by Carmen Amato
We are delighted to welcome novelist Carmen Amato as our guest.
Carmen is the author of the first mystery in a new series, Cliff Diver (CreateSpace, January 2013 trade paperback and ebook formats), which features Emilia Cruz, Acapulco's first and only female police detective. The character was introduced in the novella, Made in Acapulco, published last year.
Today Carmen tells us about fact, fiction, and mystery in Mexico.
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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 a 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.
Photo provided courtesy of
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 propelled the drug-addled man back down the altar steps and through the church to the rear door.
Christmas mass continued and the addict remained nameless to the shaken congregation. But he stayed with all of us, evidence that Mexico's own drug problem was growing as more and more drugs transited the country en route to the insatiable United States.
More than that, however, he reminded me of the drug war raging just outside our happy expatriate bubble. 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.
But somehow, news of what was going on in Mexico rarely pierced through to the big media outlets in the US, the country most impacted as the drug war raged on its border. US news was more concerned with domestic politics, the Middle East, Europe's economic woes, and Lindsay Lohan. And, of course, the Kardashians. If they did make it to prime time, most US news stories about the drug war were viewed in the context of the US national debate on immigration. The real story — the toll that the drug wars were taking on the people and culture of Mexico — wasn't getting out.
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.
And then I met Emilia Cruz.
Well, to be honest, I wrote Emilia Cruz, the first and only female detective on the Acapulco police force and the central character in a new mystery series. The first Emilia Cruz novel, Cliff Diver, debuted last month. The series will go inside Mexico's drug war with a style that is fast and a little raw, but won't let go of hope.
Emilia is a good liar, a fast thinker, a determined investigator and a mean kickboxer. An Acapulco native forced to grow up too fast, she's been a cop for nearly 12 years and a detective for two; a strong Latina woman in a squadroom that didn't want her and is still trying to break her. But Emilia isn't afraid to defend herself and get what she's rightfully earned. She knows that many women in Mexico don't get the chances she's had. The proof is in a log she tracks of women who have gone missing and her quest to find out their fates will be a continuing subplot through all the books.
The one thing Emilia doesn't know how to handle is gringo Kurt Rucker, the manager of a luxury hotel in Acapulco. A former US Marine, he has the confidence and leadership qualities she admires.
So why a mystery series set in Acapulco with a female police detective as the main character?
1. Acapulco is a prize being fought over by rival drug cartels. For better or worse, inspiration for new books is in Mexico's news every week.
2. The city is one of my favorite vacation spots but it's not just about the tourism. Acapulco has two faces; one of luxury and one of poverty. Both will claw at Emilia and force her survive between them.
3. The culture of machismo is still going strong in Mexico. A woman in a traditionally male bastion—the detective squadroom—promises complications and tension.
4. The US audience already knows the iconic city of Acapulco. The catchy name is associated with surfing, spring break, and Old Hollywood.
5. Movie potential. Crime and sex on the beach. Need I say more?
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.
The drug addict unknowingly gave a gift that Christmas day. The Emilia Cruz series will pay it forward.
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Carmen Amato was born in New York and educated there as well as Virginia and Paris, France. Her family tree includes a mayor, a Mensa genius, and the first homicide in the state of Connecticut with an automatic weapon. The perpetrator, her great-grandfather, eluded a state-wide manhunt after killing two people — one of whom was his wife — and was never brought to justice.
Carmen currently divides her time between the United States and Central America. Learn more about the author and her work by visiting her website at CarmenAmato.net, or you can follow her on Twitter.
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An Emilia Cruz Mystery (1st in series)
When Emilia Cruz, Acapulco's first and only female police detective, dives into the investigation of a dirty cop's death, she might just hit the rocks instead of the water. Forced to lead the murder investigation into the death of her shady lieutenant, Emilia faces resentment from the other detectives as well as a blood-spattered crime scene, no witnesses, and the shadow of counterfeit ransom money.
The dead lieutenant led a double life in Acapulco full of illicit sex and financial manipulation, all of which would be either red herrings or keys to the murder investigation. Missing police files, the lieutenant's involvement with a past kidnapping, and a possible link to a gang working for a drug cartel further combine to make this a messy case with too many loose ends.
Expecting to become a target herself because of her own brush with the lieutenant's counterfeit scheme, Emilia must move quickly to find the killer. But as she pieces together the lieutenant's last hours, she becomes a pawn in an ugly game of corruption, money, and power being played by the Pacific resort city's ambitious mayor and a police union strongman with questionable motives. Luxury hotel manager Kurt Rucker has some advice for Emilia but the heat between them quickly becomes a complicating factor.
Under pressure from politicians, other cops, and the powerful union, Emilia feels like Acapulco's famous cliff divers, plunging into suspense and praying not to crash on the rocks below. She'll follow her instincts but will she survive if she uncovers the truth?