Local novel reads like movie

Sheldon Brown’s Caribbean Cartels is action-packed

Front-page comments this week by Police Commissioner David Baines about Cayman’s “cocaine problem” reminds us once again

– if any reminder were needed – that the scourge of illegal drug trafficking is both a local and international issue that impacts everyone.

Countless stories have been written about the tragic consequences of drug use to the users and their loved ones, but local writer Sheldon M. Brown has taken a totally different perspective. In his first published novel, Caribbean Cartels, he has written about the drug-trafficking process, including the need for trans-shipments, the multi-layered system of distribution and the people involved in the process.

Mr. Brown has taken on a formidable task because readers of fiction generally want a character or two they can identify with or root for as the plot unfolds. There are few good guys in the drug trade.

What the author emphasises, therefore, is the action. Not only is there plenty of it, but it is narrated in such vivid detail that the book could easily be converted to a movie script. Boats delivering drugs in the dead of night. Gunmen shooting down rivals as well as law enforcement agents. A daring operation to free drug defendants from custody.

These events and more take place at a fast pace accentuated by sudden but logical switches in locale. Characters may be based in Cayman, Jamaica or Miami or move from one to another.

Grand Cayman scenes

Since much of the action is in Grand Cayman, readers will have the extra satisfaction of trying to compare the fictional people and places with reality.

One of the first drug runs, in fact, is something of a geography lesson as ganja is off-loaded in East End, then moved through Bodden Town and George Town, where emergency vehicles’ flashing lights near the Lions Centre give

everyone a scare. And, of course, at least one scene has to take place on Seven Mile Beach.

Just as he has used local street and neighbourhood names, Brown has not hesitated to give characters familiar surnames. In both cases he veers a couple of degrees off true north to remind readers this is, after all, a story and not a case history account. One might also wonder whether he was amusing a select audience with a couple of in-jokes. For example, he names his most successful drug mover “Carl Rattray”. Is this a humorous reference to R. Carl Rattray, who was appointed in 1957 as Cayman’s first Stipendiary Magistrate? Or is the first name based on someone else and the last name a tribute to the late Dr. William Rattray, commissioner of Corrections and Rehabilitation, to whom Brown gives special thanks in a page of acknowledgements? There are probably other names readers could analyse for fun.

Correlation with real events

What may be surprising is the fact that so many of the incidents that move the plot along do correlate with actual events as reported in the Caymanian Compass over the past 20 years or so. Yes, drugs have been brought ashore or found floating on all sides of the Island. Yes, there have been US-bound shipping containers modified with false floors or walls to conceal drugs. And yes, there really was an exchange of gunfire in North Sound between police and drug runners – in November, 1995, to be exact, with three Jamaicans and three Caymanians eventually convicted.

If there is any disappointment in the way Brown chose to develop his story line, it might come from the court scenes, which do not accurately reflect how drug cases are prosecuted in Cayman. However, it might also be argued that this is fiction and Brown is free to make the fat and balding Caucasian Crown Counsel sound ludicrous as he cites section after section of the penal code.

Finally, with the observation that women seem to exist in the lives of drug dealers primarily to provide physical gratification, readers should be advised that intimate scenes are graphic and can be skimmed over without loss of plot continuity.

However, it is true that a woman helps provide the denouement. Anyone who reads Caribbean Cartels as a mystery will see it coming. Those who are content to enjoy the story as it builds will appreciate the late introduction of a chain of characters who are archetypical but credible. It would be unfair to reveal the ending, except to quote a penultimate sentence grounded in reality: “All knew there would be further challenges, as organised crime seemed to be on the rise, but a major burden was now off their shoulders.”

The book cover describes Sheldon M. Brown as an ex-gangster who spent a considerable number of years in the Cayman underworld, reformed and is currently incarcerated. He has completed three novels and is working on a fourth.

Caribbean Cartels is available at Hobbies and Books, Books & Books, The Bodden Town Art Shop, Champion Accessories, Pop a Top in Cayman Brac and Sangster’s Book Stores in Jamaica.