In this crime novel, a cocaine smuggling ring continually raises the stakes—and the danger.
King’s debut novel follows kingpin smuggler Colin, who begins the tale in 1992 as a British college graduate eking out a living in Colombia as an English teacher. He meets Juan Pablo, the brother of his soon-to-be-wife, Ana. When Juan Pablo reveals bulk cocaine connections, Colin’s eyes light up: this is his ticket out of poverty and his rotten teaching gig. With a kid on the way, Colin conceives of a scheme to smuggle cocaine from Colombia to the U.K. using the tires of a mountain bike. The first run faces only a few setbacks; though his Boy Scout uniform allows him easy passage through customs, much of the cocaine spoils in transit due to water leaks. But he still has enough to sell to Tim Peach and his high-society friends, which nets Colin enough cash to use a motorcycle on the next trip. Eventually, Colin recruits go-between Brendan and Tim’s close comrade John, a burly drinker trained in jujitsu. Tensions escalate during subsequent runs, and the acquisition of a nightclub raises Colin’s profile. Colin’s hubris begins to snowball, and John’s drinking lands him in legal trouble. The plot teeters as new players take the stage. King’s best work is in capturing moments of tension between the smugglers and the authorities, building anxiety with each misstep. Storyline interruptions, however, often drain this tension. For instance, when a buyer makes his purchase, King takes paragraphs to define crack (in a novel set around the turn of the millennium). Awkward slang doesn’t help: “She was really ‘hot.’ ” Though the plot features many tense moments, King rarely slows down to reveal the everyday lives of his characters, leaving them half-drawn.
Awkward explanations and a myopic focus disrupt this potentially thrilling plot.