Book Review: Murder at the Olympiad
Reviewed by Robyn-Lee Samuels
A thought-provoking and well-paced murder mystery set in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico
James Gilbert’s latest book, Murder at the Olympiad, follows the murder of a young American in the resort city of Puerto Vallarta, Mexico.
The novel opens when Jeremy Blackman’s body is found in a hotel sauna. As the American consul to Puerto Vallarta, it’s up to Amanda Pennyworth to contact the young man’s parents with news of their son’s death.
But when the captain of the local police arrests a Mexican citizen for the crime on flimsy evidence, Amanda takes it upon herself to find the real killer and uncover why the man was murdered.
This murder mystery bends a number of traditional tropes. Instead of a standard police investigation, Gilbert highlights police ineptitude and sets Amanda, who works at the Foreign Service office, as the key investigator. Gilbert also uses fairly flat characters, Amanda and Captain Gonzalez, to narrate the story. Instead of diving into their motivations and backstories, the POV characters serve to help readers learn more about the main character, Jeremy. By putting the spotlight on Jeremy’s relationships, final days, and tensions with his parents, Gilbert invites readers into a conversation about the realities of being a gay man in the current era.
Gilbert does a fantastic job of showing what life is like for some gay men in present-day America and Mexico. He succeeds from the first page to the last in peeling back the layers of family and friendship as Jeremy’s life is laid bare.
The book tackles serious topics such as homophobia, prostitution, police corruption, and family relationships, but the author balances the heavy conversation with light-hearted chapters and humor. The prose unfolds at a good pace, with each scene leading naturally to the next. The dialogue is compelling and adds color to the story, which might otherwise be a bit dry. But perhaps most important in a murder mystery—Gilbert includes enough detail to keep readers guessing about the culprit’s identity until the very end.
The pace picks up toward the middle when pressure from the American Ambassador forces Gonzalez and his team to wrap up the case. Amanda’s investigation takes her to several places that you might not expect, but it eventually leads back to the real reason for Jeremy’s murder.
Murder at the Olympiad is a well-written, accessible novel that keeps readers engaged with fresh details on police procedure, Mexico’s justice system, and the Foreign Service. I recommend Murder at the Olympiad to any reader who likes a well-plotted murder mystery.
Publisher: Atmosphere Press
Genre: Mystery, Thriller & Suspense
Print Length: 278 pages
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