Wed
Nov 1 2017 12:00pm

Review: The Extraditionist by Todd Merer

The Extraditionist by Todd Merer is the first book in the Benn Bluestone Thriller series. 

Drug lawyer Benn Bluestone is kind of a jerk. He likes the ladies a little too much, he loves money, and the criminals he defends are the worst of the worst: powerful cartel members that don’t think twice about killing anyone that gets in their way. Benn justifies this a bit by explaining that the people he defends help put the bigger cartel fish away, which while sometimes true, still isn’t much of a defense. 

He explains thusly:

We settled on a day, and I clicked off. I’d juggle and manage. You learn to in a business that’s totally unpredictable—months without a peep of new work, then two cases in two minutes. The work itself, however, was totally predictable: same old, same old, researching and developing deep-throat information Uncle Sam deemed significant—drugs by the ton and seizures in the multimillion of dollars—then horse trading it for minimal jail time my clients could do standing on their heads.

Being the keeper of such secrets entailed great responsibility—and, if one were careless, a fair amount of risk. I reduced that hazard by maintaining constant vigilance and trusting no one.

Benn narrates, and he lets readers know very quickly that he’s tired of his job. He’s looking for a big score so he can get out for good.

The other day while online, I was required to select my date of birth by scrolling down a numbered wheel. I watched the years pass, thinking how quickly they had gone. My next birthday was a year ending in zero, and I didn’t want to go on working until I ran out of juice. Couldn’t, because sooner or later, the whole rotten-drug-lawyer monopoly game was going to crash, and a lot of players would be drawing cards that said Go to Jail, I planned to be long gone by then.

Because I had a dream…

I’d snag a client named Biggy who would deliver unto me the mother of all scores. I knew that my Biggy existed in the realm of possibility. In fact, he might even be Mondragon’s guy. One never knew—

Mondragon might indeed be his ticket out. In fact, when he flies to Columbia to meet him, he’s greeted with a one-million-dollar offer. That’s huge, but he knows there must be some sort of catch. He’s shocked when he learns his new client is Rigo Ordonez, a man who was involved in the deaths of 200 of a former client’s extended family—a client that Benn counted among his very few friends. They killed the man’s entire family, including women and children. Rigo doesn’t play around.

What follows is a deep dive into labyrinthine cartel politics in Benn’s search for the big one that will get him out for good. These are big fish, alright; but is it worth his life—or what is left of his soul? The legendary Biggy Sombra (aka the Shadow) will test him to the limit and beyond.

Benn isn’t a bad guy. He’s really not. Don’t get me wrong, he and I wouldn’t be friends, but his regret when it comes to his ex-wife (and former paralegal) Mady adds depth to his personality and possibly partially explains his devil-may-care attitude. I get the distinct impression that losing her changed him, and it wasn’t a change for the better. He’s world-weary to the point of not caring, and it’s a dangerous way to be.

Flashback: twenty years ago.

Mady is my new bride. We’re not only joined at the hip; she is also my accomplished paralegal. We are deeply in love and best friends and workmates. Our future is bright and limitless. My professional star is rising. I’m just a couple of years out of law school, not yet thirty, but already I’ve become a hell of a trial lawyer. My ascent begins when I work some courtroom magic, get lucky at the same time, and win a no-win case. For a Columbian. He sends his friends to me. His friends send friends.

One day I receive a call from a man with a hoarse voice. He is extremely polite. Reserved. Would I consider an expense-paid trip to Cali to discuss a case?

“Yes,” I say. “With my paralegal.”

“Of course.”

But I have reservations about bringing Mady.

He should have listened to those reservations because that was the trip that led to the death of so many people and marked the beginning of the end for him and Mady.

Merer—who has 30 years under his belt practicing the exact kind of law that Benn does—knows his material, which to me, makes it even scarier. And this is scary, dirty, low-down business. Benn is no hero, and I’m not sure anti-hero fits either. But I like scarred and deeply flawed characters, so that’s not a quibble for me.

If I had a quibble (or two), it would be that there are so many characters in this book that you may need to make a list. Also, the narrative could have been whittled down a bit. It gets a bit confusing, but don’t let that scare you off—Merer is a talented writer, and he knows how to build a scene. He’s got his finger on the pulse of these bad guys and gals, and it shows.

If you’re fascinated with the illegal drug trade—which I am—and the ins and outs of criminal cartels, this is an author to watch. His addition of a plot thread involving an indigenous people of the Andes and their enigmatic leader makes for an intriguing twist.

 

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Kristin Centorcelli reviews books at mybookishways.com, loves a good mystery, and is a huge fan of boxed wine. You can also follow her at @mybookishways.

Read all posts by Kristin Centorcelli for Criminal Element.

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