In less than a year, W. E. B. Griffin and William E. Butterworth
IV have cranked out yet another Badge of Honor thriller
with THE TRAFFICKERS. Homicide Sergeant Matthew Payne has been
placed on leave from his street assignments following bizarre
shootings, which have earned him the reputation of being the
“Wyatt Earp” of the police department.
Matt’s natural father, a Philadelphia policeman, has been
killed in the line of duty. His mother marries a prestigious
attorney who soon adopts him. Raised in the lap of luxury, Matt is
expected to follow the legal profession and enter his
father’s firm. Instead, he passes with flying colors the exam
to enter the city’s police academy, where he excels in all
phases. It helps that his godfather is Chief Inspector Dennis V.
While Matt contemplates his future career possibilities,
he’s drawn into a horrific situation involving an old prep
school friend. “Soup King” Chad Nesbitt rings
Matt’s number at 4:40 a.m. with an urgent request: “I
need your help, Matt. This is bad.”
Matt agrees to meet Chad at an all-night diner across from a
second-rate motel called the Philly Inn on Frankford. There, he
witnesses the aftermath of a devastating explosion at the hotel
site. Yellow crime-scene tape is being strung outside a portion of
the building near where a burned-out Mercedes-Benz is worked by
firefighters with “jaws-of-life” equipment. When he
recognizes that the nearly destroyed car belongs to Becca Benjamin,
another old friend, Matt is stunned. What could she have been doing
outside such a sleazy address? She is the victim being frantically
removed from the wreck for transport to a hospital.
The shock increases when they realize that a former friend and
now business associate of Chad’s, Skipper Olde, has sustained
life-threatening burns inside the unit where the fire erupted.
He’s being taken to the Temple Hospital Burn Center, where
Becca is. From across the street, Matt recognizes an early arrival,
Homicide Detective Tony Harris, on the scene. Digesting the sketchy
personal details of the business relationship from Chad, Matt walks
over to the crime scene, flashes his badge and approaches Tony. A
web slowly unfolds that stretches far beyond the legitimate
ownership of a down-and-out hotel. His reluctant superiors allow
Matt involvement only from a desk position. But he vows to work
with Tony to answer questions about the fire. Illegal drugs become
the focus of their investigation, and then it becomes apparent that
the room in question housed a meth lab, one now blown sky high.
Trafficking in illegal drugs is but one aspect of the puzzle
being solved. Illegal immigrants from Mexico, Honduras, Colombia
and numerous South and Central American locations pay high dollars
for “coyotes” to smuggle them into the United States.
>From border states, they are transported to cities such as
Philadelphia, where they are housed and fed in filthy conditions
and expected to repay their benefactors for bed and board. Young
women, mere girls, are drugged and turned into prostitutes, with
severe physical consequences if they buck the system.
In Philly, the kingpin of the human traffickers, Juan Pablo
Delgado (El Gato), raises the fear factor of those who dare to
oppose him. He’ll maim and decapitate any girl who refuses to
service the men he commands. One such victim, Rosario, escapes from
him, seeking shelter with an upstanding Mexican family in the city.
Her cousin Ana, in full view of the remaining cowering illegal
girls, becomes the object of his wrath. El Gato beats her into
lifelessness, binds her body and has it dumped into the river. But
he delivers her severed head to the Paco Esteban family, who has
given Rosario shelter.
A Texas ranger flown to Philly from Houston investigates similar
beheadings in his district, following the destruction wreaked by
illegal drug and body trafficking. Now working with Matt, they
discover a trail that leads to events in Philadelphia. Evidence
points to a much larger operation than an occasional meth lab and
From two dead Hispanic males found in the charred Philly Inn
room to Skipper’s possible connections with them,
Matt’s team scrapes together numerous clues that imply a
bigger scheme. When an armed intruder eludes both police and
doctors, Skipper is murdered in his hospital bed. The action is
intense, with chapters carrying many side stories forward but in
effect conjoined, and the modern police investigation is drawn with
pictorial pens. Griffin and Butterworth skillfully keep one’s
attention riveted until the conclusion of THE TRAFFICKERS, which is
sure to be another bestseller.
Reviewed by Judy Gigstad on January 23, 2011