Written by Robert Crais — The American-Mexican border has always been a fertile area for crime fiction. Mexican organised crime cartels battle each other, and various American government agencies, to control the area. At the same time they turn profitable businesses trafficking guns, drugs and people. This year alone there have been books written by Sam Hawken (The Dead Women of Juarez) and Craig McDonald (El Gavilan). Now Robert Crais gives us Taken, the 13th book in the popular Elvis Cole and Joe Pike series.
Nita Morales is now a successful business woman and entrepreneur, totally different from the poor, scared little Mexican girl smuggled across the border many years ago by Coyotes – the group running a cross-border operation. She works hard to provide for her own daughter Krista, who is beautiful, smart and has the world at her feet. Nita is determined not to let her throw it all away over the first good-for-nothing American boy who tells her he loves her. But Krista and her boyfriend Jack Berman are gone, and they’re not in Las Vegas getting married as Nita fears.
Krista has taken Jack to the border desert, to a place that Coyotes once used as a staging post but it’s now where college kids go to party. Krista and Jack stay after their friends have left, planning a romantic night together under the stars. What happens next turns their lives upside down. A van carrying a load of South Koreans – refered to as ‘pollo’ or chicken, by the smugglers – is attacked. They are victims of gangsters higher up the criminal food chain, or bajadores, who make their living ripping off the Coyotes. The Koreans might not know it but their fates are sealed. Bajadores have no intention of delivering them safely to the USA. Those who don’t have families are killed immediately, those who do are killed after their families have been bled dry of ransom money.
In the pitch black desert night, amid the chaos of slaughter and gunfire, Krista and Jack are mistaken for ‘pollos’ and picked up too. Now they have to stay alive until they can be rescued. Help comes from the inside, from Kwan, the son of a Korean gangster who is being smuggled to the USA to avoid a murder charge back home. On the outside, investigator Elvis Cole and mercenary Joe Pike are racing against time to find them, helped by their buddy Jon Stone. Also converging on the bajadores are the Korean gang the Double Dragons, and Jack’s aunt Nancie Stendahl, rising star of The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms. Cole and Pike have to make some uncomfortable alliances in order to save the young couples’ lives.
Sometimes I’m in the mood for a new reading experience, a new author or a new genre perhaps that will take me out of my comfort zone. But sometimes, I’m not ashamed to admit, I want an easy read. Not something bland or insipid, but the company of characters that are like old friends, and an author I know can deliver the goods. Lee Child and Michael Connelly are like that, and so is Robert Crais. After all there is a reason he’s on the 13th novel in a series. Taken might not be his best work – for my money that’s still The Two Minute Rule – but it has everything a thriller fan wants.
CFL Rating: 4 Stars