Human trafficking has been identified as the fastest growing criminal industry in the world. It’s easy to see why. Trading vulnerable human beings for the purposes of reproductive slavery, sexual exploitation, or forced labor is very lucrative. Robert Crais’s new mystery, Taken, gives us a fictional and frightening account of one such operation. Besides being a good read, Taken may help to focus more attention on the buying and selling of humans for profit, an enterprise that needs to be dealt with on the international level.
Crais’s series features two popular characters, Elvis Cole, nicknamed the “World’s Greatest Detective,” after a laudatory magazine story, and Joe Pike, the strong silent type who always has Cole’s back. For this outing, Crais adds an appealing avenger, Jon Stone, with an eclectic resume that includes being a Merit Scholar at Princeton before he joined the military (Airborne, Ranger, Special Forces, fluent in Arabic, Korean, Chinese, Spanish, Russian, French, with a working knowledge of Farsi, Japanese, German, and three African dialects—phew!) then became a free lance military contractor. All three men are experienced investigators and have seen their share of fighting. This assignment will test all their talents.
The story opens with a group of young people who have traveled into the dessert, 20 miles from Palm Springs, to view a local curiosity—the wreck of a small plane that years ago was bringing cocaine in from Mexico. Two of the young people, Jack and Krista, stay behind after their friends leave. Krista wants to share with Jack her family secret: her mother, although a successful businesswoman in California, is an illegal. Nita Morales came to America from Mexico when she was seven. The coyotes, the men who transport illegals, left her and her relatives at the site of the plane crash where they were picked up and driven into Los Angeles. Nita only recently told her daughter how she entered the country and Krista was eager to actually see the place where her mother’s journey began.
Unfortunately for the couple, the plane site is still used as a drop off point by the coyotes. Yet now these illegals, not only from Mexico but from countries in Asia and the MIddle East, are sold for a profit to human traffickers. Before Jack and Krista know what’s happening, they are rounded up with the other illegals and find themselves being held for ransom. Krista quickly sizes up their situation; she tells Jack to dump his wallet and cell phone and, although she is about to graduate summa cum laude from Loyola Marymount in Los Angeles, she assumes the persona of a young woman who can’t speak English.
Their captivity is horrific. Krista inadvertently learns more about being an illegal than she had planned on. Once they are transported with the others to a home that is set up like a prison, they realize they will probably not escape alive.
Meanwhile, Nita hires Cole to find her daughter. She believes that Jack is a bad influence and suspects the two have eloped. Cole enlists Pike and after visiting the plane site, the two realize what has happened to Krista and Jack. Finding out where they are being held and freeing them, however, will not be easy. Cole’s plan to impersonate a builder in the market for cheap labor, backfires and he soon finds himself a prisoner as well. It’s left to Pike and Stone to rescue everyone.
Crais’s story bounces back in forth, not only between characters, but also between time periods. Yet the momentum of the story never suffers. We meet the traffickers led by a mysterious thug known only as the Syrian. Those under him, many illegal themselves, are in it for the money, callously disposing of bodies when ransoms aren’t paid. Cole and his crew will show no mercy dealing with this lot of mercenaries.
Taken is fiction, but the plot, as we often hear, has been “ripped from the headlines.” It’s easy to turn the page or click to another screen. For those illegals who are caught up in this nightmare, however, the situation is all too real. Can a mystery begin a revolution? We can only hope.
Click to buy on Amazon Taken by Robert Crais