Three people collide over cocaine.
Impacted by the recession, twenty-four-year-old artist Gina McKenna is down to her last few dollars and days away from living in her car when a successful businessman buys a painting and commissions another. As their relationship evolves, she’s seduced by his charm and mesmerized by his luxurious lifestyle until she discovers he’s a drug kingpin. Her world turns upside down, and she struggles to survive vicious brutality.
Miguel Lopez is a cocaine supplier with a weightlifter’s physique and “the rules do not apply to me” attitude. Maniacal and ruthless, he has no qualms about killing anyone who interferes with his distribution network, including Gina.
Dedicated to eradicating illegal drugs, DEA Special Agent Bobby Garcia spent months and hundreds of thousands of dollars working undercover to buy his way up the dealer chain to identify the moneyman. When his fourteen-year-old daughter overdoses on cocaine, he traces the blow to Lopez. As Bobby's mission becomes personal, he makes emotional decisions, which negatively impact civilians and his job. Unable to let go, he risks his career to orchestrate the biggest drug sting in Southern California. What happens isn’t what he expected.
When a deputy district attorney meets Gina at a party, he is smitten. As his attraction grows, so does Gina’s involvement with the DEA’s case, of which he is the designated prosecutor. Mindful of his professional ethics, he tries to stifle his feelings.
Sex and violence permeate the twists and turns of this cautionary tale about choosing one’s friends well.
One of the first assignments I received in Professor Louella Nelson’s Beginning Novel Writing Class was to identify the key plot points. The majority of the attendees had a novel they were writing; I didn’t. While driving home, the plot came to me. As the story evolved, so did my research.
Almost all the scenes are based on actual events: the airplane scene is patterned after an article in the Los Angeles Times, which described a similar situation. The experiences of two women who’d spent time in the Orange County Jail are reflected in the jail scenes. (Yes, stuff like that really happens.) A Lt. in Narcotics and a retired DEA Agent shared their expertise and helped me understand the current laws and how much latitude they did or didn’t have in combating the war on drugs. Two artists taught me about plein air painting, and shared their challenges in making a living selling art. Orange County Sheriff Sandra Hutchens facilitated a tour of the Orange County Jail, bought lunch, and was very gracious answering my questions. Most influential of all was retired Superior Court Judge James Gray, who convinced me that drugs should be legalized, and he formed the basis for Busted’s prosecutor’s philosophy.
If you’re interested in learning more, I’ve included a list of the books that I found most educational.
I hope you enjoy reading Busted as much as I enjoyed researching and writing it.
“Bustedby Michele I. Khoury is a riveting story with characters that readers will enjoy. Twenty-four-year-old artist Gina McKenna is literally broke and she is about to spend the last of what she had left when a rich businessman buys one of her paintings and asks her to do more. She is slowly sucked into his world of wealth and opulence and, when she falls for him, she discovers that Miguel Lopez is a ruthless drug lord and he kills anyone who comes between him and his business.
A new player comes into the game, DEA Special Agent Bobby Garcia, who has been looking for any means to bring down the mastermind behind the drug distribution network in Southern California, a mission that quickly turns personal with the overdose of his teenage daughter. There is a lot waiting for the reader in the plot as relationships become complex and dangers multiply. Who will be left standing when the curtain falls?
Michele I. Khoury’s novel is a gem, the kind of story for readers who love suspenseful plots, character-driven writing, and well-developed conflicts in what they read. I loved the cast of characters and Gina is well-thought out and developed with mastery. The reader will love the role she plays in the story and how she evolves through it. Yes, there is content for mature readers like steamy sex, violence, and foul language. The story is fast-paced and absorbing, the writing balanced, with impeccable world-building. Busted is a page-turner, as exciting as it is entertaining.”≤/p>–Reviewed by Arya Fomonyuy for Readers’ Favorite
“In Khoury’s debut novel, a struggling painter who’s looking for an art dealer meets a drug dealer instead—and danger ensues.
Short on rent and desperate for cash, Regina “Gina” McKenna is about to get a citation for attempting to sell her paintings in a Laguna Beach, California, park without a permit when Jason Cavalieri, owner of Cabaret Restaurant, comes to her rescue. He buys a painting on the spot and invites her to a party, promising that he’ll introduce her to his wealthy friends. Instead, he entangles her in his secret drug-dealing operation—and a murder plot—just as Drug Enforcement Administration Special Agent Bobby Garcia homes in on Jason’s business partner, Miguel Lopez, as a suspect in his investigation. The action unfolds in short, punchy chapters as Gina tries to extract herself from Jason’s grip while the police and the other drug dealers try to find out how much she knows about her new benefactor. In one especially exciting scene, a criminal dangles from a plane in midair, desperately trying to climb back inside before he plummets into the Pacific Ocean. Orange County is known for its beautiful coastline and sunny skies; Khoury’s story shows a darker side, including a growing housing crisis and a failing war on drugs. The protagonist’s anxiety is palpable as she cold-calls art galleries and passes out homemade fliers to try to sell her work so that she can pay for the small space she rents from a family who’s struggling to pay the mortgage. Deputy District Attorney Tom Halloway, who develops a soft spot for Gina while he works on her case, is also quick to provide statistics on how legalizing drugs would save resources and reduce crime. Gina is shown to be naïve but scrappy, and when she lands in jail for a crime she didn’t commit, she cowers before shifty inmates and unscrupulous guards—until a street-savvy prostitute shows her the ropes, giving her a fighting chance.
A fast-paced, often thrilling tale, with the economic plight of an artist living in a high-rent neighborhood as an unexpected bonus.”
“Busted, by Michele Khoury, is a well-written and exceedingly heartfelt debut novel about cocaine and its abuse. What separates Khoury’s work from other similarly-themed volumes are found in her characters’ thoughts and exploits when it comes to legalization. Never a simple issue, Khoury’s characters are human and conceived as though the author is personally familiar with each. As such, the answers to the related, difficult, and interconnected journeys of her three main characters will have readers questioning their own biases. This is a brave work, part ‘Traffic,’ part ‘Magnolia,’ all original. Kudos to this author for a gutsy, profound effort. Busted heralds the arrival of a bold new voice. ”
Author, The Chronicles of Ara
Recommended Nonfiction Reading
Gray, Judge James P. Why Our Drug Laws Have FAILED and What We Can Do About It. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2001. Print.
Gray, Mike. Drug Crazy: How We Got Into This Mess and How We Can Get Out. Taylor and Francis Group, 2013. Print.
Rempel, William C. At the Devil’s Table: The Untold Story of the Insider Who Brought Down the Cali Cartel. Random House, 2011.
For writers: Wheat, Carolyn. How to Write KILLER Fiction. Santa Barbara, California: John Daniel and Company, 2003. Print.
Recommended Fiction Reading
Katie Arnold’s book, Point Dume, 2010.
Don Winslow’s books:
- The Power of the Dog, 2006.
- Savages, 2011.
- The Kings of Cool, 2013.
- The Cartel, 2016.