El Cid: A literary hero’s literary hero

El Cid: A literary hero’s literary hero

Everybody has heard of Don Quixote. The image of the fictional tilter-at-windmills is everywhere in Mexico, which has long adopted Spanish literature and legends as its own. But when I went looking for the literary hero for my fictional Mexican hero in THE HIDDEN LIGHT OF MEXICO CITY, I needed someone more, ahem, successful than Don Quixote.

El Cid movie posterMovie star

El Cid was a character I’d seen mentioned by Mexican authors. With little more context than the Charleton Heston movie, I assumed he was a fictional creation like Don Quixote.

But I was wrong. It only took a little digging to find El Cantar de Mio Cid, or The Poem of the Cid, the only surviving epic poem from medieval Spain. The poem, similar in form to The Song of Roland, recounts the adventures of the real Spanish warlord and nobleman Rodrigo Diaz de Vivar. He was called El Cid Campeador, a title that reflected the esteem in which he was held by both the Moors and the Spanish. “El cid” was derived from the Moorish al-sidi, meaning sir or lord, while “campeador” means champion in Spanish.

El Cantar de Mio Cid is a dramatic retelling of daring deeds with a heroic figure, facing down enemies with courage and his sword. A continued refrain in the poem is that El Cid, with zest for the fight, was born in a fortunate time.

Historic figure

El Cid had already made a name for himself fighting the Moors for King Ferdinand when the king died. The lands Ferdinand had ruled were divided among his five children. They immediately started fighting each other. Sancho, the son who’d inherited Castile, named El Cid commander of his armies. When Sancho was assassinated, his brother King Alfonso was the chief suspect. El Cid made Alfonso publicly proclaim his innocence. Angered, Alfonso forced El Cid into exile alone, in effect holding his daughters and beloved wife Jimena hostage.

On his warhorse Babieca and brandishing his sword Tizona, El Cid became a mercenary, mainly fighting the Moors but not being too fussy in his choice of employer. Eventually he managed to squeeze Alfonso into relenting on the exile and was reunited with his family. Aligned once again with Alfonso, El Cid conquered Valencia where he and Jimena ruled in Alfonso’s name until El Cid died in 1099. His daughters became queens of Aragon and Navarre. His sword is preserved in Spain’s Museum of the Army.

Role model

El Cantar de Mio Cid is as much about leadership as anything else. Surprising for his time, El Cid often “took counsel,” asked his men for input, and actually listened to their advice. As a result, his men were fiercely loyal to him; 115 knights spurned King Alfonso, went into exile with El Cid, and fought by his side as mercenaries.

This was the perfect role model I’d been looking for as my fiction hero, Eduardo Cortez Castillo, leads a brotherhood of cops sworn to be incorruptible. In THE HIDDEN LIGHT OF MEXICO CITY, “Los Hierros,” the Iron Ones, will take on not just police corruption but a scheme to allow Mexico’s most notorious drug cartel to buy political power through the Mexican presidential elections.

El Cid’s relationship with his beloved wife Jimena gave the role model an extra dimension. Like El Cid, Eduardo falls in love, although with a woman who by the unspoken laws of Mexico’s rigid class structure, cannot stand by his side. Yet Eduardo tells Luz de Maria about his role model and references to El Cid become a secret code between the two lovers.

I hope you check out THE HIDDEN LIGHT OF MEXICO CITY and find the clues to El Cid.

But most of all, may you, like El Cid, live in a fortunate time.

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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.

 

Open Letter to Readers About Sex

Open Letter to Readers About Sex

My first novel, THE HIDDEN LIGHT OF MEXICO CITY, contains two sex scenes. The first catches Luz de Maria and Eddo as they fall in love with an emotional depth new to both of them. The second is when they reunite after each separately survives violence at the hands of a Mexican drug cartel. The sex scenes illustrate the raw emotion of their relationship and both characters’ weaknesses, all of which are important plot elements.

 

The book is not a casual romance novel but a political and romantic thriller. Get it here: https://amzn.to/2CCL19H

As I wrote, I looked to some great thriller genre role models. Martin Cruz Smith’s ROSE, as well as several of his Arkady Renko novels, contains sex scenes that expose an unexpected physical relationship that is integral to the plot. In the Renko books, Arkady’s life is punctuated by doomed love affairs. In one of fiction’s most memorable sex scenes, he takes an unfaithful lover on the floor so forcefully that her head thumps rhythmically against the wood.

By the same token, the sex scenes in Ken Follett’s TRIPLE created a bond between characters and led to confessions about the main character’s secretive background and emotional turmoil.

Imitation being the sincerest form of flattery, I can honestly say I read TRIPLE many times and aimed to have HIDDEN LIGHT’s sex scenes advance the story in the same way. Given the Amazon reviews (4.8 out of 5 stars and proud of it), I think readers got the point.

Related: Read The Hidden Light of Mexico City, Chapters 1-2

That’s the reason to add a sex scene. To advance the plot, show emotional development, and dramatize a relationship with greater heft than a dinner date. It works best when the sex scene lives within a strong fictional framework and storyline.

When HIDDEN LIGHT was published, some family members were upset over those sex scenes. Asked if the scenes were the fault of a publisher out to woo readers. Added in later by someone else to spice up the book. Won’t buy it. Can’t read it. Certainly won’t review.

I was surprised at the level of controversy but not offended. Books with sex aren’t for everyone. My mystery and suspense novels are full of intense relationships, however, and there will be more sex scenes.

In my latest suspense novel, AWAKENING MACBETH, their physical relationship moves history professor Brodie Macbeth and Iraq War vet Joe Birnam along a trajectory of trust and loyalty that is pivotal to their very survival. Get it here: https://amzn.to/2Sp3CvB

In the Detective Emilia Cruz mystery series, sex is a bit more off-screen. But Emilia Cruz and hotel manager Kurt Rucker are both very dynamic people and the reader is aware of the sexual attraction between them.

Sex in fiction can be a controversial subject. Are you for or against?

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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.

 

Romantic Suspense Who’s Who: Brilliant Academic Meets Iraq War Vet

Romantic Suspense Who’s Who: Brilliant Academic Meets Iraq War Vet

AWAKENING MACBETH was recently reviewed by Kirkus Reviews and there was so much emphasis placed on the characters that it read like a Who’s Who guide to romantic suspense. The book’s premise of an academic falling for an Iraq War vet (“Both Brodie and Joe are relatable characters; indeed, he’s so perfectly flawed that many readers may fall in love with him, too”) is one part of the intrigue, plus there is an overlay of the supernatural that complicates each character’s life.

Related: Romantic Suspense’s Newest Hero is a Wounded Warrior

So who are these romantic suspense review-worthy characters?

Brodie Macbeth

Brodie is a mix of small-town girl and international academic. Originally from Edinburgh, Scotland, she moved to Charlottesville, Virginia, as a toddler with her widowed father. She has degrees from Georgetown University and the University of Virginia, where she is now a full professor of history, a best selling non-fiction author, and an in-demand speaker. A former student athlete, she’s tall, blonde, and very physically fit. Reserved by nature, in part because of s strained relationship with the father who raised her, Brodie avoids conflict and emotional scenes. She’s a fan of country music and her German Shepherd dog, Mouse.

Related: Travelling My Dreams in AWAKENING MACBETH

Joe Birnam

Joe is a retired Marine and an Iraq War vet who lost a leg in combat. While his memories of the war still haunt him, Joe has built a new and successful career as a contractor and carpenter. He grew up as the son of a diplomat, has travelled the world, and is serious about personal values such as loyalty and honesty. Tall and athletic, Joe enjoys competitive sports. Joe’s family is large and warm; they love each other without reservation and are always happy to host big happy and noisy gatherings. Perhaps because of his upbringing, Joe has an uncanny ability to make friends wherever he goes. Yet his war injuries make him skittish when it comes to serious relationships.

Stanton Sloane

Stanton is a noted professor at the University of Virginia who has parlayed his academic credentials into a concurrent national broadcasting career. He is very focused on appearances, success, and influence. Stanton is always well dressed, mindful of tradition and routine, and not above intimidation and manipulation to get what he wants, which is a television studio at the University. His house is a showplace full of antiques and his clothes are from Brooks Brothers. He approves of Brodie’s academic success and has dubbed the two of them the “power couple of the College of Arts and Sciences.”

Diana Johnson

Like Brodie, Diana is a graduate of the University of Virginia where she was a star student athlete. After a career in the WNBA, she returned to the University to coach the women’s basketball team. Stylish and confident, she is married to one of the football coaches. They have a strong and durable relationship peppered with humor. She is Brodie’s best friend and a honest and steadying force.

Wallace Macbeth

Although the novel starts with his death, Wallace’s presence is felt throughout. From Edinburgh, Scotland, he took his daughter Brodie to Charlottesville, Virginia after the shocking death of his wife. He happily raised his daughter while a professor at the University until she was 12, when without explanation he enrolled her in boarding school and actively distanced himself from her. Their relationhsip was changed forever, despite the fact that they became professional colleagues. His mantra was “Macbeths don’t cry.” Aloof, eccentric, academically curious, and a brilliant scholar and interpreter of British history. His sister believes he never recovered from his wife’s death and killed himself in order to rejoin her.

“A suspenseful, page-turning paranormal romance” — Kirkus Reviews

Check it out today 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.

 

Travelling in Dreams with AWAKENING MACBETH

Travelling in Dreams with AWAKENING MACBETH

AWAKENING MACBETH, is full of secrets.

My family secrets become my character’s secrets.

Their secrets become a frightening truth.

“A page turning paranormal romance”– KIRKUS REVIEWS. Cue the trailer!

Family secrets

My grandmother used to say never wake a sleeping child too quickly. Their soul wanders in sleep and needs time to return before the child fully awakens.

I never asked her where this strange notion came from. Where does the soul wander? How much “wake-up” time is enough time?

Later I heard someone say that if you die in a dream, you’re dead in real life.

It wasn’t hard to put those two notions together. Add a troubled veteran and a woman coping with her father’s suicide. It’s a recipe full of secrets.

Location, location, location

AWAKENING MACBETH takes place in many of my former haunts:

Charlottesville, Virginia

The novel begins in Charlottesville VA, where history professor Brodie Macbeth plans to give bad news yet ends up getting some instead. I went to the University of Virginia for my Masters degree and taught US Foreign Policy there for a year.

Related: Read Chapter 1 of AWAKENING MACBETH

The University of Virginia campus was designed by Thomas Jefferson. The heart of the university is The Lawn with the original student rooms still in use. I lived off campus and when I walked to classes early in the morning, I often saw robed students with pails of toiletries on their way to the community bathrooms. (On a day like today, they’d be walking mighty fast)

University of Virginia

University of Virginia, courtesy UVA.edu

Some of my favorite scenes in the book take place at the University, including a cocktail party in one of the gardens enclosed by Jefferson’s serpentine brick walls. The graduation reception for my department was held in one of the gardens and I still remember the air of colonial elegance. Another favorite scene takes place in the University-owned Boar’s Head Inn. One night a bunch of girlfriends and I got dressed up and went there for drinks. We were all on the brink of a shiny new graduate degree and the world was our oyster, as the saying goes.

Edinburgh, Scotland

Scott Monument, Edinburgh

Photograph taken by Michael Reeve, 15 September 2003. Realesed under GFDL by the author.

Several years ago, we took a family vacation to Edinburgh. Our timing was off, however, and it was hard to find a hotel in the city. We ended up at the Dalmahoy golf resort and were we glad we did! In between tramping the city, touring Holyrood castle, and inspecting Loch Ness for sea serpents, we explored the walking trails and the small church on the Dalmahoy estate.

The Dalmahoy became the inspiration for the Dingerhoy hotel and golf course where Brodie and Joe Birnam have dinner, watch the sheep on the hillsides, and talk about survival, grief, and strength.

Entrance to the Dalmahoy golf resort, courtesy of www.dalmahoyhotelandcountryclub.co.uk/golf/

Entrance to the Dalmahoy golf resort, courtesy of www.dalmahoyhotelandcountryclub.co.uk/golf/

Another critical conversation takes place in Edinburgh’s Princes Street Garden, a beautiful bowl-shaped park in central Edinburgh. With all the fantastic architecture, art, and shopping that Edinburgh has to offer, it is easy to forget that the city is very green and offers wonderful spots to take in the city’s history. Right after that conversation, Brodie has her palm read by a knowing Gypsy, at a café in the shadow of the magnificent St Giles Cathedral.

Literary destinations

Throughout AWAKENING MACBETH, Brodie deals with the legacy of her father’s suicide. He ahd left her a library of British history and his will stipulates that she must read them in order. Why, you ask.

That’s another secret.

She dreams of the places she reads about. In her dreams, someone will kill her to learn a secret about her father–that Brodie doesn’t know.

Here is where those nightmares take her:

–Shakespeare’s London and the Globe Theatre from SHAKESPEARE by Peter Ackroyd

–An Antarctic island with a polar expedition from ENDURANCE by Caroline Alexander

–A pub serving British flyers during WWII from FIGHTER BOYS by Patrick Bishop

–The Tower of London during Anne Boleyn’s execution from THE WIVES OF HENRY VII by Antonia Fraser , and

–With Wellington’s army in the Battle of Waterloo from  NAPOLEON AND THE HUNDRED DAYS by Stephen Coote

So if you’d like to travel through British history in Professor Brodie Macbeth’s dreams, AWAKENING MACBETH is the novel for you.

More Macbeth?

When I first wrote AWAKENING MACBETH (with the cringe-worthy title of SOUL MATE, of which there are a dozen or so books already called that) I envisioned a trilogy (AWAKENING MACBETH, HUNTING MACBETH, KILLING MACBETH, you get the idea.) AWAKENING MACBETH ends with unanswered questions, the most compelling of which is what happened to Brodie’s mother’s soul?

I even wrote two chapters of the next book, which answers the question and sets up a new soul-stealing challenge for Brodie and Joe to surmount.

Related: Romance’s Newest Hero is a Wounded Warrior

But I don’t know if I will ever write a second MACBETH book, let alone a trilogy. A writer has just so much time and emotional effort to expend.

Let me know! How many more secrets can you handle?

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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.

 

Romance’s Newest Hero is a Wounded Warrior

Romance’s Newest Hero is a Wounded Warrior

Two weeks ago, I posted this picture on my Facebook page. (You can thank me again later, dearest reader Karen)

WoundedWarrior

The wounded warrior in the picture is Brian Taylor “BT” Urruela, taken by photographer Michael Stokes, and he serves as visual inspiration for the character of Joe Birnam in AWAKENING MACBETH, my romantic thriller with a paranormal twist.

Related: Read Chapter 1 of AWAKENING MACBETH

Like Joe Birnam in AWAKENING MACBETH, BT Urruela was a sergeant in Iraq when his armored vehicle was hit with an IED, resulting in the loss of a leg below the knee. Urruela’s commander was killed and members of his team lost limbs as well. Suffering from PTSD and depression, Urruela turned to his love of sports–notably baseball–to recover. Fictional warrior Joe Birnam used swimming and water polo to do the same.

Urruela started VETSports, a non-profit organization that provides physical, emotional and psychological rehabilitation through adaptive sports as well as helping wounded and combat vets reintegrate into civilian roles. PEOPLE magzine readers in 2016 voted him one of 30 everyday heroes recognized by Major League Baseball s Tribute for Heroes and Urruela was also recognized with Rare Media’s Under 40 award. Beyond his sports rehabilitation organization, today Urruela is a model, student, fitness trainer, and budding fiction author. The video clip below is from a 2014 PBS special about him.

AWAKENING MACBETH was written, and the character of Joe Birnam created, before I ever saw the provocative yet powerful picture of Urruela. Both the real and the fictional wounded warrior have stories that capture the imagination and the heart.

When Brodie discovers the shocking supernatural cause of her nightmares, it imperils not only her relationship with Joe, but both their lives. The author expertly interweaves historical facts, drawn from the books Brodie is reading, into the character’s bad dreams. 

Both Brodie and Joe are relatable characters; indeed, he’s so perfectly flawed that many readers will fall in love with him, too. 

A suspenseful, page-turning paranormal romance — KIRKUS REVIEWS

While I hope readers enjoy AWAKENING MACBETH and its story of love versus evil, my greater hope is that we all support our wounded warriors and salute their sacrifice and service.

Meet the Cast of AWAKENING MACBETH

See the Sights of AWAKENING MACBETH

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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.

 

#New Release, Take 2

#New Release, Take 2

I could call it New Release, Part 2. Or The Case of the Disappearing Thriller.

Or I could say that romantic suspense novel AWAKENING MACBETH, is FINALLY alive and well and available for your Kindle on Amazon.

Initially published on 9 December, the ebook file became corrupted shortly after release. Not once, but twice.

Related: Read Chapter 1 of AWAKENING MACBETH

New release woes

The corruption apparently stemmed from a merger of different file formats.

You see, I wrote AWAKENING MACBETH several years ago (initially entitled MY SOUL TO KEEP) but decided to publish the Detective Emilia Cruz series first. This was easily 2 computers ago and too many upgrades of Microsoft Word to count.

I worked on AWAKENING MACBETH off and on. After several years of edits and an upgrade to .docx format, the behind-the-scenes formatting got the vapors, which is a technical term for “messed up.”

Smudge sticks, incantations, and various editing dramas happily resulted in a ready-to-read Kindle ebook which you can find here.

To make up for it

Several readers who purchased the book earlier this month reached out to tell me of the corrupted file. Most were able to return the book for a full refund. I have gifted each a new copy.

If you purchased a corrupted copy any time between 9-19 December, I’m happy to send you a free replacement. Email me at carmen@carmenamato.net with MACBETH Release in the subject line and I’ll reply with an Advance Reading Copy (ARC) in .mobi file format. You can use the Send to Kindle app from Amazon to send it to your Kindle device.

It goes without saying that if you receive a free ARC, a review on Amazon would be very much appreciated.

Cover redux, too

The design for the cover of AWAKENING MACBETH got an upgrade, too. Who knew one romantic suspense novel would need 4 cover tries before the vibe of the book was truly captured?

I hope you like the final design!

The tagline reads:

Tomorrow is another day. Unless she dies in his dreams tonight.

All about AWAKENING

Romantic suspense with a paranormal twist, AWAKENING MACBETH is a passionate tale of love versus evil.

From Virginia’s most famous university to the Scottish highlands to a dusty road in Iraq, not even Shakespeare could have predicted the secret that will keep you up tonight.

When Brodie Macbeth meets Joe Birnam, he hardly seems like the man of her dreams.

Brodie is a University of Virginia professor and best-selling author; Joe is a Marine veteran who lost a leg in Iraq. Brodie’s last boyfriend was a famous television commentator; Joe is a carpenter who doesn’t even own a suit.

Differences aside, the timing couldn’t be worse. Brodie is shattered by her father’s suicide and the strange will that requires her to read his collection of British history books and use the license plates from his car before she can inherit a fortune.

No doubt that’s why she’s having terrifying nightmares. Every night in her sleep, a stalker with corroded eyes will kill her unless Brodie reveals her father’s secret.

Of course, there is no secret . . .

Falling in love with Joe Birnam helps Brodie heal. Slow to spark, the attraction between them becomes more than just a steamy romance. Joe is a strong man who has seen combat and knows what it means to lose someone important. He has his own demons to deal with, but Joe won’t accept anything less than Brodie’s full commitment.

But once she gives her heart, Brodie discovers the stunning truth about her nightmares.

They’re a real and deadly game. The prize is Joe Birnam’s immortal soul.

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

Would you?

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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.

 

NEW RELEASE! Romantic Thriller with a #Paranormal Twist

NEW RELEASE! Romantic Thriller with a #Paranormal Twist

AWAKENING MACBETH is out now for kindle readers, with the paperback coming 10 January! It’s a romantic suspense thriller with a paranormal twist set in Charlottesville, Virginia and Edinburgh, Scotland.

Related: Read the first chapter of AWAKENING MACBETH here

All about timing

For those who know me best for the Detective Emilia Cruz police procedural series set in Acapulco, AWAKENING MACBETH is quite a departure. I actually developed the premise after writing romantic thriller THE HIDDEN LIGHT OF MEXICO CITY, but before penning CLIFF DIVER, the first Emilia Cruz novel.

AWAKENING MACBETH sat in a drawer for several years, as I thought the best way to introduce readers to my writing was through a mystery series. After KING PESO, the fourth Emilia Cruz novel, was released last August, I felt the time was right to bring out a second romantic thriller.

The premise of AWAKENING MACBETH is that when brokenhearted, the soul wanders in search of answers. That restlessness takes place in dreams, where evil stalks in search of souls to steal . . .

The setting

I attended graduate school at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, Virginia. I fell in love with the school’s traditions and ties to Thomas Jefferson, who founded the University. The main character of AWAKENING MACBETH is Dr. Brodie Macbeth, a history professor at the University of Virginia who is a popular academic and author–as well as former college basketball star. She’s successful, but her life has been narrowly defined for many years and she’s very emotionally reserved; the result of a strict upbringing by her father, a noted historian and the head of her department at the university.

Video courtesy WeekendBlitz

The framework of Brodie’s life is blown to smithereens when her father unexpectedly kills himself hours before giving a guest lecture at Harvard. Brodie is left with a very strange inheritance and a million questions. That’s when the nightmares begin. In her sleep, someone with diseased eyes threatens to murder her unless she tells her father’s secret.

There is no secret. But the dreams are so terrifying Brodie is convinced she could die.

On a trip to Scotland to visit her father’s sister, Brodie meets Joe Birnam, a decorated Iraq war vet. I can’t tell you anything more than that, except that their first date takes place at a golf resort outside Edinburgh. We stayed at such a place years ago. The rolling hills and uncoiling mist made for striking memories which I’ve tried to caputre in the book.

St. Andrews golf resort, courtesy of the Travel Channel

St. Andrews golf resort, courtesy of the Travel Channel

Edinburgh itself is a magical place and it is no wonder that J.K. Rowling of Harry Potter fame, makes her home there. The city is full of turrets and tiny alleys, heroes and history. Anyone with an ounce of creativity can’t help but feel the imagination’s tug.

Scott Monument, Edinburgh

Photograph taken by Michael Reeve, 15 September 2003. Released under GFDL by the artist.

Key questions

Readers are already asking about the unusual premise for the book:

Where did the idea for this book come from?
My grandmother always said never wake a sleeping child too fast because the soul wanders while we sleep and needs time to return before we’re fully awake. When I combined my grandmother’s words with the saying that the eyes are the windows of the soul, the result gave me chills. I knew it would be a great story.

What was the hardest part of writing this book?
The hardest thing was the concept of real evil able to threaten the immortal soul. I hate movies like The Exorcist and had to stop writing several times, too shaken to go on. But evil is out there and this is my interpretation of it.
 
What draws you to this genre?
Love and mystery are the perfect combo. Each needs a bit of the other in a book, just like in real life. Romantic thrillers build a relationship, then test it. Can it hold up in a storm? The more exciting the storm, the better.

If you would be so kind

If you love a good romantic suspense tale, or are intrigued by the fight against evil as depicted in the book, I hope you’ll download a copy of AWAKENING MACBETH and stay up all night reading it!

Remember to leave a review on Amazon. You’ll not only help out this author, but help others make intelligence choices about what to read next. Thank you!

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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.

 

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