The Drug Enforcement Administration sends a resourceful graduate student to locate a meth and Ecstasy factory hidden in the Atchafalaya Basin in Louisiana in Gallant’s debut thriller, the first in a series.
When a game warden and undercover agent turn up dead, the DEA enlists Travis Weld’s help in tracking down a south Louisiana drug distributor. Weld’s choice for a recruit is graduate student Chesney Barrett, who already has a grant to conduct environmental studies in the Atchafalaya Basin, where authorities found both bodies. Chesney’s not an agent, but Weld believes the grant provides her with a credible cover story. Likewise, as a former Olympic swimmer, Chesney shares similarities to the athletic dead wife of wealthy plantation owner Jacques Dupree. And the DEA suspects Tate Melancon, who runs Dupree’s plantation, is the head of the drug operation. Weld gives Chesney a crash course in fighting and spinning a cover story, but she’ll have to rely on her wits if she hopes to stay alive. The novel showcases an able protagonist with an incentive to face the daunting assignment: an absconding drug dealer caused the accident that killed her mother. The ever distrustful baddies, including Melancon’s henchman Gator Guidry, relentlessly question Chesney, who excels under pressure. She’s also adept in physical confrontations and gunplay. Most of the male characters are villains, so it’s unsurprising that leering men surround Chesney. But unfortunately, Weld is only a modest improvement. His gruff training entails tossing Chesney around, ripping off her shirt, and threatening to rape her. He’s not much of a lawman either, opting to kill bad guys even when they’re surrendering. But Weld takes a back seat to the proficient graduate student, who braves more than just men, from the bayou’s alligators to hanging water moccasins who have a tendency to fall into boats. Gallant bolsters his tale with a possible DEA mole and Chesney’s wavering doubts about other characters. Befriending the seemingly kindhearted Lionel Fremin, she is smart enough to be cautious around him. Meanwhile, she might be developing genuine feelings for the dubious Dupree. Gallant’s prose focuses on the environment, aptly detailing the Atchafalaya Basin’s marshy lands.
A sensational protagonist pitted against hazards in the swamp and dangerous men.