Adrian Magson is the author of 20 crime and spy thrillers, including the Harry Tate series, the Lucas Rocco series and the Marc Portman series. His latest books are ‘The Locker’ (Midnight Ink - Feb 2016) the first in a new thriller series, and ‘Hard Cover’ (Severn House - March 2016), the third of his Marc Portman novels.
The title of this book has the tag line ‘True Fiction’, which threw me slightly, as it can be one or the other, not both.
Still, the subject matter sounded interesting, especially with Mexico and its drug cartels very much in the news at the moment.
The main plot is simple: James Cooper-Brown, a rather naïve young man who thinks he can find the real Mexico by going into its darker corners, is kidnapped by a drug cartel when he ventures somewhere he really should not have gone. For some reason they think he’s worth a fortune, so they send a ransom demand to his parents.
The fact that his father is ex-SAS would seem to have it all sewn up, story-wise. And if this were a film, it probably would have, with lots of gritty action and a rescue attempt and lots of dead bodies.
But this one doesn’t go quite that way. Yes, tough-guy father assembles a team of former special forces buddies, but none of them is as young as he used to be, and they haven’t reckoned on the sheer brutality of the terrain or the gang involved – or indeed that you really can’t trust anybody, even those who feign friendship.
However, the story is less about the rescue attempt, and more about the veil of naivety gradually falling from James’s eyes as he goes through his ordeal and meets various members of the gang and the supporting community along the way, not all of whom are in any way in control of their destinies. The gangs rule everything and everyone, and those who go against them are dealt with in very short order, no matter how high or low they are in the pecking order.
And this is perhaps where the ‘True Fiction’ label comes in.
I have no idea if anybody like James Cooper-Brown was kidnapped in Mexico or the surrounding countries, but it’s possible, if only because it does happen. But clearly Marcus Dalrymple knows Mexico and its people extremely well, and has a soft spot for the victims, who are often those caught up by virtue of being in the community and therefore under a life-or-death obligation of doing what they’re told (or simply looking the other way) whether they like it or not.
I found the book a rather melancholy read in a way– although I suppose nothing about the subject matter is especially light-hearted. But I found James himself incredibly irritating, as he put not only himself but others in terrible danger by his actions, often with tragic consequences. And all because he is a young romantic who thought he could go wherever he wanted, even though the dangers of foreigners travelling alone in the region are hardly a secret.
But if you want what I think is probably a good insider look at the communities in which drugs cartel members live and move, then this serves more as a travel documentary than a work of fiction.