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Best Review Ever...From BOOKLIFE, Feb. 2022


Mexico-based Consular Officer Amanda Pennyworth must deal with the fallout when an American is killed, and do her best to cope with desperate characters in this elegantly told tragedy. Jeremy Blackman is found dead in a gay bathhouse in Puerto Vallarta, and Amanda realizes she cannot expect justice from the local police. She faces further complications when she speaks with Jeremy's traveling companion, and when Jeremy's divorced parents arrive Amanda must help them handle their grief and their rage at each other. It takes a trip back to the states for her to untangle the mystery of Jeremy's past and uncover a surprising motive—at risk to her career. Gilbert (Zona Romantica) does an extraordinary job plumbing the depths of the characters surrounding the murder in this second book in the Amanda Pennyworth series. Amanda herself comes across as deeply introspective and, although good at her job, somewhat adrift, missing a recently departed boyfriend. Her only true local connection is with her assistant Nando, and their unusual friendship is delightfully believable. Gilbert has a pitch-perfect ear for dialogue, as shown in the heartbreaking exchanges between the parents, who alternate between blaming themselves and each other. Although the plot falters a bit at the end, the well-limned characters will keep the readers glued to the pages until the last paragraph. Also enlivening the book are the vivid setting descriptions: "there was something dishonest and dissembling about so much order and symmetry." Scenes like that contrast sharply with the cold and brisk conversation Amanda must have with the ambassador, emblematic of the cold officialdom that ignores the afflicted individuals. In an especially affecting scene, the tortured Amanda finally finds solace in ancient artifacts at a museum. Amanda's internal conflict is the true point of interest here– like all good sleuths, Amanda discovers in the end that the real mysteries are inside ourselves. Takeaway: Haunting characterizations and complex moral questions elevate this richly told border-crossing mystery.

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