At least you didn’t fall into a narco sinkhole

At least you didn’t fall into a narco sinkhole

Imagine taking a nap on your sofa one afternoon, only to be awakened when the floor collapses, pitching you into a sinkhole.

But it’s not a true sinkhole, it’s a tunnel built by drug cartel smugglers that runs under your house.

This happened last week to a man in Culiacán, in the Mexican state of Sinaloa which is famous for being El Chapo Guzman’s base of operations and the name of his infamous cartel. When the roof of the tunnel caved in, the man fell about eight feet to the bottom of the tunnel.

Luckily, he didn’t suffer major injuries, nor did he fall into a smuggling event in progress. Hard to know which would be worse; a bad tumble or surprising unfriendly cartel smugglers.

As for his property values, well, best not to go there.

The tunnel, which runs under at least eight houses before emptying into a canal, was abandoned a few years ago after discovery by law enforcement. Neighbors used it as a giant trash chute and the tunnel was left to decay. The governor of Sinaloa sent his minister of public works to investigate and promise that the tunnel would be filled in to avoid other homes from collapsing.

This is hardly the first narco-tunnel to make the news. In 2020, the longest narco-tunnel was discovered running between Tijuana, Baja California, and San Diego, California. With a total length of 4,309 feet and running an average of 70 feet below the surface, that tunnel boasted an extensive rail and cart system, forced air ventilation, high voltage electrical cables and panels, an elevator at the tunnel entrance and more.

El Chapo himself famously escaped a México state maximum security prison in 2015 through a mile-long hatch far underground. The shower floor in his cell became a trap door, allowing El Chapo to slip into a narrow tunnel outfitted with a motorcycle on rails to speed him to freedom.

When I wrote the tunnel discovery scene in 43 MISSING, from the Detective Emilia Cruz mystery series set in Acapulco, my goal was to put you inside a similarly dark and terrifying place with Detective Emilia Cruz as she follows cartel killers into a narco-tunnel.

Similar to the tunnel dug for El Chapo, the fictional tunnel has electric lights and a transport system. And yes, an impatient cartel kingpin waits on the other end, confident that he’ll be spirited out of prison.

But besides falling into one, how are narco-tunnels discovered? No spoilers from the book, except this review from Nightstand Book Reviews:

What is uncovered in “43 Missing” is astounding . . . Amato is thoroughly convincing in her version of what might have happened . . . [It] stayed with me long after I finished the book.

If you’d like to leave your own review, use this link to 43 MISSING on Amazon.

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: HEAD WOUNDS by Dennis Palumbo

Book Review: HEAD WOUNDS by Dennis Palumbo

HEAD WOUNDS is the most recent entry in the action-filled Dr. Daniel Rinaldi thriller series by Dennis Palumbo. Dr. Rinaldi is a Pittsburgh-based psychologist and police consultant with a few rough edges and a remorseless, deranged enemy.

The combination is an absolute page-turner.

The premise

Dan Rinaldi lost his wife Barbara 12 years ago in an unsolved mugging gone bad. As he reads a recently obtained dossier on the crime, a bullet smashes his living room window.

Outside, a gun-toting neighbor is angry and drunk. When the police arrive, the wife admits to having told her husband in a fit of pique that she’s having an affair with Dan.

She’s found dead not long after.

Other seemingly random incidents touch Dan’s life. In a shocking twist, Barbara’s killer is responsible.

The villain

Brilliant but unstable, Sebastian Maddox was obsessed with Barbara in college. Just released from prison for an unrelated crime, he wants to punish Dan for “stealing” Barbara by torturing Dan’s nearest and dearest before finally killing Dan in Hannibal Lector-worthy fashion.

A terrifying villain with an easily understood motive who had more than a decade to grow progressively more delusional and macabre, Maddox taps into Dan’s phone, laptop, and car GPS. Remote access to Dan’s digital devices gives Maddox personal details about his victims, which he puts to cunning and horrific use.

The two men play a heart-pounding scavenger hunt across Pittsburgh. Maddox meters out clues as to who the next victim will be and Dan races against time to try and save them. Warned by Maddox that more innocents will die if the police are involved, Dan is aided only by a female FBI agent (and soon-to-be love interest) and a retired FBI profiler. On the run from Maddox’s surveillance and exhausted from the endless tension, the trio nonetheless manage to dig up pivotal background material on the killer.

The entire book is written from Dan’s point of view and we’re in this with him every step of the way. We like his grit and the fact that he’s not some academic lightweight you can knock over with a feather. A former boxer with a bad temper and mean right hook, Rinaldi is a true son of Pittsburgh. A medical professional but not too polished, not too far from his blue collar roots.

The style

The last half of the book is a speeding train. The non-stop pace, brash characters, and roller coaster events have a cinematic quality. I was reminded of the Lethal Weapon movies as well as Speed, The Silence of the Lambs and Harrison Ford’s The Fugitive.

It’s no surprise, then, to find out that author Dennis Palumbo is not only a practicing psychotherapist, but also a former screenwriter. His credits include the feature film My Favorite Year, which starred Peter O’Toole and has been one of my Top 10 favorite movies since forever.

The next Dr. Daniel Rinaldi book, PANIC ATTACK, is out next month.

Your heartrate will have slowed by then.

Highly recommended.

Find HEAD WOUNDS on Amazon.

Fiction author asks: Why do we fall in love?

Fiction author asks: Why do we fall in love?

True Story

I met my husband at a Memorial Day picnic. After burgers and hot dogs, our host hauled out Trivial Pursuit. Teams were assembled and a fierce no-holds-barred game ensued.

To my chagrin, his team won.

Nonetheless, when he called a few weeks later, we made a date for the 4th of July. He was well-traveled, well read, and had interesting things to say. We thought the same way about things that mattered.

Also, he had extremely attractive blue eyes.

We got married 10 months later.


Science of love

My own experience helps, but I’ve been researching love for the key relationship in my forthcoming GALLIANO CLUB series.

What makes people fall in love? Is it purely involuntary? Is there a chemical reaction in the brain?

Was I just a sucker for blue eyes and trivia?

Harvard researchers have done an unexpectedly large amount of thinking about the science behind love, which a 2014 article summed up as: “The sensation of being in an altered mental state, intrusive thoughts and images of the beloved, and changes in behavior aimed at getting a reciprocal response.”

Those Harvard types even broke down the chemistry behind the phases of love: “Love can be distilled into three categories: lust, attraction, and attachment. Though there are overlaps and subtleties to each, each type is characterized by its own set of hormones. Testosterone and estrogen drive lust; dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin create attraction; and oxytocin and vasopressin mediate attachment.”

A Yale researcher suggests physical warmth helps the cause of falling in love. Other behaviors that lead to love include positivity, making eye contact, and being a good listener.

Love, literally

Beyond the science, any good fictional romance has to show how an initial spark of attraction turns into something life-changing. I hate books with insta-romances that have no discernible basis. grrrrr

The reader needs to see WHY two people fall in love. The readers has to believe in their love story.

In THE HIDDEN LIGHT OF MEXICO CITY, Eduardo Cortez Castillo and Luz de Maria Alba Mora find a strength in each other that enables each to accomplish a nearly impossible goal. Neither could do it alone.

In AWAKENING MACBETH, Brodie Macbeth and Joe Birnam bond over mutual loss but recognize each other’s emotional vulnerabilities and help heal them. Yet, those vulnerabilities save their lives.

In the DETECTIVE EMILIA CRUZ series, Emilia Cruz sees Kurt Rucker as someone who can help her manage her situation as the only female police detective in Acapulco. She loves his strength and the fact that it comes without the machismo mindset of a Mexican man. Former military, he’s attracted to her independence and the danger that comes with her job.

Each of these relationships are powered by dialogue. A critical initial conversation between the two characters sets the tone.

Love at the Galliano Club

In MURDER AT THE GALLIANO CLUB, the first book in the series set in 1926 in the fictional city of Lido, NY, our lovers have vastly different backgrounds, yet each is hungry for a sense of belonging.

Rudolph Valentino

Silent screen star Rudolph Valentino is the inspiration for Luca Lombardo. Ironically, Valentino died in 1926, the year in which the Galliano Club series is set.

Luca Lombardo is a relatively recent immigrant to the US from Italy. Still a young man, he’s a widower who feels he must atone for the death of his wife and child.

Dorothy Gulliver

Silent film starlet Dorothy Gulliver is my inspiration for Tess Kennedy. She was one of the few silent film actresses to make the transition to talkies.

Tess Kennedy is a modern woman with a college education (Vassar, Class of 1924) and a job in a bank, but coping with a disintegrating family situation.

How will their mutual attraction play out? Will murder, blackmail, and crooked cops get in the way?

Will anyone have extremely attractive blue eyes?

Read more about the GALLIANO CLUB series here.

>>> If you really want to know more about falling in love, the folks at Romantific have all the answers! Check out this post on how long it takes to fall in love!

Falling in Love

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


Book Review: GRAY GHOST MURDERS by Keith McCafferty

Book Review: GRAY GHOST MURDERS by Keith McCafferty

I know nothing about fly fishing and have never been to Montana. Nevertheless, the Sean Stranahan mystery series by Keith McCafferty has me hooked.

(Sorry, could not resist.)

The series has elements of both the Longmire and Mike Bowditch series, but with a gentle charm you don’t see too often in a mystery series. Add top-notch writing and evocative descriptions of the Montana wilderness and it’s an absolute winner.

THE GRAY GHOST MURDERS is the second in the Sean Stranahan series but they are all standalones. I picked this up, frankly, because of the cover. But author McCafferty, an editor at Field and Stream magazine, is an accomplished writer whose characters are so appealing, you can’t help but be drawn into their world of rural Montana and the outdoors, not to mention the art and science of fly fishing.

Rugged landscape and fisherman

This evokes the setting for the book, with the fly fisherman with his net. Photo by Matt Noble via Unsplash


Sean is an artist, fishing guide, and sometime sheriff’s deputy in Hyalite County, Montana. He’s also a former detective who worked for a law firm in Boston before he moved to Montana. Not rich, he bunks in his art studio and gets an unexpected windfall when a wealthy group of anglers asks him to find two valuable vintage fishing flies that were stolen from their summer camp.

And thus we learn of the world of rare fishing flies, which are auctioned like rare books.


Fishing lure

Fishing lure. Even if you know nothing about fishing, this book series will captivate. Photo by Mael Balland via Unsplash


At the same time, Sheriff Martha Ettinger asks Sean to help investigate the suspicious deaths of two men whose bodies are found on Sphinx Mountain. The secondary characters, including Martha and a cast of deputies are all so well drawn we’re sifting through clues on the mountaintop with them, bear repellent at the ready.

Throw in a cat-loving barista, a manipulative politician, and an old school cowboy, and the pages turn themselves.

The whodunit aspect of investigating the two dead men hinges on a number of clues, as well as a few red herrings. It’s an unusual premise, but it works well for this unusual but highly satisfying read. As the series continues, the relationships between Sean, Martha, and the secondary characters are as important as the crimes. New characters introduced along the way spring to life from Montana’s small towns, rivers, and history.


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


Book Review: Dublin Trilogy by Caimh McDonnell

Book Review: Dublin Trilogy by Caimh McDonnell

Author Vee James gifted me this book and a tip of the hat to him. THE MAN WITH ONE OF THOSE FACES is the first book in McDonnell’s Dublin Trilogy about the very funny, yet seriously intriguing misadventures of Paul Mulchrone, Brigit Conroy, and Garda detective Bernard “Bunny” McGarry.

The Man With One of those Faces


Don’t worry if you have never been to Dublin, because by the end of all of the books, you will be intimate with the city and its people, plus the law enforcement powers and politics of the Garda, the national police agency. The unique sport of hurling. Shopping on Grafton and Carroll. The restorative powers of Irish whiskey and Guinness beer.

hurley stick

Find out more about the Irish sport of hurley on wikipedia

I was in Dublin awhile back–long before travel became virtual–and McDonnell captures the city’s essence. It’s The Commitments, but with less music and better characters.

Get in the mood for my book review with a few scenes of this scrappy Irish city. I didn’t take them, although I wish I did!

Dublin photo by Andrea Leopardi,

Dublin photo by Andrea Leopardi,courtesy of Unsplash

Dublin photo by Lucas Swinden,

Dublin photo by Lucas Swinden courtesy of Unsplash

Guinness warehouse by Tavis Beck, courtesy Unsplash

Guinness warehouse by Tavis Beck, courtesy Unsplash


Ready? Step up to the bar and drink deeply of this terrific book series.


Paul had a rough start in life. He was orphaned at a young age, and his only stability was the hurling club presided over by Bunny McGarry, the larger-than-life cop with his own way of meting out justice. Now an adult, Paul is trapped by a will awarding him a subsistence stipend as long as he does charity work.

He regularly visits a nursing home to fulfill the requirements. One day a resident mistakes Paul for someone else and tries to kill him before dying of shock. When the dead man is found to be a gangster thought to be long dead, Paul and Brigit, a nurse, are targeted by the gangster’s old enemies. Bunny McGarry, who has a soft spot for Paul from hurling club days, steps in, along with a few local mobsters.

The plots of all the books in the DUBLIN TRILOGY series connect from one book to the next. The mix of white knights and black sheep throws gray shadows on many of the characters while relationships develop in smart and clever ways.


The real charm of this series lies with dialogue and descriptions, both of which evoke some real laugh-out-loud moments. There’s a line about anybody who could “cut two holes in a tea cozy thought he was John Dillinger” that still makes me laugh at odd moments.

THE DAY THAT NEVER COMES and LAST ORDERS are the next two books in the trilogy. ANGELS IN THE MOONLIGHT is a prequel that is nonetheless listed on Amazon as #3 in the 4-volume set. The numbering is just one of the quirks of this charming, funny, and breathlessly paced series.

Highly recommended.


PS: If you have never seen the film The Commitments, about the rise and fall of a club band in Dublin, you can watch it on Amazon’s Prime Video. 

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


How to be an Armchair Traveler

How to be an Armchair Traveler

I keep waiting for coronavirus to call a time out but, uh, so far . . . no.

It’s turning me into an armchair traveler. You, too?

I have missed museums. Not that I’m a rabid art hound, but museums are a great reason to get up and go somewhere new to refuel my creative engine.

Thankfully, mystery series top up the tank, too. (Like the Detective Emilia Cruz series!)

For a great armchair traveler “getaway,” match a mystery series with an online museum tour with Google’s Arts and Culture project. You can take virtual tours of scores of museums around the world. The technology gives you an experience like Google Earth, with the ability to “walk” through an exhibit.

It’s pretty amazing. Here are some recommended books to read, along with a virtual museum tour to give the story shape in your imagination.

Related: Matching books and museums in Mexico City

São Paulo, Brazil

Series: Chief Inspector Mario Silva series by Leighton Gage

With a stubborn and brooding demeanor, Chief Inspector Mario Silva of Brazil’s federal police has been described by Booklist as “South America’s Kurt Wallander.” BLOOD OF THE WICKED sets up Silva as a good cop with a rag-tag but loyal band of underlings caught in Brazil’s pervasive corruption. Expect high quality writing and an insider’s view of a fascinating culture.

blood of the Wicked

Find on Amazon: >>> BLOOD OF THE WICKED

Museum: Explore the contemporary Museu de Arte de Sa͂o Paulo  >>>

Paris, France

Series: Aimée Leduc murder mysteries by Cara Black

Leduc is a private detective in Paris juggling single motherhood, disappearing lovers, and a shadowy organization called The Hand. Her late father was a Paris cop killed by the group, while her super-spy American mother pops in and out of Aimée’s life. MURDER IN THE MARAIS begins the series, which showcases French fashion and culture.

Murder in the Marais

Find on Amazon >>> MURDER IN THE MARAIS

Museum: Explore the Musée d’Orsay in Paris >>>

Moscow, Russia

Series: Arkady Renko series by Martin Cruz Smith

Arkady Renko is an ageless Moscow cop who has survived the collapse of the Soviet Union and the rise of a Mafia-riddled Russia. The series is dense and absorbing, with rich descriptions of Russia, the Russian character, and decrepit Lada cars. The first is the scene-setting but slow moving GORKY PARK, but second book, POLAR STAR, is a tour de force–all the action takes place on a rust bucket of a Soviet fishing vessel. WOLVES EAT DOGS, set in the aftermath of the Chernobyl disaster, is hauntingly memorable. Skip the last two books.

Polar Star

Find on Amazon: >>> POLAR STAR

Museum: The State Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow >>>

More museum tours

Besides these, the Google Arts and Culture website has links to digital tours from scores more such as the British Museum, Mexico’s Anthropology Museum, and Greece’s Acropolis Museum. While armchair travel to a great museum isn’t exactly the same, think how much you’ll save by avoiding the museum shop . . .

WARNING: Highly addictive!

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


Armchair traveller

Announcing the Galliano Club new historical mystery series

Announcing the Galliano Club new historical mystery series

What??!! A new historical mystery series? But, but . . .

Read on.

One of my earliest memories is of my grandfather coming home from Revere Copper and Brass, yelling “Ann!”  When my grandmother replied, he inevitably came back with “Huh?” the first sign of the industrial deafness that would plague his later years.

My grandparents circa 1960

My grandparents making pasta, circa 1960

Related: Ann Amato Sestito: A Tribute

We lived next door to them in Rome, NY. It was a good place to grow up.

In 1825 the Erie Canal connected the Hudson River to the Great Lakes and spurred economic development across upstate New York. Rome became a bustling version of Jimmy Stewart’s Bedford Falls. In the early days of the 20th century, Italian immigrants like my great-grandparents flocked to the area after a stop at Ellis Island. People with names like Lombino, Sestito, Russo, and Ferlo settled in cities with names like Syracuse, Verona, Utica, and Rome.

Central New York voices have a lilt leftover from these immigrants that includes double and triple negatives. For example: “No, I didn’t give Tommy no five dollars.” My grandfather’s friends either worked “down ta mill” or “down ta muck.”

The mill meant the Revere Copper and Brass Rolling Mill, Spargo Wire, or one of the several other metal-based manufacturers along the Mohawk River. Muck referred to the small truck farms along Muck Road; so-called because their produce fit in the back of a truck, or so I was told.

Good recordkeeping

My grandfather retired as a foreman after 40 years at Revere, but before that he was deputy sheriff of Oneida County. He was also City Marshal for years, leaving behind a pile of ledgers filled with entries about court cases and debt collection penned in my grandmother’s neat hand. He generally was paid a percentage of the money that was owed. Entries show debts repaid in installments; no doubt my grandfather didn’t get his fee until the debt was paid in full.

Random ledger page

A random page from his ledgers as City Marshal, showing court cases and his fees

His ledgers are a snapshot in time featuring feuds, rivals, debts, businesses, lawyers, and judges. The Carissimo and Verro family feud resulted in 7 summons in the month of April 1958 alone, netting my grandfather $17.50.

No wonder he went out armed.

My grandfather’s stories

We always went to my grandparents’ house for coffee and doughnuts after Mass on Sunday. If we were lucky, somebody got my grandfather to talk about his deputy sheriff days, Prohibition, and the long arm of the Mafia. The Mafia wife with 22 children. Hiding out in a cemetery with his buddy Hank to catch thugs who’d buried illegal booze with a dead body. The double murder of feuding wedding guests.

He warned me about dating boys from Utica, too. Their fathers were all Mafia.

Announcing the Galliano Club new historical mystery series

All this is the run-up to my big announcement. I’m taking a short break from the Detective Emilia Cruz series (don’t worry, still much ahead for our intrepid Acapulco detective) to focus on a Prohibition-era trilogy inspired by my grandfather’s stories.

The Galliano Club mystery series has been in the back of my mind for some time. Last year I spent a day with Rome’s historian, sifting through old pictures like the ones below. Between those images and the visions conjured by my grandfather’s stories, a new cast of characters has taken shape in 1926 against a backdrop of brick storefronts, rattling Model T Fords, church steeples, and immigrant families.

Risk, power, & corruption in 1926

The Galliano Club is an Italian men’s social club in the fictional town of Lido, NY. Luca Lombardo is the bartender, supported by club owner Vito Bottini, former vaudeville dancer Ruth Cross, plus Mafia thugs, rum runners, a scheming mill accountant, and a crooked cop.

There will be true-to-life rivalries between the Italian, Polish, and Irish populations. The Mafia’s grip tightens as Prohibition-era moonshiners vie for business.

Incidentally, the real Galliano Club building still stands, a reminder of Rome’s heyday. It’s one of a handful of historic buildings that survived the sad wholesale razing of the downtown area to rebuild Fort Stanwix in the 1970’s. For 4 years, I took tap lessons from a dance instructor on the second floor.

I can’t wait to throw open the doors to readers!

Keep scrolling for a gallery of inspiration from the archives of the Rome Historical Society, with special thanks to Arthur L. Simmons III, the Executive Director.


Madonia fruit market

Madonia’s fruit market was owned by a friend of my grandfather.

Copper City sign over Mohawk River

For years, most of the copper used in the US came from the Revere mill in Rome, as proclaimed by the lit sign over the Mohawk River.

Rome NY 1927 motorcycle race

An early motorcycle race through downtown Rome, circa 1926

Rome NY 1927

Rome decked out to receive Charles “Lucky Lindy” Lindbergh in July 1927

Rome NY 1926

Multi-storey brick buildings lined downtown while streetcars clanged up and down.

Galliano Club mystery series announcement

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


Mini Masterclass: How to Write a Mystery Series

Mini Masterclass: How to Write a Mystery Series

Did you ever want to write a mystery series? Have an idea for a character but nothing else? Maybe you need a blueprint for finally getting that mystery series written.

True Story

When I worked for the CIA, diving into real-life mysteries, I loved reading mysteries like the Spenser series by Robert B. Parker. So much so that I wanted to write my own.

When I wrote the first Detective Emilia Cruz story, drawing on my counterdrug experience, the plot came together easily. The rest was a hard slog.

Inventing a compelling main character was just the start. What about the secondary characters and the tensions they bring to the story? Plots ahd to be unique to the setting. What cultural elements helped do that?

Beyond all that, each book had to create anticipation for the next. I wanted readers to stay up all night navigating complicated plot lines, wondering if the main character had what it takes, and devouring every book in the series.

By the time I finished the 3rd book, DIABLO NIGHTS, I had unknowingly created a blueprint for the series. Each book wasn’t a one-off, but part of a richer whole.

Mystery masterclass logo

The formula

Eight books and some short stories later, I’ve distilled what it takes to create a page-turning mystery series into a 5-part formula that I call the Mystery Shark Method.


S = Setting

H = Hero/Heroine

A = Arc

R = Run time

K = Killjoy

I’ve put together an entire free Mystery Shark Method mini masterclass for you. Each SHARK element is explained, with examples. There’s also some writing exercises to help you create your own blueprint for a page-turning mystery series.

Find the mini masterclass here:

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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 Shark Method masterclass

Dan Petrosini and the Detective Frank Luca series

Dan Petrosini and the Detective Frank Luca series

Dan Petrosini, mystery author and wine afficionado, was featured last month in the Mystery Ahead newsletter. His latest is THE SERENITY MURDER–just the name gives me the shivers. If you like police procedurals as much as I do, here’s a replay of our chat.

1  Carmen Amato: Dan, thanks so much for stopping by. Your police procedural series features Detective Frank Luca, (AM I THE KILLER, VANISHED, THE SERENITY MURDER) with action that travels between Florida and New Jersey. You describe them as “noir-heavy” detective stories. Tell us about the type of crime featured in the series.

Dan Petrosini: It’s great to be here. Luca, a homicide detective, pursues killers. Usually, he investigates one puzzling murder per story. However, Book 4, which is to be released in a couple of weeks, revolves around a serial killing.

2  CA: Luca has had a troubled life. How does that impact the plotlines of your books?

Dan Petrosini: Like all of us, Luca has personal issues; sickness, divorce, self-doubt, etc. At times they impact how he approaches a case and other times it’s a sub-plot. I’m a fan of realistic fiction. There are no super heroes or special powers in the real world and Luca lives in the real world.

Dan Petrosini3  CA: How did your writing style develop and what books and/or authors inspire you?

Dan Petrosini: When I began writing novels my writing at times was too dense.  I have worked hard at creating quick paced stories with realistic dialogue and the feedback is positive. I’ve accomplished that.

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?

Dan Petrosini: Whoa, just one? This is tough. Can’t we have a dinner party? My pick would surprise most people – Alexander Solzhenitsyn.  His portrayals and recounting of harsh Soviet means to silence dissent resonated with me.  Not one for goulash, we’d chat over fish and pasta washed it down with a river of wine.

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

Dan Petrosini: I believe the most important component to writing successfully, is to do it regularly.  I write each and every day. My word count has grown and it has become easier. Not easy, but easier.

I realize many cannot find the time each day, which is fine. Find a time, one hour a week, one day a week, etc and stick to it. You will be surprised at how being disciplined will improve your craft and the words will pile up.

(Additionally, read like a mad man!)

More about Dan: Born in NYC, Dan Petrosini lives in SW Florida. Married with two adult daughters and a needy Maltese, Dan has written eight novels. Passionate about motivating others to pursue their dreams and creative sides, he plays saxophone in several bands and drinks too much wine.


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


Hard-core hard-boiled with mystery author Jim Nesbitt

Hard-core hard-boiled with mystery author Jim Nesbitt

A warm welcome to Jim Nesbitt, author of the hard-core hard-boiled Ed Earl Burch private investigator series. Ed Earl Burch is a not-quite washed up Texas cop turned PI with a notch collection on his bedpost and bad knees. Ed’s world is crude and rude and he punches through it with a pack of Lucky Strikes and a glass of Kentucky bourbon. A brisk pace, sliding points of view, shades of gray crooks, and dialogue spit out of the corners of everybody’s mouth make this series a real gem for hardboiled genre fiction fans.

mystery author jim NesbittJim books are collecting awards. THE SECOND LAST CHANCE was a finalist for the IPPY, Forewords INDIE and Killer Nashville Silver Falchion awards last year. It was also a Top Pick and finalist for Novel of The Year for Underground Book Reviews (UBR) and won a best hard-boiled mystery award from the Independent Crime Master Authors group. THE RIGHT WRONG NUMBER is a UBR Top Pick this year and is in the running for Novel of the Year for 2018.

1.Carmen Amato: Jim thanks so much for stopping by. Your Ed Earl Burch mysteries caught my eye because of the great tagline: “Nobody’s hero. Nobody’s fool.” Tell us about Ed Earl’s backstory and what makes him tick.

Jim Nesbitt: I think Ed Earl is a bit of an Everyman with whom folks can readily identify. He’s been smacked around by life and carries the guilt of a dead partner he couldn’t keep from getting killed, a couple of ex-wives and the loss of his gold shield, largely because of his own actions. Getting booted from the force in Dallas denies him the source of pride and recognition for the one thing he does best in life, tracking down bad guys and making them pay.

Burch is deeply flawed. Besides being angst-ridden, he drinks too much, he’s fatally attracted to women who leave him an emotional train wreck, and he’s a terminal smartass who never knows when to shut up. He’s also a guy with a code he sometimes forgets until the chips are down. He’s not super-smart like Sam Spade or Philip Marlowe and he sure isn’t super-cool like Steve McQueen in Bullitt. He’s got bad knees, a beard and balding pate, a belly and an empty bank account. He also comes across like he might not be the sharpest knife in the drawer. He’s Columbo without the caricature and people have a bad habit of underestimating him. He makes them pay for that — either with handcuffs or a bullet. Doesn’t matter to him — however they want to deal the play.

At his core, he’s smart, tough, profane and reckless and has been described as a classic American anti-hero. I’ll buy that.

2. CA: Where do you find inspiration for your often damaged and dangerous characters?

JN: My hillbilly cousins and all the journalists I helled around with for four decades. We’re a rude and intemperate lot. I also ran across a lot of colorful characters chasing politicians, crooks, cops, cowboys, loggers, miners and just plain folks while roving the country as a national correspondent out of Atlanta and Washington, D.C.

I’ve always had a good ear for dialogue and an eye for detail that lets me create a keen sense of place. The people I met along the way as a journalist gave me a helluva head start on creating the rogue’s gallery of characters you meet in my novels. So did those hillbilly cousins.

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

JN:  I think it’s essential for a writer to create a keen sense of place and too many fail to do what you do so well in your Emilia Cruz series. I come from a long line of hillbilly storytellers who instilled in me the strong tie between family and the land we come from — both were steeped in the stories they told about my ancestors, my uncles and aunts, my cousins and my mom and dad when they were young and growing up in the North Carolina mountains. I tried to capture that as a journalist and it was natural that this would carry over to my novels.

I knew I was going to write very stark and violent tales of revenge and redemption. And none of the characters in my novels are nice people, not even Burch — they’re all fairly nasty and violent folk. I wasn’t born in Texas, but I lived there for a while and I spent a lot of time wandering the border between Texas and Mexico and flat fell in love with the harsh beauty of the desert mountains of the Big Bend Country that rise out of Mexico. The mountains there clash and collide in a way that makes it seems like the very bones of the earth are there for you to touch.

What better setting for the tales I was trying to tell? But I was gunning for more than just a backdrop — I think the interplay between people and the land where they live is endlessly fascinating. And I wanted to capture how a place shapes a people and how the land becomes a character unto itself in their story, inseparable from who they are. Texas — particularly the harsh and brooding beauty of West Texas — is more than a backdrop or framework for my novels. It’s a character that adds its own relentless element of foreboding and impending violence and is a big influence on the people in my novels and what they do.

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?

JN: The late, great and vastly underappreciated James Crumley whose novels Dancing Bear and The Last Good Kiss taught me it was okay to let it rip with frank descriptions of sex and violence instead of euphemisms that I think insult the reader. And it was okay to drop f-bombs and other profane and earthy phrases. Both of his main characters, Milo Milodragovitch and C.W. ‘Sonny’ Sughrue, are deeply flawed PIs who drink and drug too much and chase the bad girls. Neither one toes the line or gives much of a damn about the law, but both have a code they might stray from but always return to in the end. His books also have raucously funny passages where the joke is often on the main character.

All that impressed me because those guys are vastly different from Sam Spade and Philip Marlowe, two guys who might bend the rules, but kept to their code and used brains rather than brawn and a gun. And the joke was never on Sam or Phil. Crumley gave me license to NOT lace Ed Earl up in the strait jacket of the hard-boiled detective template.

So, what’s for dinner? Deep whiskeys before and after the main course, which will probably be thick ribeyes served with mashed potatoes swimming in butter. Or maybe something more primal — backstrap venison or elk steaks. Since we’re both good ole’ boys, I imagine we’ll sit at the kitchen table with the bottle between us, smoking cigarettes and talking about family, the places that stole our hearts and the women who left us flattened like three-day-old roadkill.

I’d ask him about that interplay between people and the land, the sense of family and place we carry even in a rootless and highly mobile society like the one we live in. Did he deliberately set out to make the sense of place so strong in his novels that it became a character unto itself or did that naturally spill out because he was raised on the same type of stories I heard from my family? My bet is, he’ll say something like: “Hell, bud, I just rared back and let it rip.”

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

JN: Well, you and I both know there’s no silver bullet to writing — you just keep your butt in the chair, open a vein and bleed into your computer. Yeah, I poached a Hemingway line there and tarted it up — so, sue me, Papa. What I can tell you is something I learned a long time ago as a cub reporter — facts are your friends and the more facts you have, the firmer the foundation you can build for your writing and the surer and more authoritative and authentic your story will be.

It seems counter-intuitive since we’re writing fiction, but the firm foundation of facts frees up your writing and really allows it to fly. The horrible cliché told to young writers is to write what you know. What you know is only the starting point — and a poor one at that.

Do some research — if your books are set in the late 1980s and early 1990s like mine are, you better gather up all the facts you can about that time. Were laptops and cellphone in use back then? Who was president or governor? What were the political scandals of the day? Was that building you put in Chapter 12 even there back then? You’re not writing sepia-toned history, but you want to get these facts right to give your story authenticity. If your characters carry guns, you better get that right. You’re not going to use all these facts in your story, but they’ll be there underneath your writing.

If you get those details wrong, you run the risk of undermining your story because believe me, somebody will catch it or Google it and call you out. Or just drop your book, walk away and never think of you again. Best of all, if you have the time and the money, go walk the ground of where your story takes place. Most of the scenes in my two novels are set in places I went to as a journalist and that proved invaluable to creating a strong sense of place.

Thank you!

More about Jim Nesbitt:

Jim Nesbitt writes hard-boiled crime thrillers set in Texas and northern Mexico that featured a defrocked Dallas vice and homicide detective named Ed Earl Burch. Nesbitt is a former roving correspondent whose assignments included stories on both sides of the border and his novels — The Last Second Chance and The Right Wrong Number — are laced with the sights, sounds and people he encountered while wandering that rugged country. To learn more about Jim’s work, visit his website 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.


Gripping Audible Mystery Series Flies You to Acapulco

Gripping Audible Mystery Series Flies You to Acapulco

The first four books in the Detective Emilia Cruz series set in Acapulco are all available on Audible from Tantor Media!

The books are narrated by the fabulous Johanna Parker, who also voiced the Sookie Stackhouse series. Johanna has really nailed a singular “voice” for the Emilia Cruz series narration, with energy, heart and perfect Spanish pronunciations. I hope she earns a 2017 Audie Award!

Does she sound like Emilia? Sample CLIFF DIVER here.

Click here for Audible titles or search for “Carmen Amato” on the Audible app.

The audiobook cover art is by Matt Chase, creator of the print and ebook covers. What do you think?

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


Carmen Amato at Spring Hill

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