San Diego author Alberto Mansur finds ‘Peace’ writing novels

San Diego author Alberto Mansur and his new novel "Only the Dead Know Peace."
(Courtesy of Blackstone Publishing)

One-time lawyer has discovered his literary voice in new thriller set in Israel and Palestinian territories


For Alberto Mansur, the writing has always been there. One could even say that the process has been cyclical in nature. In the beginning, he says he wrote for pleasure, as an escape, often crafting short stories inspired by the songs he liked as a child growing up in Mexico City.

Then writing became part of his job, first working as a trial lawyer for corporations, nonprofits and, as he puts it, “foreign clandestine services.” Later, in addition to his law practice, he moonlighted as a political writer for Rolling Stone magazine in Mexico.

“The bug was always there,” says Mansur. “But I was always a little afraid of making a career full time at writing.”

San Diego author Alberto Mansur.
(Courtesy of Allan Fis )

In 2019, just before moving to San Diego, Mansur said he wanted to get away from law and from the pressures of what he calls “enabling the worst in otherwise good people.” He wanted to get back to writing for pleasure, once again finding something that provided some much needed escape.

“I wanted to write a story about how the center wins, making the center prevail,” he says. “I wanted is so that the reader could see the dangers of the extremes and seeing the good guys win.”

Mansur says all the work he did before helped prepare him for his new career as a novelist. This is evident in “Only the Dead Know Peace,” an unexpectedly multifaceted thriller that takes place mostly along the border regions of Israel and the Palestinian territories. The book rotates perspectives, with chapters devoted to everyone from a renowned Palestinian baker and his son, to a journalist and an American playboy who’s just joined the Israel Defense Forces (IDF).

The book is heavy on exposition, but Mansur does well to set the scene. Soon, the reader gets a distinct sense that all of these characters’ stories, as different as they might be, will soon converge in explosive ways.

“I’m a firm believer in Stephen King’s philosophy that writers are like fossil hunters,” says Mansur, referencing the famous horror novelist’s approach to writing. He says he took that approach to writing his own novel, letting the story come to him as he mapped out his character’s lives. “Like archeologists, your job as a writer is to clean up the bones and build the dinosaur.”

The genesis of the book began shortly after Mansur finished his first novel (the Spanish-only “Lo Que Mata No Es La Bala”) and after he took a trip to Israel with friends. While there, he toured both sides of the West Bank barrier that separates parts of Israel from the Palestinian areas. He says this experience led to conversations that directly informed his characters’ outlook in “Only the Dead Know Peace.”

“No matter which side of the fence you’re on, no one wants a constant state of war,” Mansur says, reflecting on the trip. “Some of my friends argued one side, some argued the other, but where we all agreed is that the extremists are the ones driving the conflict. They’re the ones who are in for their own personal gain.”

He brings this logic to the characters in “Only the Dead Know Peace.” Each of them has their own ideas of the ongoing conflicts within the country, but each struggles to understand what might be the best solutions for the region or questioning why they feel the way they do in the first place.

“Almost everyone in the book, nothing is black and white with them,” Mansur says.

Mansur knew he wanted the duality of the two cultures clearly represented, with the characters (equal parts Palestinian and Israeli) representing different sides of life in modern day Israel. Whether they’re villains or reluctant heroes within the narrative, Mansur does well to point out that both sides are equally capable of extremes, whether it’s leaning more into Islamic extremism (Fuad Baghdadi) or the sometimes Zionistic policies of the Israeli armed forces (Ian Bloom).

The book also does well to skirt the tropes and formulaic methods of thriller writing. It’s just as much a multilayered thriller (in the vein of Don Winslow’s “Cartel” trilogy) as it is a cerebral, intricately plotted glimpse into the lives of Israeli and Palestinian citizens, in the vein of Colum McCann’s “Apeirogon.” Mansur dwells within the day-to-day lives of his characters, showing how the seemingly small choices they make will ultimately affect the collective.

“It’s not an easy book to market,” Mansur admits. “You don’t have to jump, shoot, kill the bad guy and kiss the girl to tell a good tale. Lee Child is an amazing writer, but once you’ve read one Jack Reacher book, you’ve pretty much read them all. That’s not a criticism of him at all. It works for him.”

And while Mansur says he’s still winding down his law practice, he says that fiction writing is now his main gig.

He has already sent in a draft of a stand-alone thriller that takes place in the U.S. But he also “definitely” sees some of the characters from “Only The Dead Know Peace” returning in a sequel novel, with the possibility of it becoming a series. For now, he hopes readers will connect enough with the characters to warrant said sequel and, more importantly, affirm his new commitment to becoming a full-time novelist.

“The reason I like to write is because I have something to say,” says Mansur, reflecting on both the characters in his new novel and himself.

“I’m also full of doubts, but I wouldn’t change my doubts for the certainties of those who are so sure of themselves. We’re all trying to do the best we can with the tools, the opportunities, and the choices we have within our reach. But we can never really be sure if we’re doing the right thing. We are all capable of doing the wrong thing for the right reasons. My characters reflect that.”

Book cover for "Only the Dead Know Peace" by Alberto Mansur.
(Courtesy of Blackstone Publishing)

“Only the Dead Know Peace” by Alberto Mansur (Blackstone Publishing, 2023; 280 pages)

Warwick’s presents Alberto Mansur

When: 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 3

Where: Warwick’s, 7812 Girard Ave., La Jolla

Admission: Free


Combs is a freelance writer.