Taste of Poison (The Piri Aji Series Book 1)
Toni Tobin, editor (anthology)
Austin Adair has a habit of snorting a concoction of frog venom and cocaine before he's forced to kill; yet he is the central character and hero of this story. As a young adult, he left the confines of the family ranch in West Texas to find work in the oilfields. At age twenty-three and tired of the backbreaking work, he sets out to make his fortune. Austin flies to Bogota with a simple plan – to buy pure Columbian cocaine cheaply and sell it at a premium back in the states. While in pursuit of his career, he falls for a beautiful, young debutant named Claudia Samper-Trujillo. Unbeknownst to Adair, Claudia's two uncles are the founding fathers of the Cali Drug Cartel. When the two lovers are discovered in a fit of passion, Claudia's gangster uncles have Adair beaten senseless and kicked out of a helicopter high above the Andean jungle. Surprisingly, the fall does not kill him, and he is later nursed back to health by an indigenous tribe of the upper Amazon. There, Adair falls in love yet again, this time with a poor native girl, and settles into a simple jungle village life, an existence supported by the cultivation of coca. During a raid on the village by a band of renegade militia, his young wife is brutally murdered. Adair's drinking and drug abuse become his means of coping with his grief. He befriends a wilderness guide who convinces him to purchase an outfitting service, and this begins his life of adventure in the jungles where he often crosses paths with bloodthirsty narcotrafficking cartels. Years go by, and a brilliant Columbian botanist named Dr. Leonardo Lomez hires Adair to guide him through the Petén jungle of Guatemala. Lomez is an exceptionally intelligent man, with two doctorates from the University of Miami, and a vast knowledge of Mayan history and culture. His expedition will lead them to the place where the mysterious plant Piri Aji grows. Piri Aji is unlike any other plant known to man. Its properties are so unique it warrants a new class of extremely powerful pain medication. After synthesizing the plant's active constituents, Lomez attempts to solicit the wonder drug to American pharmaceutical companies. While pursuing a legitimate means to market his newly discovered medication, the same synthesized drug winds up on the streets of Guatemala City. Enter the U.S. government. Their prime suspect for illicit sales of the drug: Dr. Leonardo Lomez. The story takes a surprise turn when Adair discovers Dr. Lomez is Claudia's first cousin, and related through adoption to two of the most powerful drug lords in the world. The innocent, kind-hearted botanist has secrets of his own, and after his uncles are arrested and extradited to the U.S., Lomez covertly becomes the boss of the Cali Cartel. Adair provides intelligence to the CIA to disrupt the large drug operation in Guatemala, but the intelligence that eventually causes its collapse comes from Matthew Winston Whitaker, Leonardo's old college roommate and now director of the U.S. Office of National Drug policy. Intriguingly this intelligence is provided by Dr. Lomez and for reasons later known. Whitaker orders a covert missile strike on the laboratories gearing up to manufacture Piri Aji, and the operations in Guatemala are annihilated. The countless twists and turns within the book are too complex for a brief synopsis. However, the reader eventually learns that Dr. Lomez is, and always has been, a gangster. From the beginning his plan was to use the financing from wealthy Mexican drug cartels to purchase the equipment and build the elaborate drug manufacturing labs. He then fed information to the U.S., knowing the labs would be destroyed. While the buildings were destroyed, the valuable manufacturing equipment was preserved. The hardware required to produce synthetic Piri Aji is safely stored in Columbia in the hands of the Cali Cartel and Dr. Lomez. Throughout the book, Adair and Claudia's lives intersect from time to time, as both live wildly exciting lives at one degree of separation. After the destruction of the laboratories, Adair is forced to rescue his old flame Claudia when she is about to be murdered for betraying the Cali Cartel. They are finally reunited as lovers when they escape Columbia and Adair hides her away in the most unlikely of places, the family ranch where he was raised.