International Crime Authors Reality Check Expands Coverage to South America by John Lantigua

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This being my first contribution to the blog I figure the polite thing to do is introduce myself and tell you some about me. My name is John Lantigua and I am the author of seven suspense novels, the last four set in Miami and featuring the Cuban-American private eye Willie Cuesta.

In creating Willie I have tapped a bit of my own background. My father was born in Cuba, my mother in Puerto Rico and they met in New York City, where I was born. When I was four we moved from a Spanish-speaking barrio in NYC  to a part of New Jersey where no one spoke Spanish. I was told to forget Spanish and learn English, which I did, and I was educated only in English. But I have spent almost my entire professional career, both as a journalist and a novelist, going back to streets where Spanish is spoken, both in the U.S. and elsewhere. I started my journalism career covering poor neighborhoods in New England, populated largely by African Americans and Puerto Ricans. I later moved to Mexico where I lived for almost five years –mostly in the southern state of Oaxaca, known for its indigenous culture. For two years, I ran a camping business taking tourists through the mountains, and then I moved to Oaxaca City. During that time I learned just how badly the poor could be treated in Mexico, so that years later when serious and widespread  drug, gang and kidnapping violence started there I was not much surprised. By 1982 I had returned to journalism, covering the civil wars in Central America. I lived in Honduras for most of one year and then about five years in Sandinista Nicaragua. Whenever President Daniel Ortega gave a press conference journalists would be summoned two hours early so that equipment –tape recorders, cameras, video cameras –could be checked for explosives. Since I worked with only a pen and notebook I was allowed right in. I was then left with a long wait and I started bringing books to read. That is when I started reading suspense novels. I became particularly fond of Ross MacDonald’s books, starring p.i. Lew Archer. (I’m still hooked on them.) One day I decided I knew enough about Central America and enough about suspense novels to attempt one, which may make me the only author whose literary career owes its beginnings to Daniel Ortega. I wrote my first two novels, “Heat Lightning” and Burn Season” while living in Nicaragua. The first dealt with hostilities in El Salvador –and was nominated for Edgar Award–and the latter with Nicaragua. My third book, “Twister,” set in Texas and partly in the world of Mexican-Americans, was completed during a six –month sojourn in Bangkok. But I was soon back in the Spanish-speaking world, as a reporter for The Miami Herald, based in Miami. At one point I covered the Cuban exile community in South Florida, which led to the first two Willie Cuesta books, “Player’s Vendetta” and “The Ultimate Havana.” For the past nine years I have worked as a Miami-based reporter for “The Palm Beach Post” newspaper. I have reported for The Post from Argentina—during which I researched the third novel in the series “The Lady from Buenos Aires”—and also from Colombia, which led to my last book, “On Hallowed Ground,” released earlier this year. I’ve also covered a good number of the world’s catastrophes over the past decade, from the Indian Ocean tsunami of 2004, to Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and  the 2010 Haiti earthquake. But for the purposes of fiction I have been drawn again and again to Latin America. It has been my passion. So many crimes committed in Latin America over the past decades –including large political crimes with many victims–have gone unpunished due to misuse of power, corruption and dysfunctional justice systems. Whenever I sit down  to write I’m trying to straighten out the record—identify who really did what to whom and make sure they get punished. As I’ve told my friends, I could write a novel about each one of the Latin American and Caribbean countries. They all have skeletons in their closets, skeletons still clamoring for justice. I set my books in Miami because so many people have come here from Latin American and the Caribbean  trying to escape the nightmares in their countries. Oh, yes, it’s true that many have come for purely economic reasons, but I’m much more interested in those who have arrived here running for their lives. And there are many. Those are ones with ghosts and they are the ones that grab me. So in my blog entries I’ll be writing about those people — and those ghosts.

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