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Dead Drop

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"Dead Drop" is a story that is all to real for folks who live in or love the southwest desert. Immigrants from Mexico and Central America are trafficked across the border; but often times they are used as drug mules or sex or other slaves. This story by James L'Etoile is about one man's crusade against this.

Nathan Parker is that man.  He is a detective but has been suspended on some trumped up charges, which is especially hard since his partner was murdered while investigating these illegal operations.

As is often the case in this region, not everyone is who they seem to be--both law enforcement and cartel members.  The story takes many twists and focuses on the site of dumped bodies of those who became too much of a pain, unable to work, or too dangerous.

Lots of adventure and salvation from unexpected quarters makes this an enjoyable read. Will Parker catch the bad folks or will he be caught by them?  The answer is "Yes!" but the key is how.
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Mariposa County Sheriff's Detective Nathan Parker is still haunted by the unsolved murder of his partner during a human smuggling run between the Mexico-USA border.  Then Billie, a resourceful scavenger living in the desert, finds human remains stuffed in metal barrels.  Parker is determined to catch those responsible for these deaths.  But Parker's actions soon lead to him being suspended by his bosses.  Now on his own, Parker gets firsthand exposure to the brutality of warring drug cartels, border violence and the fate of undocumented immigrants seeking a better life.

I received a digital ARC from Netgalley and Level Best Books.  My opinions are my own.
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Quick nice summer read.

I have read a very similar premise by a Japanese author, so I want to see how an American tackles this subject. It's quite nice. 

My gripe is that the officers act like teenagers even when at work sometimes. 

And the twists and turns aren't that hard to unravel. I could guess most of it at around the tenth chapter out of the fifty chapters. 
But then I suppose this is more of a thriller than a mystery.

I'm glad the kids are all right. The animals get it bad though. Hope everything will be okay. 

Kids, algebra is great! Please learn it lol 

I'm eager to see how this series will play out because the plot is very very similar to that Japanese story I have read. 

I do hope the story will focus more on the mystery. 

Thank you for sending me this e-ARC. Opinions are my own.
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Dead Drop is the first volume of a new series by author James L'Etoile featuring Nathan Parker, a detective with the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office in Arizona. Three years ago, Nathan's partner, Josh McMillan, was slain on a road they were assigned to patrol in order to interrupt the flow of undocumented immigrants using it to avoid passing through Immigration and Customs Enforcement checkpoints. Nathan has never forgiven himself for not responding to McMillan's radio call faster, and the murderer has not been apprehended. Nathan is a loner, his most recent relationship with FBI Agent Lynnette Finch having fizzled because, according to Lynne, they did not spend enough time together and he failed to make her a priority. But Nathan is self-aware enough to recognize that his failure to be comfortable in his own skin makes it impossible for him to commit to someone else. Besides, he is fully committed to his job.

As the story opens, Billie Carson is scavenging in the desert outside Phoenix. She lives in a dilapidated travel trailer and fancies herself a "treasure-hunter," searching for abandoned items she can sell to recycling yards in order to keep herself fed and enjoy a cold beer at the local roadhouse. At the outset, L'Etoile establishes that Billie has a complicated past that drives her. "The recycling yards paid you good money, but money could never really make up for the broken lives she'd left behind. How could you repay the ghosts of men you'd led to their death?" Following a path to a secluded spot that's perfect for an illegal dump, Billie happens upon four fifty-gallon drums. Convinced she has stumbled onto something good, Billie pries the lid off one of the barrels and discovers the decomposing body of a man inside. Fearing the remaining barrels contain four more bodies, she calls Nathan. They are acquainted because Nathan helped Billie eighteen months ago when she was facing a trespassing charge. And since then she has called Nathan regularly with reports of minor disturbances in the desert. For Nathan's part, he finds Billie, an unapologetic survivor with a past she never divulges, intriguing. For a woman who doesn't rattle easily, Nathan hears the fear in her voice and responds immediately to the scene. The day proves to be the beginning of an unforgettable journey for both Nathan and Billie, at the conclusion of which neither of them will be the same.

The drums do, in fact, contain the bodies of four young Hispanic men, the third such body drop in a month, bringing the total number of decedents to fifteen. One of Nathan's first investigative steps is a review of the Pima County Missing Migrant Project database containing information provided by the loved ones of approximately 2,500 migrants who disappeared after crossing the Mexican border. But he's unable to identify any of the victims. L'Etoile's research for the book revealed that more than 7,800 people have died since 1998 as they attempted the trek, while another 3,500 simply vanished. He says those statistics "really influenced" his story. 

One of the victims had a slip of paper in his pocket bearing a telephone number in Hermosillo, Mexico; "TC;" and the phrase "Somos el menor de los males" which means "We are the lesser of two evils." The phone number is traced to Tomas Cardinale, who could be a coyote -- a person who, for a fee, helps migrants cross the border. Cardinale is known to authorities as an enforcer for the powerful Sinaloa cartel. And he's in Phoenix. Nathan is invited by his former patrol partner, Espi, who now works for the DEA, to accompany him as he surveilles Cardinale and gathers information. Nothing more. He cautions Nathan that they will not be conducting an operation.

Nathan is a good officer, but he is arrogant and, at times, rash. A lapse in judgment results in his suspension from the force pending an internal investigation into his actions. But he will not be dissuaded, and continues his efforts not just to find the killer of the four men, but to unveil the workings of the cartel, and bring down Cardinale and his criminal associates.

L'Etoile skillfully crafts a tense and gripping depiction of the despicable ways in which migrants seeking a better life in the United States are victimized. The cartels control vast geographical areas, engendering terror in the citizens, many of whom are forced to carry out their agenda or face dire consequences for refusing to cooperate. Cartels establish legitimate business operations as fronts for their drug distribution chains and human trafficking. Coyotes are motivated only by money, demanding exorbitant sums to ensure a safe crossing. Frequently, serving as a mule, transporting concealed drugs or other illicit cargo, is part of the bargain. Worse, family members are often abducted and held hostage until the crossing is completed and payment in full tendered. A failure to pay can result in a message being sent to the family of the migrant who attempted to escape Mexico, along with any others considering using the coyote's services, in the form of body stuffed into a fifty-gallon drum and dropped in the desert. Is that what happened to those four young men?

The plot of Dead Drop is intricately detailed and absorbing, and L'Etoile deftly keeps readers guessing as a vast array of corrupt and morally bankrupt characters vie for power and dominance, fueled by greed and a need to outsmart their enemies in order to stay alive. Who is really pulling the strings? And what is their ultimate goal? Who are they willing to betray? The answers are revealed incrementally in L'Etoile's fast-paced third-person narrative that is replete with shocking developments. Nathan finds himself in increasingly perilous situations -- and accused of an assortment of crimes, including murder -- as the action shifts from Arizona to Mexico, and back again. 

At it's core, Dead Drop is a sophisticated mystery that is deeply affecting because of three key characters. Readers meet Billie first and will be as intrigued by her as Nathan. She is rough-around-the-edges, plainspoken, and a bit cranky, claiming she wants only to be left alone to spend her days scavenging and her nights relaxing outside her rundown trailer. But as the story proceeds, L'Etoile reveals that Billie is savvy, fearless, and harboring secrets. There are things in her past for which she desires redemption and her off-the-grid life may be a form of self-inflicted penance. She is also fiercely devoted to helping the people who, often in desperation, shoulder the risks of an attempted border crossing. She is loyal to Nathan because she recognizes that he is, in some ways, a great deal like her even though a first glance at their lives would suggest that they could not be more different. He just doesn't realize it yet, but she is determined to help him get to know himself better and she never gives up or quits, even though L'Etoile places her in some harrowing situations.

Nathan and Billie encounter Miguel, a teenaged boy from San Salvador who is journeying across the border alone. His older brother was killed by a gang six months ago and he ran because he knew they would kill him, as well, for his refusal to join them. He says only that he doesn't have parents anymore, but does not reveal what fate they met. He has no one waiting for him in the United States and no specified destination. He dreams only of getting away from danger and perhaps finding a place where he can go to school. As he waits for transportation, he plays a video game on his portable console. Because he is in so many ways an ordinary teenage boy who, through no fault of his own, is forced to navigate unspeakably terrifying circumstances, L'Etoile leads readers, along with Nathan, to an appreciation of the human toll of America's ongoing border crisis.

But Nathan's journey is the core of the story. He is bereft and lost at the beginning of the book -- angry, bitter, and full of regret and self-loathing about McMillan's death. He seems unconsciously bent on getting justice for McMillan in order to assuage his survivor's guilt. His career is the only thing that brings meaning and purpose to his life. In the three years since McMillan was murdered by a known human trafficker, Nathan has increasingly associated migrants and those who facilitate their entry into the country with crime and violence, believing that people should only come into the United States legally. "Being here means they broke the law," he tells Billie. "There is a legal way of getting in." As part of his duties, he has worked cooperatively with federal Border Patrol personnel and participated in immigration round-ups. But the predicaments in which he finds himself, fighting for his life more than once, change him, beginning with that fateful day when Billie discovers those barrels in the desert. Nathan can't help but contemplate what motivated those four young men. "If they crossed the border illegally, what made them desperate enough to risk everything only to end up dumped in a dirty desert wash?" he asks himself. L'Etoile ingeniously places Nathan in eerily parallel circumstances, a fact that escapes him until Billie shocks him into acknowledging his new reality, telling him, "This is who you are now. You can't go home, you got no money, and people who matter don't want you around no more." Nathan is a fully developed, credible character for whom readers will find themselves cheering, hoping that he will learn to grant himself forgiveness and find solace, channeling his anger into empathy as a result of all that he endures in his quest for justice.

Dead Drop is a compelling and entertaining thriller. L'Etoile has also penned a compassionate, thought-provoking, and inarguably timely exploration of the humanitarian considerations that cannot be overlooked in the ongoing debate concerning how America's border can be managed, and what immigration policies should be enacted and enforced. As L'Etoile wisely observes, "Wherever you position yourself on the issue, the one common denominator is the people caught in the center of this struggle."
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Detective Nathan Taylor finds himself embroiled in the southern border crossings of Mexicans searching for a new life in the U.S. Dealing with cartels, politics and illegal immigrants makes this an exciting nonstop book, recommended.
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Dead Drop is the first in Author James L’Etoile’s Detective Nathan Parker potential series. I’ve read and enjoyed his earlier Detective Penley series. Readers who enjoy noir, thrillers, police procedurals, and suspense will like these books. James L’Etoile uses his background in the prison system to add verisimilitude to the novel.

The protagonist, Detective Nathan Parker, is based in Arizona. He has recently lost a fellow cop—his partner—murdered by an unknown assailant in a drug cartel. Parker has also ended his relationship with a female FBI agent.

Suspense is high from the get-go as the novel starts out with the discovery of dead bodies packing into 55-gallon drums and covered with some unknown chemical. From there, the book hits on violence on the southern border of the US, racial issues, illegal immigrants, and politics. The good guys and the bad guys aren’t clearly delineated, making this an intellectual teaser as well. My favorite part is that Parker has a tremendous character arc, and it will be interesting to learn where this growth will take him.
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