is a dense and layered police procedural set in contemporary Japan. The title is that of a song which keeps playing in the mind of the main character; like the song, the book is one I won’t soon forget because of evocative descriptions, dramatic character flaws, and the double twist ending.

Inspector Iwata is a youngish but experienced detective reassigned to Tokyo after an extended leave. The reason for the break in his professional life isn’t revealed right away and is one of the elements that keep us guessing.

Iwata quickly runs into a cranky boss, abusive coworkers, and a junior partner with a chip on her shoulder. He is assigned to a murder case previously handled by a cop who committed suicide.

The case might be a random killing but Iwata discovers a clue in the form of a symbol of a black sun. Days later, the sun is seen at a second crime scene. The symbol is an eerie reminder of the book’s prologue, in which the soon-to-be-dead cop sees it tattooed on a woman as she jumps to her death.

More clues to the murder cases flicker by in subtle and elegant fashion as Iwata grapples with his personal misery and the lyrics to the title song play in the background of his inner voice. Iwata’s mystique is further reinforced by scenes that call into question his current sexual preference and reason for his inner turmoil. His backstory unfolds in a series of flashbacks in a style reminiscent of Peter May’s THE BLACKHOUSE. These tragic vignettes slowly put his current actions into perspective.

In what becomes a “last man standing” device, the black sun investigation is hamstrung by Iwata’s fellow detectives and his partner’s truculent attitude. When Iwata is finally able to corral some help, the climax delivers surprises I never saw coming.

BLUE LIGHT YOKOHAMA is a moody, poetic, and immersive read with a deeply troubled hero whose sanity is challenged even before a police investigation leads him into dark places. Obregón has a lyrical yet unflinching writing style, and the ability to twist a mystery plot in upon itself.

In short, BLUE LIGHT YOKOHAMA is an intriguing start to a new and unusual Japanese noir police series.

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CARMEN AMATO

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

 

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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CARMEN AMATO

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

 

A Box, a Mystery Series, and Some Lacquer

A Box, a Mystery Series, and Some Lacquer

She came back a moment later with a box decorated in the traditional rayada carved lacquer technique. It was the size of a loaf of bread and the bottom was fitted with a small drawer with a tiny gold knob.

This is a most special and precious item,” Tifani said as she moved the other items aside and spread a velvet cloth over the glass-topped counter. Lupita placed the box reverently on the fabric. “A relic of the most holy martyr Padre Pro.”

Emilia’s breath caught in her throat. “Really? Padre Pro?”

“Who’s that?” Kurt asked.

“Padre Pro,” Emilia said, as her heart thumped. She was glad she was already sitting down. The rayada box was lacquered in blue and black with an etched design of crosses rather than the usual animal motifs. “He was a priest. A martyr of the Cristero War.”  (DIABLO NIGHTS)

As I start work on the 4th Emilia Cruz mystery, KING PESO,  I’ve been collecting (at least mentally) the unique Mexican influences that will underpin the story. Visual inspiration is important to me, as readers of this blog might have guessed by now, and I’ve done the same for all of the books in the Emilia Cruz mystery series.

Related post: Acapulco: Locating the Emilia Cruz Series

The quote above from the first chapter of DIABLO NIGHTS, the 3rd book in the mystery series, narrowed the country’s turbulent religious history down to a riveting moment in a Catholic shop. But my favorite detail was about the box containing a purported relic from Padre Pro, the real-life Catholic martyr.

In DIABLO NIGHTS, the relic is housed in a rayada box. Rayada is the Mexican technique of carving lacquer. Markets in Mexico are never without trays, boxes, and even gourds decorated with this painstaking technique. When we lived in Mexico City, I was picky, always looking for the right shade of red or bypassing pieces that weren’t as finely made.

Related post: How to Find Love at Mexico City’s Markets

I now wish I’d bought more besides the two below. The red box, with its exceptionally detailed lacquer carving, has long contained my desk supplies and directly inspired Padre Pro’s relic box. The small tray functions as a coaster for my coffee mug.red rayada laquer box from mystery serieslacquer box from Emilia Cruz mystery seriesrayada technique tray from mystery series author Carmen Amato

I never knew just how much effort went into these little artistic gems, until I read ta description from worldexperience.com. Possibly as much time as it took me to write DIABLO NIGHTS, if you don’t count the time I spent rearranging sticky notes on the master outline, pretending to be both characters during Emilia-Silvio argument scenes, and drinking coffee.

Diablo Nights by Carmen AmatoSo what happens in DIABLO NIGHTS after the infamous rayada box is opened?

Tifani slid the drawer closed and opened the lid of the box. She took out two pieces of styrofoam and set them aside. She reached back inside the box and drew out a small rectangular display case. Lupita whisked aside the now-empty enamel box and Tifani set the glass case on the velvet pad and turned it so that the front faced Emilia and Kurt.

The sides and top of the display case were made of clear glass. The wooden base was stained a dark mahogany and bore a small brass plaque with an inscription that read A Relic of the Most Holy Martyr Blessed Padre Miguel Pro Juarez, S.J. 1891-1927.

The back was decorated with a color picture of a priest in a bloody cassock lying with arms outstretched at the feet of an officer holding a sword and wearing a garish Napoleon-style uniform.

But it was the object inside the display case that took Emilia’s breath away. A long-lost relic of Padre Pro. Her life had come full circle.

 

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CARMEN AMATO

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

 

DIABLO NIGHTS Cover Reveal and Kindle Release

DIABLO NIGHTS Cover Reveal and Kindle Release

The third installment of the Emilia Cruz mystery series, featuring the first and only female police detective in Acapulco, is out on Kindle!  The paperback version will be available in August.

And finally–the Cover Reveal! The final cover, shown here, is a slight variation of the winning cover which was one of four offered in a reader poll three weeks ago.

DIABLO NIGHTS is more of a psychological thriller than the previous two Emilia Cruz mysteries, CLIFF DIVER and HAT DANCE. Emilia’s is pulling threads and following leads and reacting to the news she gets at every turn. The emotional toll on her is high, but it leads to a new understanding of the resources available to her.

Here’s the Amazon description.

A religious relic lures Emilia Cruz, Acapulco’s first and only female police detective, into a labyrinth of drug cartel smuggling and revenge killings in DIABLO NIGHTS, the third novel in the explosive Emilia Cruz Mexico mystery series.

The relic, from Mexico’s Cristero War, also surfaces a long-hidden personal secret that Emilia cannot share with the man in her life, hotel manager Kurt Rucker.

The relic’s authenticity is in doubt, however, as Emilia and her partner, senior detective Franco Silvio, find a murder victim aboard a cruise ship. The victim’s pockets are lined with Ora Ciega, a rare heroin strain from Colombia that promises more drug war violence for Acapulco’s already bloody streets.

The Ora Ciega trail leads Emilia to a second body; that of Yolanda Lata, the mother of a girl for whom Emilia has been searching; as well as to a dead Customs official who had valuable information about the cruise ship murder. When stalkers shadow Emilia, the only conclusion is that she’s getting close to the Ora Ciega smugglers. Meanwhile, she’s assigned to train a rookie detective with friends in high places.

The destinies of Ora Ciega, the religious relic, the rookie, and the missing girl merge into a fateful trip into the hills above Mexico’s Costa Chica coast south of Acapulco. In a lonely place where vigilante groups have replaced civil authority and the crash of surf competes with gunshots, Emilia will face the biggest challenge of her police detective career. But it’s nothing compared to the shocking climax waiting for her back in Acapulco.

THANK YOU

I’ve gotten so many emails asking when the next Emilia Cruz novel was coming out adn can finally say “Here it is!” Thank you to all the readers who have enjoyed the series so far. I appreciate all the mail and the generous Amazon reviews, too!

2016 Update

Like the rest of the Detective Emilia Cruz series, DIABLO NIGHTS got a redo this year with a new cover and new description, which you can see here. The 4th novel in the series, KING PESO, was released in August and the television and film rights were sold. Emilia could be coming to a screen near you!

Again, thank you for reading and staying connected!

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CARMEN AMATO

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

 

Book Review: The Redeemer by Jo Nesbo

Book Review: The Redeemer by Jo Nesbo

THE REDEEMER by Jo Nesbo is the midpoint novel in the Harry Hole series set in Norway, picking up where the last left off and priming the reader for another just as fast as Nesbo can write it. I’ve been reading them out of sequence and this one both filled in some blanks and created more questions. Specifically, when is Harry going to stop his $^&#@!! self-destructive habits and get his act together. But we all know the answer to that one, don’t we . . .

Related: Book Review: The Bat by Jo Nesbo

The story centers around a contract killer who accidentally kills the wrong member of the Salvation Army, which apparently has a big footprint in Oslo, then must stick around to find the right person and complete his assignment. Harry will find the vulnerable daughter of the head of the Salvation Army in Norway for both a possible romantic dalliance and source of information. Secretive Martine will be torn between her attraction to Harry—free at the moment from his on-again-off-again relationship with Rakel—and her duties to the Army.

Harry will approach things as he usually does, in his jeans, Doc Martens, and rock band tees. He’ll flout his new boss’s authority, start drinking again as he tracks the killer’s roots to the war in Bosnia, and use who he can along the way.

The writing is superb, Harry is a character you hate to love, and as always, Nesbo puts us right on the street in Oslo, a city I adore.

Related: Visiting Norway, Mystery Author Style

But I’ll admit to two teeney but annoying flaws:

1. The words ‘redemption’ or ‘redeemer’ were overused. Everybody gets labeled with some variation of the word. One reference in a subtle but significant way would have been enough.

2. At the end, Harry’s former boss has a big reveal but by that time it felt unnecessary. The book didn’t need the extra stuff and the core plot was complicated enough not to warrant this distraction from the central storyline.

But overall, THE REDEEMER by Jo Nesbo was masterful international mystery and I’m ready for the next Harry Hole novel.

Book Review: Inferno by Dan Brown

Book Review: Inferno by Dan Brown

I wasn’t the first to buy much-hyped thriller INFERNO by THE DA VINCI CODE author Dan Brown but I’m glad I eventually did. But you’ll be surprised why.

The Kindle verson of the book was pricey these days when great books can be had for $2.99. So I waited to read some reviews before deciding.

The reviews for INFERNO were a mixed lot. Some raved, others were lukewarm. And one was entitled “Meh.”

That bugged me. Whether the book is good or bad, Mr. Brown is a master art historian and he has the best support network that traditional publishing can buy. Tom Hanks stars in the movies. This superpower combo only earned a “meh” as a measure of reader satisfaction?

I had to judge for myself.

INFERNO is equal parts art history and thriller. As in Brown’s 3 previous books, Harvard professor Robert Langdon finds himself in an improbable situation (this time in Italy) that his vast knowledge of art and religious/historic symbols give him the unique ability to decode.  He picks up a female sidekick; this time it is an American doctor who saves his life but guards her own secrets. And as in the previous books, Brown gives us a dramatic global issue with a big moral punch and leaves us wondering if it could be true. The antagonist, a mad scientist (depending on your political views) is sight unseen through 99% of the book although his horrible creation is seen by various characters and is the item Langdon eventually realizes he must find.

In one point in the book, maybe because the clues weren’t exactly coming together, there is a tiny logic leap. There’s also a nagging wonder why the mad scientist set up this bizarre trail for someone to follow–never really got a good explanation of the motivation, but the book is so engrossing those points are forgivable. Excellent twist at the end.

Far from being a “meh,” the book has great moments of action, characters who are shape-shifters in how they are perceived by both the reader and Langdon, and big doses of art and history. Readers who forget that Langdon is a Harvard professor might get impatient with the descriptions of the Italian masters, the history of buildings in Florence, and the architecture in Istanbul, but I really enjoyed the background information.

The only real knock I have is that the pre-launch book hype led me to believe that Langdon would be pursuing clues rendered by the poem by Dante of the same name. Instead, Langdon follows clues provided by artwork and music inspired by the poem. There’s a subtle difference and although Langdon needs a copy of the poem at one point to decipher a clue, the book is more of an art hunt than an immersion into the poem itself. THE DA VINCI code seemed to have more meat on it when it came to the source material Langdon had to work with.

No spoilers here, but I will say that INFERNO’s ending leaves us wondering if the events could be true, not nowhere to the extent of the end of the DA VINCI CODE. But I wonder if in a few years we won’t hear some techies talk about just such possibilities.

One other thing. As I said, Dan Brown is a big name in publishing and I would have thought that his book production team would be the best that money can buy. But the Kindle version of the book was poorly formatted and included lots of junk at the beginning that the reader had to click through. Probably the biggest ebook launch of the year and the publisher hadn’t a clue how to properly format an ebook!? This is why traditional publishing is putting itself out of business.

Book Review: The Forgotten Affairs of Youth

Book Review: The Forgotten Affairs of Youth

The Forgotten Affairs of Youth is the eighth novel in the charming Isabel Dalhousie series by the prolific  Alexander McCall Smith. Better known for the No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency series set in Botswana, the Isabel Dalhousie series is set in Edinburgh and has a more contemporary feel.

I actually feel it is the better written series, as it takes on many moral issues, and am often surprised that people know of the No 1 Ladies series but not about Isabel.

The series centers around Isabel, an attractive woman in her early-40’s who has a surprising affair in the early books with her niece’s ex-boyfriend, a much younger professional musician named Jamie. The brief union produces a child. Jamie moves in with Isabel—who is independently wealthy and also edits a philosophy journal—and much of upper Edinburgh society is genteelly shocked. In this novel Isabel and Jamie are still planning their wedding.

Besides the personal story, the Isabel Dalhousie novels each are a mystery, usually having to do with art, music, or Edinburgh society. Isabel is always helping out folks who have big life questions. In The Forgotten Affairs of Youth, Jane is a visiting professor who is trying to find her biological father. He was a student in Edinburgh years ago and Jane seeks help from Isabel, a longtime resident of the city. As Isabel looks into the past, unpleasant secrets are revealed. Jamie doesn’t want her to pursue inquiries into other people’s lives and the reader cannot help but hope the friction doesn’t damage their careful relationship.

Alexander McCall Smith’s Edinburgh is a gentler, more beautiful and cozy city than say, Ian Rankin’s Edinburgh. The mystery and drama are revealed in Isabel’s philosophic musings and walks around the city. I love the descriptions such as: “They reached the bottom of Candlemaker Row and turned into the Cowgate itself. Directly under the high arches of George IV Bridge the street became tunnel-like. The passed the Magdalen Chapel, a sixteenth century almshouse, in shadow and darkness.”

The ending is a nice twist, like most of the books in the series. I actually wished it could have gone on a bit longer.

Each book in the Isabel Dalhousie series is a small gem, to be savored and re-read when life gets hectic.

Book Review: Blood of the Wicked by Leighton Gage

Book Review: Blood of the Wicked by Leighton Gage

BLOOD OF THE WICKED is the first book in the Chief Inspector Mario Silva series by Leighton Gage. I’d never heard of the series before stumbling upon a reference to it in a Goodreads group. I was trying to see if I was the only one writing a mystery series set in the Americas and a fellow mystery lover had listed it in a thread. In addition to discovering the Mario Silva series, I also discovered that besides myself, Leighton Gage, and Jerry Last, there aren’t many writing mysteries set in the Americas for the English-speaking audience.

Related post: In Memorium: The Unsung Influence of Mystery Author Leighton Gage

Goodreads didn’t steer me wrong. Silva is an enigmatic protagonist with a disturbing but understandable backstory. I liked the way Gage wove in the backstory but didn’t try and force-fit it into the plot. The story starts as a whodunit murder mystery that Silva and his federal police team has to solve but they quickly find out that there are underlying problems in the smallish town where the murder occurred. Local civil authority is totally corrupt, however, and resent the intrusion by Silva and his small team of federales.

The prize in this book is the absolute authenticity. From the descriptions of the locations to the issues that create much of the drama to the characters who are so truly Brazilian, you’ll be surprised at the end that the book wasn’t in Portuguese.  Gage’s style comes right at you, nothing flowery or extraneous. Good plotting, pacing and characters. But there is violence and gore and the disregard for human life that hemisphere-watchers read about in the newspapers or see on Blog del Narco. I would have liked more of Silva’s personal life; he’s not as well-rounded as he might have been. But overall this is a book written with grit, talent and an insider’s view of Brazil. If you like mysteries, this is a series to investigate.

Book Review: The Golden Egg by Donna Leon

Book Review: The Golden Egg by Donna Leon

If ever there was a mystery author who I consider a role model, Donna Leon is it. Her Commisario Guido Brunetti series set in Venice has all the elements of a great mystery series:

  • a perfect cast of characters starring Brunetti himself–the thinking man’s detective who reads the classics
  • his sharp-tongued wife Paola who teaches English literature at the university and is a great cook
  • the boss who swings according to the day’s political wind
  • stout-hearted but highly individual colleagues
  • the police department’s beautiful hacker/secretary.

Add to this cast the food and wine of Italy, the sights and sounds of Venice, twisty plots, and you have an intellectual series rooted in Italian culture.

THE GOLDEN EGG brings together all these elements as Brunetti probes into the death of a deaf man who seems to have lived totally outside of Italian officialdom, something almost impossible to do. Brunetti pulls gossamer threads, one after the other, to try and find out the basics about him, despite the fact that his death looks fairly accidental. The book is peppered with his queries of various people in Venice as he takes to the streets and canals in search of answers. Paola and his children form a bulwark against the sadness of the situation (Brunetti is one of the few international mystery characters who is neither an alcoholic nor divorced.)

Italy’s political mire and hopeless bureaucracy is on display in the book, mirroring the country’s real problems.  It seems to be as much of the culture as the water lapping at the riva of the canal or the tramezzini that Brunetti has for lunch.

The ending, as in so many of Leon’s novels, is a satisfying twist you don’t see coming. The “egg” of the title means “nest egg” but other than that I won’t give it away. Anyone who likes the international mystery genre or Italy will love this book, as well as the others in the series.

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