Title: The Pageant Trap
Author: Usman Aman
Published: Feb. 28, 2017
An international beauty pageant is held in the Philippines. Spearheaded by Pakistani Ryan Abdullah, he soon loses control to Mariel Cruz, the Filipino event coordinator with whom he contracted to provide transportation, lodging, and meals. Mrs. Cruz breaks the contract, and soon the group finds themselves in a city known for its kidnappings of foreigners for sale into human trafficking. With the group in danger, yet most of them unaware, Ryan is faced with the dilemma of getting the group out to safety, or fleeing alone to save his own life. (Goodreads)
Ryan Abdullah organized a beauty pageant but struggled to find a venue. A friend of his referred him to Mariel Cruz a.k.a Mama Mariel who lives in Philippines and promised him excellent services throughout the beauty pageant including all arrangements for venue, free accommodation, paid return tickets and sight-seeing all free of cost. Mama Mariel’s offer seems so tempting that he signed the contract without any investigation. (He sure did discuss with his colleagues though).
He encountered his first disappointment when he found Mama Mariel has breached the very first term of contract before he even reached Philippines. Little did he know when he reach there he would be more surprised in a not-so-good way. One after another Mama Mariel keeps violating the contract’s terms religiously. Not just that, a contestant goes missing and miraculously comes back later.
This part has spoilers so you can skip. Now first of all, human trafficking is no child’s play. Human traffickers are pro and they know exactly what they are doing and how to keep things neat and tidy. They use drugs to sedate their victim so they won’t cause any problem by resisting in any way like shouting to grab anyone’s attention or attempt to escape. Secondly, if they don’t sedate then they blindfold them so the victim never knows the exact location where they are being held captive. In The Pageant Trap, the victim was neither sedated nor blindfolded when she was kidnapped from the hotel (even not later when she was in the car). So she saw the kidnappers and the route to where she was taken.
And the strange part was when the kidnappers decided to return her in exchange of ransom money! Seriously? She has seen your hideout for crying out loud! I have read enough human trafficking novels and watched numerous movies to know that people kidnapped for human trafficking are either sold in sex slavery or killed or their organs are sold into black market but they are never set free by the kidnappers.
The story would have been more interesting if somehow she has managed to escape and then later told the authorities about the whereabouts of kidnappers.
Another thing that bothered me was Ryan’s selfishness by ditching the contestants in the heart of danger. I know its hard to stand your ground when you know you have made enemies in the foreign land but the young contestants were more in danger as they were the prime target of the human trafficking gang.
Now lets talk about the star of The Pageant Trap – Mama Mariel. She reminds me of the witch from Hansel and Gretel (perfect example, I tell you). She is a sweet talker and the mother of con as she succeeded in tricking everyone (except for a few) to believe she is the savior and the only one who could make all the wrongs right.
And this is not the only fairy-tale touch this book has. Everything smoothed out like a piece of cake particularly the miraculous returning of the abducted contestant (it wasn’t miraculous at all). No one got hurt even the kidnappers and the suspects were roaming around freely and no one asked them questions. Ryan was constantly in touch with some policeman yet he never told them about the suspects. This does not happen in real life.
The book cover is of orangish brown color and there are faded out pictures of a pageant winner with crown on her head along with other contestants. At the bottom left corner there is a cartoonic image of a tonga. To be honest, this is not one of my favorite cover art.
The Pageant Trap’s best attribute was its pace! Boy, it was fast paced and laced with twists and turns – something I crave for when I read a book. Even though I had some issues with the plot but this book kept me hooked on from start to finish. The author Usman Aman has potential and he can weave better stories. If only some more attention was paid to the above mentioned issues, this book could easily be a great one.