Book Review: A Reluctant Warrior by Kelly Brooke Nicholls

AReluctantWarriorAbout the Book

When Luzma’s brother, Jair, unwittingly uncovers the plan by Colombia’s most notorious drug cartel to smuggle an unprecedented cocaine shipment into the US, it puts their family in grave danger. Jair’s kidnapping by the cartel forces Luzma to go face to face with vicious paramilitary leader, El Cubano, and General Ordonez, ruthless head of the military – men who will stop at nothing to protect their empires. But for Luzma, nothing is more important than saving her family – not even her own life.

Format: Paperback Publisher: The Author People Pages: 232
Publication: 28th June 2017 Genre: Thriller    

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My Review

The opening of the book places you right at the centre of the action with Luz-Marina (Luzma) and her family forced to flee for their life from their village to escape the paramilitaries targeting those they suspect of supporting the guerillas. In fact, I think a little more background to the political situation in Colombia at the start of the book might have helped those unfamiliar with it, such as the differences between the guerrillas, the paramilitaries and the army.

After a close escape, Luzma, her brother, Jair, and her grandparents take refuge in the home of her aunt Jolene in the city of Buenaventura. There is a real sense of community spirit as, despite Jolene and her family like many other households in Colombia, living in squalor and poverty, they still make Luzma and her family welcome in their home.

‘It stood on stilts over muddy water full of garbage. There were some holes in the walls where the builders had run out of wood…A cross, candles and Orisha beads sat in a little altar in the tiny living room. The kitchen was at the back and the toilet was on an uncovered balcony above the smelly water, with a rudimentary curtain around it.’

Luzma soon becomes all too aware of the corruption endemic in Colombian society and that Buenaventura is the location for some of its most dangerous criminal elements, in particular the feared leader known as El Cubano. The corruption extends into all levels of government and even the army, many of whom are in collusion with the paramilitaries. Luzma learns about the fate of many young men in the city: ‘They kill them and dress them up in guerrilla fatigues and claim them as a combat kill. There are systems in the army that reward them for the number of enemy combatants they kill.’ The local army commander, General Ordonez, has gone one step further on the path of corruption, colluding with El Cubano in his drug trafficking operation which is making use of a very unusual piece of second-hand kit.

When Jair is kidnapped by El Cubano’s gang to prevent him passing on secrets, Luzma determines to rescue him, even at the expense of her own life. The reader learns of past experiences that explain Luzma’s determination to rescue her brother come what may. Having a strong sense of justice, Luzma also sets out to make sure the criminals are brought to justice. Despite coming into possession of potential leverage and the help of like-minded people, the odds against Luzma succeeding seem overwhelming. A climate of fear exists in Buenaventura, with informers in every neighbourhood and watchers on every corner: ‘Everything looked normal. But one could never be sure in Buenaventura.’ Those who attempt to stand up to corruption or the drug cartels are shown no mercy.

However, there are rare moments of joy for Luzma. I particularly liked the scene where she and Rafa, the young US humanitarian worker she meets, go dancing. The author really captures the atmosphere of the dancers and the rhythms of the music.

Where I did think the author used some artistic licence was in the involvement of Luzma in events at the end of the book. I’m not sure that civilians would be allowed to play the part that Luzma does. However, this is fiction after all and it does bring a nice closure to the narrative so I forgive the author this one indulgence!

In a compelling afterward, the author sets out some shocking statistics about the victims of the conflict in Colombia. After reading this, you realise that, if anything, the author has softened the picture of the suffering of the Colombian people.

For anyone who may be put off by the subject matter, I would say don’t be, because apart from anything else A Reluctant Warrior is a really entertaining read, full of suspense with a fascinating setting and plenty of tense moments.

I received a review copy courtesy of the author and Xpresso Book Tours in return for an honest review.

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KellyBrookeNichollsAbout the Author

Kelly Brooke Nicholls’ fascination with other cultures was instilled in her early years growing up on a boat in the South Pacific islands. She’s been passionate about human rights from an early age and has over 15 years’ senior leadership experience working for NGOs including an extended period living and working in Colombia. Although the story and characters in A Reluctant Warrior are fictitious, they are based on events she witnessed firsthand and her interviews with thousands of victims of paramilitaries, guerrillas and drug cartels. She wrote this book to celebrate and support the brave people in Colombia who risk their lives to protect and make a difference to others. Kelly lives on the Northern Beaches of Sydney with her Colombian husband and two sons.

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