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A Perfect Place For A Murder

James Gilbert Author Interview

Murder at Amapas Beach follows an American consul living in Puerto Vallarta who discovers a murdered woman while on vacation at the beach. What was the inspiration for the setup of your story?

For the last several years, I have spent considerable time in Puerto Vallarta and once took a similar outing (as described in the novel) to Amapas Beach which is located about 20 miles south of the city.  Walking in the jungle toward a small craft village, I was struck by the setting—the overgrown trees and bushes and ominous twists and turns of the path.  It seemed a perfect place for a murder. 

More generally, I have always enjoyed reading fiction set in unusual places and Puerto Vallarta seemed to be a perfect location to set my Amanda Pennyworth series.  The resort has a large indigenous population in the old part of the city, a sleek and expensive section for time shares and American and Canadian tourists, and a trendy quarter with night clubs and restaurants…and a large expat community.  In other words, it’s a wonderful jumble of all sorts of people in a variety of distinct areas.

How did the mystery develop for this story? Did you plan it before writing or did it develop organically?

Because this is the third book in a series featuring the same amateur sleuth (Amanda Pennyworth, the American Consul to Puerto Vallarta), I already had my main character.  The inspiration for her, however, came from a stint working for the U.S. State Department on their promotion panel.  There I read hundreds of job descriptions and evaluations, and I was impressed by what embassy staff did in their foreign assignments.  It seemed a perfect opportunity to create a character who had to negotiate two cultures.

In terms of composition, when I conceptualize a story line, I generally have an overall idea of the plot and I am pretty certain as to how it will end.  But as I write, I find that some situations and characters develop in ways that I had not originally anticipated.  That’s the greatest enjoyment in writing: the surprises that your imagination springs on you!

What experience in your life has had the biggest impact on your writing?

In the course of my career as an academic historian, I had the unusual privilege of teaching in a wide variety of locations abroad.  The most important aspect of those assignments was the opportunity to experience very different cultures and learn about the ways that people spoke and acted.  I think that any writer is also an observer—someone who tries, above all, to understand the human motivations.  Above all, this seems to me to be the source of creating characters and the stories they inhabit.

What is the next book in the Amanda Pennyworth mystery series that you are working on, and when will it be available?

I have not begun the fourth book in this series, but trouble always seems to find Amanda Pennyworth, my amateur sleuth.  And I am certain that it will happen again soon, and she will find herself struggling to solve the murder of an American tourist or expat living in Puerto Vallarta.   

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Trouble always seems to find Amanda Pennyworth, the American consul to the resort city of Puerto Vallarta.

First on a romantic outing to a secluded cove along the Mexican coast where the beautiful Danielle Maglin is found bludgeoned to death; and then at an elegant dinner party thousands of miles away only days later with the killer surely present, Amanda finds herself drawn into the search to find the culprit’s identity. When Danielle’s close friend Terrence Blanchard is found dead from an apparent suicide, Amanda is convinced that the killer has struck again. But there are too many possible suspects and just the usual list of motives: jealousy, greed, sex, money, and hatred. Nothing seems to make sense.

Working with the police first in Mexico and then in the United States, Amanda is sure that the killer was among the group of friends on an excursion to Puerto Vallarta from the small city near Chicago. But which one? The police are stymied when their forensic investigation leads nowhere. It is up to Amanda to find out why Danielle and Terrence had to die.
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