A King's Ransom
"Terrifying... Grisham will probably wish he'd thought of it."
- Miami Herald
Just two years out of law school, Nick Rey is on the career fast track at a hot Miami law firm, when he is suddenly plunged headfirst into a dangerous bid to save his father from a fate worse than death.
Nick's father, Matthew, is a courageous man—a risk taker, some say—who almost single-handedly built a small Miami fishing company into a successful Latin American seafood distributor. Then, while on business in Colombia's exotic port city of Cartagena, he vanishes. Three members on his fishing boat are murdered in cold blood, and Matthew is last seen in the hands of thugs brandishing machine guns. They demand a ransom of three million dollars, far more than the Rey family can ever hope to raise.
Fortunately, Matthew had purchased a kidnap-and-ransom insurance policy to protect against just such a threat. Unfortunately, the kidnappers seem to know all about the policy, and the insurance company, suspecting fraud, is refusing to pay out.
The situation couldn't be worse. The kidnappers know there's money, when in reality there's none. And any hope Nick holds out that the United States government will intervene on his father's behalf is dashed as well. The FBI has been monitoring Matthew's Colombian connections, and is more interested in furthering its own investigations than in rescuing Matthew.
With nowhere to turn, Nick links up with Alex, a street-smart and beguiling Colombian beauty who may be the only person capable of negotiating with Matthew's captors. For Nick, the treacherous highlands of Colombia are an unfamiliar battleground, but he soon discovers that the gravest dangers to him and his family are not the kidnappers and their guns, but the men in suits. Lawyers, to be exact, at a powerful firm with something to hide. And they will stop at nothing to keep Nick from unleashing the truth.
"Terrifying . . . Grisham will probably wish he'd thought of it."
- Miami Herald
"A well-thought-out thriller."
- Library Journal
"Hits the bull's-eye . . . Grippando's premise . . . and his punchy plotting, build up a quick and enjoyable head of steam."
- Kirkus Reviews
"A taut, well-constructed page-turner that seems destined for the big screen."
- Publishers Weekly
BEHIND THE BOOK ...
"KIDNAPPER HAS LEFT ELEVEN DEAD." That grim headline greeted me on day-one of my trip to Latin America while researching A King's Ransom. The story went on to report that these heavily armed bandits, who had left human heads displayed on sticks, had just taken a Canadian businessman hostage. They demanded a hefty ransom. Over a breakfast of bananas and fresh papaya, my guide and I re-routed my trip.
Kidnapping for ransom is now an "industry" in Latin America, and nowhere else in the world is business booming the way it is in Colombia. The scope of the problem first hit me when I heard the story of Tomas Bernardo Sinisterra, a Cali businessman who was kidnapped at gunpoint in his driveway by Marxist guerillas. The ransom demand was $6 million. For six months he was held in the Andes Mountains while his family negotiated for his release. During his prolonged captivity, his wife gave birth to their daughter, and his father passed away. Finally, after payment of less than the initial demand, he was released, thirty pounds thinner.
One man's ordeal was harrowing enough, but I was moved to write a novel when I learned that thousands of people are kidnapped for ransom each year in Colombia. Most are taken by guerilla groups who use the ransom money - millions of dollars each year - to finance their drug labs and the war against the Colombian government. Guerillas control forty-percent of the country, and the scale of their criminal operations is staggering. Once every three hours someone is kidnapped for ransom. It usually takes six months to a year to secure the victim's release. One in ten are never released. Sometimes the kidnappers demand a "ransom" for the return of the dead body.
Researching this book was fascinating. I interviewed FBI agents, State Department officials, and negotiators trained in international kidnappings. Two of these negotiators worked for Control Risks Group, the world's most elite private security firm. CRG and Lloyds of London are credited with having invented "kidnap and ransom insurance," a mysterious business that is described in detail in A King's Ransom.
Most moving of all for me were my interviews of kidnap victims and their families. One man had been kidnapped four times, the last by women dressed as nuns. The AK-47s were hidden under their habits. Another told me of a neighbor who was kidnapped six times. On the seventh, the family refused to pay. He was executed.
The story of kidnapping in Colombia is ready to be told. Mike Wallace of Sixty Minutes recently interviewed the President of Colombia, who himself was kidnapped before becoming Mayor of Bogota. The recent motion picture Proof of Life was inspired in part by the real life kidnapping of Thomas Hargrove, an American who was held in the mountains by Colombian guerillas for eleven months. Hopefully, stories like these will bring added awareness to Colombia's kidnapping nightmare.
A KING'S RANSOM: HarperCollins Publishers: May 2001 Behind the Writing of the Novel: Copyright 2000 James Grippando