Emilia Cruz Encinos is back for her fourth outing as Acapulco’s only female detective, once again confronting institutionalized corruption while trying to solve a string of murders.
Amato (Diablo Nights, 2014, etc.) skillfully juxtaposes the Mexican city of Acapulco’s glittering, wealthy enclaves with its seamy, violent underbelly. Emilia inhabits both worlds, albeit uncomfortably: she hails from the poor side of town but now lives in a lavish penthouse suite with her American boyfriend, Kurt Rucker, the general manager of the Palacio Réal hotel. Their evolving, and occasionally devolving, relationship runs throughout the series. This installment opens with the city’s police department reeling from the execution-style killings of three high-ranking law enforcement officials, which the press has labeled “the El Trio murders.” By the end of the first chapter, the wife of senior detective Franco Silvio is shot. But is this an attempted fourth El Trio killing, a byproduct of Silvio’s own illegal bookie operation, or a case of domestic violence? Meanwhile, the glamorous mayor of Acapulco, Carlota Montoya Perez, improbably decides to deal with the spate of recent violence by forming an all-female auxiliary unit—Las Palomas (“the doves of peace”), dedicated to creating an aura of calm in the tourist areas. Emilia, much to her displeasure, is transferred out of the detective squad and tasked with selecting and readying a troop of untrained recruits. Amato weaves an intricate assortment of themes into a vivid tapestry that depicts both the beauty and ugliness of Acapulco. Her attention to clothing, food, and other details of the cityscape brings life to her characters. In one memorable moment, for example, Emilia encounters a band of young street boys with plastic soda bottles hanging around their necks, just below their chins; the bottles are filled with glue, which the boys sniff throughout the day: “The high from the glue cut hunger pangs and diluted the misery and loneliness of being homeless in a combat zone.” There’s as much dialogue and pondering as there is action in this novel, but the investigative pace holds steady, with danger and betrayal never more than a few pages away.
A satisfying read with plenty of bad guys and a solid, well-defined heroine.