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james gilbert
Synopsis: An American tourist is murdered in a Mexican gay sauna, and Amanda Pennyworth, the American consul to Puerto Vallarta, risks her career and her life to find the culprit. Amanda Pennyworth works with a junior officer of the Tourist Police in search of suspects in the secretive underworld of a beautiful resort. When a young Mexican boy is arrested on flimsy evidence, Amanda is convinced it is a terrible mistake. But no one is willing to listen to her: not the arrogant chief of police; not the boy’s parents who seem to blame her for the murder; and not the cynical American Ambassador who only wants to avoid an international incident. It’s up to her. In Murder at the Olympiad by James Gilbert, we travel to the popular resort city of Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, and follow Amanda as she is drawn into the search for the killer of a young American. When she finally identifies the killer, she also discovers some very unpleasant truths about the Foreign Service in which she serves.
Plot/Idea: 7 out of 10
Originality: 7 out of 10
Prose: 8 out of 10
Character/Execution: 8 out of 10
Overall: 7.50 out of 10


Plot/Idea: Gilbert delivers a straightforward mystery with a vivid setting and intriguing setup. The author enhances the storyline through its exploration of the parallels and differences between U.S. and Mexican legal systems, while the story keeps readers guessing the culprit right up until the conclusion.

Prose: The prose is generally even and clear, with some lovely descriptions.

Originality: This storyline feels quite original, as it takes place in a Mexican sauna and spans several countries and languages. The author insightfully explores and exposes systemic undercurrents of homophobia.

Character Development/Execution: Amanda is quite clearly drawn, a complex character with a big conscience. A few of the male characters are also well developed, such as Captain Gonzalez, a gruff Mexican police captain whose prejudices are authentically delved into during the course of the story. 


Date Submitted: April 06, 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 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.

Great for fans of: Alex Gilley, Carmen Amato.

Production grades
Cover: B
Design and typography: B
Illustrations: N/A
Editing: B+
Marketing copy: A-