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One of the most violent countries on earth, where cause of death is regularly ‘massacre’, drink drivers play chicken and kidnap stories pass for dinner party conversation; nine times more violent than the United States, Colombia is no place for the nervous traveller. So it is much against his better judgement that, in the summer of 1998, coinciding with a World Cup and a general election, journalist Stephen Smith finds himself boarding the Cocaine Train out of Cali, home of Colombia’s infamous drugs cartel. Its passengers prey to thieves, extortionists and a dozen different varieties of paramilitary, the Cocaine Train is one of the last remnants of a once great railway system, and Smith is riding it in search of the secret life of a grandfather he barely knew: Fred Leslie Frost, pioneering railwayman, upright citizen and diplomat, with a Colombian mistress and an illegitimate son. And the Colombia Stephen Smith uncovers on his extraordinary journey – surreally beautiful, unfathomably savage, seedily glamorous and mercilessly corroded by the trade in drugs – is a remote from his suburban British origins as it is possible to imagine.

Little Brown & Co 1999, Stephen Smith author, 236pp, hard cover, dust jacket, b/w photos. Ex library copy in reasonably tidy condition.

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  • Seller location: Rotorua, Bay of Plenty, NZ

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