“Wheels Up – a novel of Drugs, Cartels, and Survival” by Jeanine Kitchel, introduces us to Layla Navarro, the embattled niece of the head of a Mexican cartel. She’s been the bookkeeper for the family business, but is forced to become the public voice of El Patron when her uncle goes to jail and the heir apparent dies.
Layla is a woman with a tough demeanor, rough language, and a few crime worthy skills, capable of a bit more than she’s been given credit for. With millions at stake, and power shifting among the cartels in the region, she takes on her first independent project to establish credibility, only to be betrayed at every turn.
What motivates her? This is the world she has been raised in, and she has no romantic notions about the life or any interest in leaving it. Kitchel wisely incorporates the reality of the male dominated society in which Layla moves; Layla may have the brains, but the men do the heavy lifting in “Wheels Up,” one of whom is Cole, a Canadian narc dealer that helps her stay alive. The nicely written supporting characters lend texture to the story and a brief look at Mexican life. Not everybody is a criminal, although their lives may depend on being wary around the players who are.
Kitchel delivers an interesting look at a crime-based life that I can only imagine, and makes parallels to legitimate business practices. In order for any company to succeed, there has to be trust at the top between the partners that run it. In any corporate takeover, we know from watching the news that even in non-lethal exchanges, there is turmoil while power is realigned. Substitute the drug cartels for legit businesses, upper level disagreements settled with guns instead of torts and contracts, and you’ll understand the dynamics in “Wheels Up.”
This multi-layered book also explores human trafficking as a side business to the narcotics trade, a practice that not all the parties agree upon. Layla and the Canadian, along with trusted henchmen, deal with one aspect of the problem in a clever plot twist that also places her in more danger.
Kitchel happily lived in Mexico for quite a while and shares with us her love of the cuisine as well as some of the countryside. The food and the bars play like characters against the lush landscape. I had a craving to visit my local Mexican restaurant after reading about the mouthwatering dishes that Layla and her friends enjoyed. If your reading interests include take-charge women thrown into complex, no-win situations, “Wheels Up” will provide plenty of entertainment.
Book #2 in the trilogy, “Tulum Takedown,” is now available. For more information about Jeanine Kitchel, her time in Mexico, as well as her non-fiction work, please visit www.jeaninekitchel.com.