Always Time to Die

Beautiful Dreamer

Die in Plain Sight

Eden Burning

Jade Island

Midnight at Ruby Bayou

Moving Target

Pearl Cove

To the Ends of the Earth

 
The Wrong Hostage
by Elizabeth Lowell
(William Morrow, $24.95, PG-13) ISBN 0-06-082981-8
*****
The Wrong Hostage is being held in All Saints School, a Catholic prep school for the very wealthy near Ensenada, Mexico. Judge Grace Silva and billionaire Ted Franklin have just finalized their divorce with Grace gaining custody of their son Lane. But it was Ted who had enrolled fifteen-year-old Lane in school there with Grace’s consent.

Elizabeth Lowell can always be relied upon to be a careful researcher and unless one reads nonfiction extensively, her characterizations of the immediate zone on either side of the US-Mexican border may surprise you. She paints Mexico as receiving nearly half of its gross national product from the growing and exportation of drugs. The obvious warning is that without this influx of cash, Mexico will implode, and the ferality of cities like Tijuana will become commonplace. The Wrong Hostage is set in that zone.

The obvious power brokers in Mexico are the drug traffickers who control the border access to the US. Lowell’s fictional drug lord is Hector Rivas Osuna, head of the ROG gang. His close business associate is Carlo Calderon who comes from one of Mexico’s royal families. It is Carlos who calls Grace to Ensenada to start the negotiations.

Her son Lane will be held a prisoner at the school for 48 hours and then executed unless Grace returns the $50 or more million dollars that her husband has swindled from Hector and his gang. For the past three weeks Grace had fielded calls from angry people trying to locate Ted.

Fighting the clock and unable to find Ted, Grace makes the call she never wanted to make. The call is routed to the St. Kilda Consulting, a group of ex US agency men and women who can no longer tolerate the constraints of agency life and politics. It is a shadow group who, among other things, specialize in kidnap rescue. Grace is trying to reach Joe Faroe.

Joe was Grace’s walk on the wild side and, as she and Ted learned later in their marriage, the biological father of Lane. The head of St. Kilda, Ambassador Steele, arranges for Grace to make the appeal to Joe personally. Joe still can’t resist her and agrees to help, realizing that her ex-husband Ted had willingly used Lane as a hostage.

As Ted and Grace work through this gray underworld, she is confronted with the reality that strict adherence to the law will result in certain death for Lane; and these thoughts breach her whole reason to be. She is also dealing with her feelings for Joe and the betrayal felt years ago. As for Joe, he is dealing with burnout and old feelings for Grace, but these are eclipsed when he discovers Lane is his son.

Grace and Joe’s mixture of emotions and sexual tensions run parallel within one of Lowell’s most complex and skillfully constructed plots. The plot evolves logically with twists that will surprise. All of this is done within a story set amid vividly described areas.

As always, Lowell’s irreverence toward bureaucracy comes through in her crisp dialogue which ranges from unexpected to funny. Once again, this skilled writer offers a story that is entertaining, educational, intriguing and a keeper.

--Thea Davis


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