Chatting with Police Procedural Author Linda Berry

Chatting with Police Procedural Author Linda Berry

Linda Berry’s PRETTY CORPSE was one of the best police procedural novels I’d read in a long time and I read alot! She has a number of other books in the works and I was thrilled that she had the time to chat.

1  Carmen Amato: Linda, thanks so much for stopping by. As you know, I write a police series and am always interested in the genre. I was excited to read your new police procedural PRETTY CORPSE. It was excellent! Tell us how you came to write such an authentic yet imaginative novel.

Linda Berry: Thank you so much for reading PRETTY CORPSE, Carmen. I’m thrilled that you enjoyed it. Coming from a seasoned mystery writer, that’s a high compliment.

To write authentically, I do extensive research. That doesn’t mean I let my fingers do the walking. For PRETTY CORPSE, I did dozens of ride-alongs with various female patrol officers in San Francisco. I chose the night shift when the city was rife with criminal activity, and I got to see these courageous women in action. Several of my characters were inspired by the female cops I came to know. Many of the side stories in PRETTY CORPSE are based on actual events relayed to me by police officers.

I lived in the bay area at the time, and happened to meet Officer Nancy Guillory. She had just won the medal of valor, the highest decoration for bravery exhibited by an officer. I asked if I could interview her for a police thriller I was developing. She enthusiastically consented, and that began our journey—real life feeding fiction.

2  CA: How do you create multi-dimensional fictional characters, including your lead character Lauren Starkley? Her life is very complicated, with a powerful backstory. Yet she’s a character we can all identify with.

LB:  As a life long artist, I’ve learned to be a keen observer. I watch people—their nuances, expessions, body language. I spent a lot of time observing female officers, and I interviewed them extensively. I saw beyond the uniform, to women who LOVED their jobs, and had completely different personas in their personal lives, where they took on the roles of wives and mothers.

Creating multi-dimensional characters comes with years of writing experience. I was a copywriter/art director for 25 years. I now use words as my medium to paint a scene, to give breath to characters. I read great books, of every genre, and I study technique. I take what I learn and put it to practice.

3  CA: You chose San Francisco as your setting and described it so well throughout the book that I could feel the drizzle soaking into my shoes! Why is that city a good setting for a mystery? How do you use setting to create and build suspense?

LB: The story is set in San Francisco because Officer Nancy Guillory worked there, and that’s where I did my ride-alongs. Also, I knew the city well, after living in the Bay area most of my life. It is a very atmospheric city—with the ocean, rolling hills, the mist, rain, and fog, the city smells and activity, and the rich diversity of architecture and people. Wonderful elements for an author to draw from.

4  CA: Your knowledge of police procedures shone through in PRETTY CORPSE. The villain’s motivation was very inventive, too. How did you research the novel?

LB: The captain of the station gave generously of his time. We discussed many of the scenes up front and he laid down procedures, codes, and officer conduct. He also set me up with many people who accommodated my needs, from the medical examiner to homicide detectives. As far as the villain, I was in a great critique group at the time, really seasoned and talented writers. I thank them for pushing me beyond my comfort zone to make the villain more ominous. I kept plugging away until I had well developed characters, and twists and turns that were really surprising. The first draft took about a year to construct.

5  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?

LB: Good question. Do I only get one dinner? One author? So many influenced my work, I couldn’t pick just one. I would invite Ann Perry, Louse Penny, Kathy Reichs, Craig Johnson, and John Grisham to dinner. I would serve mystery food—dim sum—Chinese dumplings, because they are delicious and what’s in them is a mystery until you try them.

6  CA: What can we expect next from you? Another police procedural?

LB:  Part Two of HIDDEN comes out in September, a mystery with a contemporary western setting. QUIET SCREAM will be out soon too. The protagonist is a female detective who has a big city homicide background. Suffering from cop burnout, she takes a job as sheriff of a small town where the crime is nominal. And then a serial killer moves into her district.

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

LB: Here is my all time favorite author quote:

“Many people hear voices when no one is there. Some of them are called mad and are shut up in rooms where they stare at the walls all day. Others are called writers and they do pretty much the same thing.”

 ~Ray Bradbury

More about Linda Berry: The themes of Linda Berry’s novels are murder, suspense, and romance. Her latest, Pretty Corpse, follows a gutsy female police officer who hunts a rapist, only to find the tables turned, and she becomes the hunted. Layered into the story are complicated relationships with her daughter, her mother, her partner. For professional reasons, she struggles to resist her maddening attraction to her captain.  Visit www.lindaberry.net to find out more.

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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.

 

Coming Soon! PACIFIC REAPER: A Detective Emilia Cruz #Mystery

Coming Soon! PACIFIC REAPER: A Detective Emilia Cruz #Mystery

PACIFIC REAPER, the 5th book in the Detective Emilia Cruz mystery series will be released for Kindle on 28 March, with the paperback version coming the following week. Detective Emilia Cruz discovers an altar to Santa Muerte at a crime scene and the case will impact her as no other.

Related: Get the Detective Emilia Cruz Starter Library

Emilia meets Santa Muerte

A gang war is terrorizing Acapulco.

Murder victims are sacrificed to Santa Muerte, Mexico’s forbidden saint of death.

Will you investigate? Or be cursed?

Detective Emilia Cruz confronts her worst fears in PACIFIC REAPER, the 5th book in the sensational police procedural series set in today’s Acapulco. Emilia and her partner Franco Silvio respond to murder in the remote Coyuca Lagoon reserve and find an elaborate altar to Santa Muerte next to the body of a known gang member. Even hardened cops are frightened by the bloody scene’s warning to the enemies of Santa Muerte.

Rivals retaliate by hanging a murder victim on a billboard. Gang warfare erupts like wildfire, burning a line across Acapulco bay.

Focusing on the Santa Muerte angle, Emilia’s investigation is soon a maze of unholy clues. At the same time, everyone close to her has a brush with death. Bad luck? Or is the Skeleton Saint’s curse coming true?

Undercover as a Santa Muerte worshipper, Emilia’s life will be stripped of everything she holds dear.

Her family.

Her lover.

Her job.

Herself.

Related: Why Acapulco is an Unforgettable Setting for a Mystery Series

Unholy inspiration

PACIFIC REAPER was inspired by the growing cult of Santa Muerte in Mexico, documented in the seminal book DEVOTED TO DEATH by R. Andrew Chesnut. Dr. Chesnut writes that “Santa Muerte is first and foremost an unofficial saint who heals, protects, and delivers devotees to their destinations in the afterlife . . . Whether as a plaster statue or on a votive candle, gold medallion or a prayer card, she is most often depicted as a female Grim Reaper, weilding the same sythe and wearing a shroud similar to her male counterpart.”

Related: Book Review: DEVOTED TO DEATH

The cult of Santa Muerte in Mexico is growing rapidly and has been associated with both cartel violence and law enforcement. Dr. Chesnut notes that “Her appeal to all sides in the drug war testifies to . . . the force of her attraction to those whose line of work gives them an acute sense of their own mortality.” The dark side of Santa Muerte includes ritual killings, altars, tattoos and practices bordering on witchcraft.

The saint has many names: Skeleton Saint, The WhiteSister, The Bony Lady, etc. All of them give me the shivers.

You can check out Dr. Chesnut’s informative website about Santa Muerte: https://skeletonsaint.com/ and read his well-researched posts on The Huffington Post: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/author/rachesnut-570

Get ready for REAPER

A few months ago, NPR’s Felix Contreras asked me how many Emilia Cruz books I would write. Five seems like a huge milestone but I have enough ideas and research for 100! That being said, if you haven’t read the first four, get going before REAPER sneaks up on you!

Detective Emilia Cruz series

Cover reveal

Once again, cover artist Matt Chase has nailed it! The cover of PACIFIC REAPER is my new favorite. What do you think?

Pacific Reaper

MORE INSIGHTS

Book Review: THIEF OF SOULS by Brian Klingborg

Book Review: THIEF OF SOULS by Brian Klingborg

THIEF OF SOULS by Brian Klingborg I love a mystery with a unique plotline in which a crime or a twist (or both!) is only possible because of the setting. And I love an author who pulls me into that setting and makes me experience it in an almost tactile fashion. THIEF...

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NEW EVIDENCE IN 43 MISSING TRUE CRIME

NEW EVIDENCE IN 43 MISSING TRUE CRIME

It only took 7 years, but the real truth behind Mexico’s most notorious true crime is finally coming out. 43 MISSING TRUE CRIME On 24 September 2014, students from the Ayotzinapa rural teacher’s college in the Mexican state of Guerrero—best known as home to the iconic...

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Book Review: KILLER THRILLER by Lee Goldberg

Book Review: KILLER THRILLER by Lee Goldberg

KILLER THRILLER by Lee Goldberg Action thriller writer Ian Ludlow is at it again in this zany unputdownable page-turner, the sequel to the equally wonderful TRUE FICTION. Like TRUE FICTION, KILLER THRILLER combines an over-the-top plot with author Goldberg’s own...

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Mystery and Thriller Trends for 2017

Mystery and Thriller Trends for 2017

I recently chatted with Mary Rosenblum from New Writers Interface about what we can expect when it comes to mystery and thriller trends in 2017, as well as what really hooks a reader and draws them into a story. She’s an author, editor, and marketer whose services replace much of what traditional publishing houses once did when it comes to prepping a book for publication and seeing that it gets to the right audience. So if anyone knows what is ahead for readers, Mary does.

Carmen Amato: As a publishing insider who helps bring quality books to readers, what mystery and thriller trends do you see ahead, when it comes to reading and publishing?

Mary Rosenblum: I’m seeing a growing shift to ebooks among the mystery readers in general. It was behind the fantasy, romance, and SF genres for awhile, but the ebook sales  have really strengthened.  It’s still a genre where you want to have the book available in print as well as ebook, however.

Readers are getting pickier now, dismissing books with weak descriptions or slow starts. Most people use ‘look inside the book’ before they buy. Series collections are increasingly popular in the ebook world, and for you authors, free book giveaways no longer translate into an increase in paid sales.  They’re good for boosting your Amazon ranking, though.

There is also a growing need to focus book promotion on increasing your visibility on Amazon.com as book purchases shift more and more to Amazon.  Amazon does not make all books visible equally, and good books can be quite invisible unless you know the author or title.  Don’t depend on Amazon only to find new books.  Use book discounters such as Fussy Librarian or BookBub, be on Goodreads, and follow reviewers in your genre for good leads.

CA: I’ve noticed that more and more mystery series are using title devices. For example, the title of each Hetta Coffey mystery by Jinx Schwartz starts with “Just,” while Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum mysteries are numbered. What do you think of this trend?

MR: It started some time ago and has recently gained momentum.  Sue Grafton really brought attention to it with her alphabet series quite a few years ago.

This is all about branding and it’s a really good idea in our world of one second visual hooks!  Some authors use a title device, perhaps using a particular phrase, a color, flower, bakery item or what have you as part of the title.  My own cozy mystery series with Putnam included a flower name as part of the title;  Deadly Nightshade, Bleeding Heart, etc.    Other authors use cover imagery as a brand — the covers all share a similar look.  You want instant reader identification — “Oh, I like that series…”

CA: As both reader and editor, what “hooks” you when you read a book description or see a cover on Amazon? What makes you pass on a book? 

MR: Covers are the first thing I look at and I can tell with about 90% certainty whether they’re professionally done or done by the author.  A good cover reveals the genre, the ‘tone’ of the story, and offers some kind of visual hook.  Vague covers that don’t make the content clear are a turn-off, not just to me but to other readers, too.  It implies a book that isn’t up to professional standard.

I will even turn down free books if the description is poor! I want a description that hooks me right away, gives me a sense of the main character and the central conflict, and excites my curiosity.  If I want to go read more at the end of that description, I’m 2/3 of the way to clicking ‘buy’!  (A quick glance at the start of the book is the deciding third…)

CA: Book reviews, especially on Amazon, have become an essential part of the book industry for both readers and writers. My own experience has been 1 review for every 1500 downloads. Do you think book reviews will become more or less important as time goes on? Why do you think so few readers leave reviews?

MR: Right now, reviews are becoming more and more important to Amazon visibility as are Goodreads reviews and reads.  These things change, but right now, authors need to actively solicit reviews.  But you must do it within Amazon’s best practices rules or risk getting kicked off Amazon.  You cannot offer a reward for a review and it is very dangerous to hire a company to ‘get you positive reviews’.  If that company is on Amazon’s black list, your book gets banned!  NOT good!

The best way to get reviews or Goodreads action is to cultivate a personal connection with  your readers.  Acquire their emails and their goodwill through giveaways of free short content, free book giveaways, contests, invitations to contribute something to an ongoing draft, and the like.  Then ask for reviews the way you’d ask them for a Facebook like.  If your fans feel that they’re your friends, they’re more willing to do you favors.

CA: Can you tell us a bit more about yourself? You have a unique place in today’s  publishing world but I think more agents and editors are going to follow your lead.

MR: I raised my kids as a mid-list author with Random House, Penguin, and Torr Books, writing SF and mystery (as Mary Freeman) as well as teaching writing. (And I won some nice literary awards while I was doing that, too).  As the publishing world changed and opened up to self publishing, I saw too many of my students getting scammed by fake ‘publishers’ or publishing books only to see no buyers.  I saw this new world of self publishing as a huge benefit to writers and readers both. The NY marketers were no longer the gatekeepers of published fiction!

But you have to do it right in order to succeed.  You must have a book that satisfies the readers in your genre and is well edited.  You must publish it in a professional manner.  You must promote it.

I have worked very hard to bring those three elements together for writers as New Writers Interface where I edit and help them publish and promote.  The promotion part has become more important lately, and I spend a lot of time keeping track of what is working for authors today to connect their books to the right readers.  It’s a lot of fun and keeps me busy tracking trends! And I love it when my clients’ books sell well!

CA: Can you leave us with two recommendations: A classic every mystery lover should read, and a book you’d give as a gift.

MR: Ah, I’m usually terrible at these recommendations, but in this case I can manage!  Whew!

The only classic that I’d recommend to every mystery lover is Sherlock Holmes.   No matter what sub genre of mystery you read or write, Holmes works.   The books really don’t fit into any modern genre, but for mystery authors there’s a lot to be learned from that distant, knows-everything character.  The books don’t sell just because they get assigned in high school and college English classes, they still engage readers in spite of the antiquated writing style.  A few authors since then have done very well with the Holmes archetype.  Rex Stout’s Nero Wolfe series, begun in the 30s, was very successful and was quite popular for at least four decades.

A gift I actually gave this Christmas was an assortment of Raymond Chandler mysteries — another classic by the way.  The recipient is a younger mystery reader who likes noir detective fiction and hadn’t heard of Raymond Chandler and Phillip Marlowe.  He was very pleased with the books, and there’s another author whose stories have survived in spite of ‘antiquated’ prose!

CA: Mary, thanks so much for stopping by. This was great information for both readers and writers.

MR: Carmen, thank you so much for inviting me!  I just finished Hat Dance and am moving on to King Peso–I really like Emilia Cruz and her investigations.  And believe me, getting three books into a series is rare for me!  As soon as I start editing, I am done with a book!  That I do for pay, not for pleasure.  Excellent writing, characterization, and plotting.  I’m looking forward to more Emilia Cruz mysteries for sure!

You can find out more about Mary and her magic at http://www.newwritersinterface.com/

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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.

 

Exciting News and Author Views

Exciting News and Author Views

It’s always exciting news when you learn something about yourself.

Recently, I’ve figured out that disappointment doesn’t mean failure. Frustration doesn’t mean giving up. And creativity is a muscle. The more you work it, the more you have.

But first, the bad news

AWAKENING MACBETH is a romantic thriller with a paranormal twist. It’s my first book NOT set in Mexico (that I will publish, that is) and the first thing I’ve ever written that has the word “paranormal” attached to it.

Last October, I submitted AWAKENING MACBETH to the Kindle Scout program, which provides a platform for readers to select books, based on cover, description, and excerpt, that they would like to see published by Kindle Press. This means that while the book would be available to Kindle readers, the same as all my other books, Kindle Press would actively promote the book in return for a 5-year exclusivity contract.

AWAKENING MACBETH was not selected.

Now, the good news.

AWAKENING MACBETH was not selected.

Bear with me. The silver lining here is that the book will be released with no strings attached, which is important as I look at film rights options, foreign language sales, and other ways to reach new audiences.

Alas, the cover

The cover of AWAKENING MACBETH is being troublesome. For those regular readers of this blog, you’ll remember that when I released excerpts of the book as a serial last year, this was the cover image:

Print

Some readers noted that it could be a vampire story, which it is not.

So for Kindle Scout, I went through the excitement of a design competition with 99designs.com, which resulted in this cover:

Awakening Macbeth novel

But the feedback on this is 1. Her hair looks fake (the artist had to change the color from brunette to blonde and it got helmet-esque), and 2. This could be a pirate or bondage story. Ahem, none of the above.

While I am disappointed in the result of the 99designs experience, I’m excited to be confronted with a new design challenge. So stay tuned, a new cover will grace the release of the book later this month.

Of course, Mystery Ahead newsletters are ALWAYS the first to get book release news, so if you haven’t signed up, better do it now.

Don’t remember the premise for AWAKENING MACBETH? Here you go:

Shattered by her father’s death, history professor Brodie Macbeth has terrifying nightmares. In her sleep, people will kill for a secret Brodie doesn’t know.

Blame it on the grief, everyone says. Brodie tries, but it takes meeting Joe Birnam, an Iraq War vet with his own demons, before she can finally let go of the dreams and learn to love.

Yet when a colleague makes a shocking claim and demands her father’s secret, Brodie realizes that the nightmares are a real and deadly game. The prize? Joe Birnam’s immortal soul.

But Brodie doesn’t know how to play, let alone win.

Friends in high places

Over the last two weeks I’ve been lucky enough to be featured on several bookish websites, talking about KING PESO and sharing some excerpts. KING PESO is the 4th Detective Emilia Cruz novel, in which Emilia tracks down a cop killer even as she is reassigned to an all-female patrol unit.

I also had a chance to talk to Mary Rosenblum, author, teacher, editor, and powerhouse behind The New Writer’s Interface. Mary’s services fill the gap for independent and emerging authors that once upon a time traditional publishers filled: content editing, structural critique, blurb writing, etc. More than that, she’s an astutue publishing insider who knows how authors need to position themselves and their works for success.

We had a great conversation about what got me writing and what advice we have for new authors. Check it out here.

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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.

 

10 Ways to Get a Clue

10 Ways to Get a Clue

How many moving parts does it take to build a mystery novel?

Do you want the short answer? (lots)

Or the long answer? (lots and lots)

Building Blocks

Now, I’m not whining over the terrible fate of being a mystery author. Actually, I like being a mystery author. I like building intricate plots and craftily connecting seemingly disparate elements that you never expected. I like writing cliffhanger chapter endings and dialogue that kills (pun intended).

But it does take alot of scribbling and planning and editing and coffee drinking, all while elbowing (literally) the dog away from the keyboard. Sometimes all goes swiftly, other times not so much.

Right now, as I slog away on the 4th Detective Emilia Cruz, KING PESO, I’m stuck on the little matter of how one key bit of evidence is revealed to Emilia.

Elementary, my dear Emilia

How can Acapulco’s first and only female police detective Emilia find the clue without getting herself into more danger? Here are the choices:

1. Snitch (also known as stoolie) on the street tells her: Emilia pays somebody for information

2. Online research and discovery: criminal posts a YouTube video, information is about a business with a website or listed in a business registry, etc

3. Part of a parallel investigation: another cop finds out somehting relevant to her case and shares it

4. Forensic evidence: DNA testing; fibers or dirt provide context and additional information, tire treads, etc etc

5. Anonymous caller: tip comes in through a hotline or to police station

6. Ballistics: gun used has a history known to the police

7. Autopsy results: something about manner of death or body provides important information

8. Cold case files: the current case is linked to a past unresolved case

9. Photography: video or still photos capture information relevant to her case

10. Witness: witness at the scene of the crime tells all to Emilia

Hmmm. #10 would be so easy.

I hate easy . . .

Got an idea? Leave a comment and help an author out!

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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: Top Secret Twenty One

Book Review: Top Secret Twenty One

The Stephanie Plum books are like Pringle’s potato chips—I can’t eat just one despite the fact I know they’ll be full of empty calories. Maybe it’s the salt. Whatever. Pass the can.

Top Secret Twenty One is the latest in the Stephanie Plum bounty hunter series by Janet Evanovich set in Trenton, NJ. With 21 books in a series, frankly, it must be hard to keep things fresh–I’m up to 3 novels so far in the Emilia Cruz series so am not speaking from experience. That being said, having read 1-20, I was pretty sure what to expect.

No crystal ball needed for this book review.

In “21,” Stephanie is still caught between Morelli, the Italian cop she’s sleeping with, and Ranger, the mysterious Latino god-cum-security-expert she’d like to be sleeping with. Ranger is always available to lend Stephanie a car or get her out of trouble, which is amazing as he’s not getting any.

Basically he’s the hottest, yet most unfulfilled, man on the planet . . . Babe.

Related: Learn how to write a book review that matters!

The novel has Stephanie hunting for a bail jumper named Jimmy Poletti who was arrested for running girls out of his car dealership. She can’t find Poletti but when a frenemy shows up at her door claiming that Poletti is trying to kill him (Randy the uber-short in a recurring role), Stephanie figures the odds have changed in her favor.

Babe. Bait.

There’s the obligatory scene at the funeral home, her mother still drinks and irons when stressed, Grandma Mazur and Lula take turns at being the inept sidekick, Ranger’s invitation remains open-ended, and there are more run-ins with the bad dudes on Stark Street. The formula is familiar but still works, although the chapter endings in this novel seemed flat as opposed to the cliff-hangers Evanovich normally leaves us with. The dialogue wasn’t as snappy, either, like soda that has lost some of the fizz.

Doesn’t matter. I’ll read “22,” sure that it will be the one in which Stephanie finally chooses between Morelli and Ranger. Or maybe that will happen in “23.” Or “24.”

Book Review:  The Witch of Napoli

Book Review: The Witch of Napoli

The Witch of Napoli by Michael Schmicker is an unexpected trip to 1890’s Italy, when Garibaldi’s unification of the country was still tenuous and Italy’s city-states retained their strong regional rivalries and flavors. At the same time, the study of the occult was all the rage. The reality and authenticity of the spirit world–and those who could access it–was hotly contested. Fame and fortunes were at stake in this historic time of debate about the afterlife.

The book is narrated by a young man, Tomas, who will rise to journalistic fame on the coattails of a medium. Alessandra is a beautiful woman with an explosive temper, seamy past, and abusive common-law husband, but her apparent psychic powers are mighty. Both she and Tomas are from Naples, where the action starts, and together they navigate treacherous waters as the Italian, and then European, cognoscenti try to prove if Alessandra’s remarkable power to connect with the spirits of the dead, including medieval monk and heretic Savonarola, are for real.

Schmicker is adroit in his handling of the central question—is Alessandra for real?—as Tomas describes her séances. Alessandra is a marvelous character, true to her rough upbringing and the culture of old Naples. She is by turns conflicted, fiery, confident, sick, in love, desperate—yet always remains true to herself as she hides both a secret anguish and the source of her psychic abilities. Tomas is also well drawn. He’s a young man ready for life’s adventures, half in love with Alessandra, and increasingly protective of her even when he knows she has made a bad choice.

Related: Learn how to write a book review that matters

The Witch of Napoli, beyond its absorbing premise, is an excellently crafted book. Alessandra’s nemesis, a haughty Englishman bent on proving her a fraud, is introduced with just the perfect amount of suspense. Chapters end on cliffhangers. Secondary characters are as well written as the principals, with deft descriptions. The sense of time and place is exceptional as Alessandra’s skills as a medium are “tested” in many European capitals. London proves her undoing . . . until she’s back in her native land.

The discussion of the occult is never mawkish nor amateurish, yet neither is this a book about spiritual secrets. At its heart, the Witch of Napoli is about a woman with secrets and the wave of political and academic curiosity that tried to wash those secrets out of her. In a note at the end, Schmicker lets us know that the book was inspired by a real woman and provides research material.

I love reading mysteries and thrillers, as well as writing them, and this book contained all the elements I crave: a fresh premise, characters that intrigue, and both elegant and exceptional dialogue and construction. Bravissimo!

Highly recommended.

Love reading reviews but worried that writing them is hard? Unleash your power as a reviewer with my simple cheatsheet for writing a Review that Matters.

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.

 

If You Went Missing, Who Would Know?

If You Went Missing, Who Would Know?

Donde estan? The question amid all the shoes in the picture is Where are they? This is the cry of those who search for and mourn the missing who are the casualties of Mexico’s drug war.

But calculating just how many are missing is a bureaucratic–and political–war of its own. The Emilia Cruz mystery series captures it in fiction. But it’s a fact.

missing in Mexico shoes of the lost

The numbers game

Many reports claim that as many as 80,000 people have gone missing over the last 10 years in Mexico, victims of drug cartel violence and corrupt officials. In 2012, CNN reported, in an article subtitled “Bodies for Billions” that just since 2007, 48,000 people had died dead and another 5,000 were missing, even while admitting that it was hard to be firm on the numbers as mass graves kept being found.

BBC reported in October 2012 that “According to figures released earlier this year by Mexico’s National Human Rights Commission, 16,000 bodies remain unidentified and a total of 24,000 people are missing.”

If you were missing: Posters of the missing. Picture courtesy of CBS news.

Posters of the missing. Picture courtesy of CBS news.

In early 2013, CBS news reported that shortly after President Pena Nieto moved into Los Pinos, a new list was created with data from local prosecutors across Mexico, including information about people reported missing for any reason during the previous administration. The new list proclaimed that slightly over 26,000 people were missing. The controversial list didn’t include information collected after November 2012.

Most recently, AP and ABC News reported that “Mexico has recalculated the number of people who have gone missing since the start of the country’s drug war in 2006, saying a total of 8,000 are unaccounted for.” Wow, what a big change. If the government spokesperson is to be believed, 14,700 of the missing from the previous administration have been found alive and about 750 have been confirmed dead. The big discrepancy between this year and last is that “people who had filed missing persons reports didn’t update them when their relative re-appeared.”

If you went missing: Pictures of missing outside a mortuary in Acapulco. Picture courtesy of BBC.

Pictures of missing outside a mortuary in Acapulco. Picture courtesy of BBC.

Las Perdidas

In the Emilia Cruz series, the issue of those missing in Mexico is kept alive in Emilia’s binder of women who have gone missing in the Acapulco area. It’s a small way of shedding light on the issue.

In the mystery series, Emilia’s log of the missing is a binder of information on the missing women she calls Las Perdidas. (The Lost Ones) There are more than 40 names in the binder and one name represents all of them: Lila Jimenez Lata. Lila is a teen who ran away from home. Her trail will alternate between hot and cold throughout the series as Emilia hunts for her.

If you went missing: Pictures of the missing on the side of a bus. Picture courtesy of Reuters.

Pictures of the missing on the side of a bus. Picture courtesy of Reuters.

Who else is looking

Last year I wrote about a new agency created to look for the missing  by Mexico’s Attorney General.  The weight of the issue called for some action–in 40 percent of the disappearance cases tracked by Amnesty International, Mexican law enforcement officials failed to open a criminal inquiry, according to Amnesty International. 

But the private sector is bringing the most attention to the plight of the missing. Rallies, posters, press attention, websites–these are the tools available to grieving families. Will websites such as http://missingfrommexico.com/ help? With enough attention and participation, anything is possible.

If you went missing: tortilla wrapper

Tortilla wrapper featuring image of missing persons. Picture courtesy of BBC News bbc.co.uk

In other news

2019 Update: The first picture in this blog post inspired the story “The Artist” which has been released as the dual language English and Spanish volume THE ARTIST/EL ARTISTA, edited by Karen Leclair-Ayestas and available on Amazon.. 

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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: Something like A Dream by Robert Richter

Book Review: Something like A Dream by Robert Richter

SOMETHING LIKE A DREAM by Robert Richter is an unusual novel that crosses genres between international mystery and politically oriented literary fiction.

It’s the 1980s in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, but the shadow of the 60’s and 70’s still hovers over Cotton Waters, a liberal campus bomb-thrower from Colorado who fled to Mexico just one step ahead of US law enforcement. For the past 10 years he’s survived as a beach bum and “fixer” for unwary gringos visiting Mexico. He’s built a network of Mexican friends, ensuring a colorful cast of authentic characters from small kids who run errands, to a local herbal healer who lives in the jungle near Waters’s lonely beach cabin.

Waters is drawn into the struggle for the wealth of a Colorado-based foundation, whose director Bryant Springfield disappeared in Mexico on a quest to find a rare medicinal plant. Springfield’s wife hires Waters, based on his college reputation, to find her husband. Armed with two postcards with clues, Waters–whose nickname “Algo” is a riff on two words: the Spanish word for cotton, algodón, and algo, the Spanish word for something—Waters soon runs afoul of an array of enemies including Springfield’s father, a nosy reporter, corrupt federales, and a band of Huichol Indians who oppose outside influences. At the same time, Springfield’s wife and Waters are increasingly drawn to each other as they survive any number of efforts to keep them from finding the foundation director.

In the book, Puerto Vallarta is hardly the Love Boat stop from the beloved TV show, but is teeming with cheap beer, cantina hucksters, and layers of corruption. The plot is thick with double-crossing menace, allusions to liberal causes of the past (Tom Hayden, SDS, etc.) and smoky peyote-induced dreams and ceremonies. The story also moves beyond the beach, to the rural and dangerous Mexican hinterland, where Waters and friends take to burros to investigate secrets of the Huichol and rumors that Springfield is practicing the dark arts as a shaman.

The whole book is narrated by Waters, with a richly poetic and professorial “voice” somewhat at variance with the character’s persona. This voice, with its fulsome descriptions, heavy use of adjectives and adverbs, and dense phrasing, creates a pace that forces the reader to slow down and savor the imagery. The action scenes, however, would have benefited from fewer descriptive terms, more shorter sentences could have provided visual relief, and Waters’s peyote-fueled dreams were wrapped in page-long paragraphs that didn’t measurably advance the plot. The text contained many Spanish words and references to Mexican locations, which could be confusing to those without background knowledge.

These book review nits aside, Richter immerses the reader into the rarely seen wilds of Mexico. With less liberal baggage, Waters would be an interesting character to build a mystery series around. I’d be interested in seeing more from this author, if only to see what Mexican cultural issue he tackles next and if the prose lightens enough to gain traction with the mystery genre audience.

 

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I’m author Carmen Amato. I write romantic thrillers and the Detective Emilia Cruz mystery series set in Acapulco. Expect risk, power, corruption. And relationships with heat.  More

Book Review: The Dogs of Rome by Conor Fitzgerald

Book Review: The Dogs of Rome by Conor Fitzgerald

THE DOGS OF ROME is an unusual mystery, in that it has a narrow cast of characters, there’s no climax, and the main character is not involved in the ultimate denouement. Does it work? I’ll let you know. As soon as I decide.

The main character, Alec Blume, is an American who grew up in Seattle and moved to Rome with his art historian parents as a teen. When they were killed he stayed where he was. He still lives in the same apartment but has since become a detective. Most of his time is taken up by navigating Italian law enforcement’s machinations, wooing an American from the US Embassy, and talking turkey with local mobsters.

Related post: Book Review: The Golden Egg by Donna Leon

The book started strong, with a startling murder and the odd behavior of the killer as he roams his victim’s apartment. Despite an immediate rivalry between various law enforcement agencies in Rome over the murder jurisdiction, Blume zeros in on the victim’s connection to illegal dog fighting and identifies potential killers. Shortly thereafter, the point of view leaves  Alex and skips between characters, including the killer. Much of the book is a series of conversations probing motivations, Alec’s family background, and the murder’s connection to the mob. These conversations circle around, because they almost always involve the same 4-5 characters.

Related post: The Unsung Influence of Mystery Author Leighton Gage

Admittedly, these characters are well drawn, the author does a good job of imbuing each one with their own “voice,” and the plot was solid and interesting, but the emphasis on conversations was less than arresting (pun intended.) The construction kept the book from showing the main character’s muscle to good advantage. Plus, some of the conversations were repetitive. There were also a few continuity errors, including a early disconnect when the soon-to-be murder victim worries about his mistress being seen through a window and then in the next paragraph he observes that no one can see in the window because of the trees. Which is it? Italian words were used and helped to build mood and atmosphere but were not italicized. This caused confusion. For example, Alec’s love interest is the FBI legal attache at the US Embassy and is referred to as a “legale.” I didn’t know if that was supposed to be legale in Italian or an attempt at  legatt, which is the US diplomatic abbreviation of legal attache. Or maybe it’s a British-ism.

At the end, while the plot’s puzzle pieces all came together in a fulfilling way, Blume contributed virtually nothing to the outcome. This certainly runs counter to the usual mystery/police procedural formula and felt a bit like a cheat.

Would I read another in the Alec Blume series? Yes, mostly for the sights of Rome and interesting characters. But I would hope to see a few changes in style and construction.

Love reading reviews but worried that writing them is hard? Unleash your power as a reviewer with my simple cheatsheet for writing a Review that Matters.

 

Book Review: Federales by Christopher Irvin

Book Review: Federales by Christopher Irvin

FEDERALES is a short novel by Christopher Irvin that packs a hefty punch, slugging the reader to the heart with a story about Mexican corruption, violence, but also redemption and hope. It falls into the same “narco noir” literary category as Guillermo Paxton’s CARTEL RISING and is as noteworthy. Although fiction, like CARTEL RISING, FEDERALES is based on real events in Mexico and reveals  harsh truths about law enforcement and the pervasive influence of the drug cartels with strong characters, well-honed descriptions, and atmospherics laden with authenticity.

Related post: Book Review: CARTEL RISING by Guillermo Paxton

In FEDERALES, Marcos is a Mexican cop at the national level, a federale. He’s a long-term survivor of the organization but when there’s a new boss–one with a well-deserved bad reputation–he knows his days with the organization are numbered. The message is delivered to him loud and clear that the new management is cleaning house in the form of a bullet left for him to discover. it’s a signal Marcos cannot afford to misinterpret. Marcos flees into boozy hiding, but a friend from his former life seeks him out with an offer to  protect a local female politician who has  been the victim of a near-fatal attack. She survived, but an electoral loss means that her official protection will soon be withdrawn.  Marcos sobers up and takes the job, but knows from the start that his chances of long term survival are slim at best.

Author Irvin paints a thoroughly riveting and believable picture of what it is like to be targeted in Mexico; the fear, the constraints, the paranoia and distrust.  His protectee, who has a young daughter, is determined to carry on her political agenda, which is nothing so radical as honest politics and security for the citizens she serves. Yet her outspoken efforts mean she is besieged by enemies on all sides; enemies who are fueled by drug money.  Marcos does not know whom he can trust, her supporters know that she is a marked woman, and those who will help are less than competent. Her message resonates with Marcos, and a connection builds that goes beyond politics yet stops short of a romantic relationship.

At the end of the book, I was sure I recognized the woman the author had in mind when he wrote FEDERALES, and I was right. In a moving afterword, Irvin writes about the death of Maria Santos Gorrostieta, who was kidnapped and murdered in November 2012.  Santos Gorrostieta, the former mayor of a small town in western mexico, had previously survived two assassination attempts as a result of her outspoken stance against drug cartel violence.  I had previously written a blog post about her, similarly aghast and angered by the toll Mexico’s drug war is taking on civil authorities and those who don’t want to see their country descend into corruption and chaos.

Related post: Be Angry and Pray Hard

FEDERALES is a tribute to Santos Gorrostieta, but it is first and foremost a riveting piece of crime fiction. I’m very glad to say that Christopher Irvin is a fellow member of the Mexico Mystery Writers Cartel and I’m looking forward not only to his blog posts but to more of his fiction.

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