In Ronco’s (Texas Hold ’em and the Queen of Hearts, 2010, etc.) crime novel, an investigation gives a woman the chance to escape a drug cartel’s clutches—if she can outsmart the IRS, the Drug Enforcement Agency, and her own father.
Young, beautiful, and intelligent Charlotte Randolph is also very good at her job in the family business, which happens to be a Mexican drug cartel. She specifically runs a money-laundering operation, disguised as a marketing firm, in Jacksonville, Florida; she works with struggling small-business owners with one important characteristic: “They all felt life was unfair to them.” IRS agent Sandy Dawson has the perky look of a high school cheerleader, but she’s focused and ambitious. When she notices increased sales among Jacksonville stores that prefer cash, she discovers they’re paying about $20,000 a month to Randolph Marketing. She alerts the DEA and questions some Randolph clients, panicking them and bringing Hector Randolph, Charlotte’s father, to town. Though Charlotte’s work (and her mother’s long-ago abandonment) has given her a hard shell, she’s not a sociopath like her father is; she cares for her lover, Phil, and has some sympathy for her clients, such as a restaurant owner with a special needs child, and she wants out of this life—especially after she learns horrifying news. With several innocent lives at stake, Charlotte concocts an elaborate plan to keep herself, her clients, and the man she loves safe. Ronco delivers a fast-paced and entertaining story in his latest novel. That said, it would have benefited from a stronger edit to eliminate typos. It’s strengthened, however, by its thoughtfulness about how and why people get caught up in illegal schemes—often, they simply need the money due to circumstances largely out of their control. Some may be greedy and selfish, it points out, but others are just caught between a rock and a hard place. Readers may think it impossible for Charlotte to escape the various nets being drawn around her, whether by her father, the Mexican cartel, or the IRS and DEA, but it all leads to a clever and satisfying ending.
A well-crafted, character-driven crime story with insights about greed and need.