One of the Best Thrillers of All-Time: The Power Of The Dog by Don Winslow
by Jon Page - June 6th, 2015
I remember first reading this book and it absolutely blew me away. With the sequel, The Cartel, due at the end of June I thought it was time I revisited the book.
The Power of The Dog still rates as one of the best thrillers ever written. It has everything you could possibly want; love, power, betrayal and revenge set over twenty-five brutal years. It details America’s war on drugs and the complete farce it is on all levels. It portrays the devastating human cost of this “war” and the human indifference to this suffering by both sides and the never-ending tide of destruction that is cultivated and managed not by just by the drug cartels but by governments and their agents.
While The Power of the Dog is truly epic, ranging from Mexican Drug cartels to DEA officers, New York mobsters to CIA operatives in South America, the heart of the story is the slow deconstruction of Art Keller and his journey from crusader to eventual war lord. Art is the good guy who does bad things and the more bad things he tries to atone for the worse the bad things he does. We meet Art at the beginning of his DEA career, post Vietnam War, in Mexico in 1976 and his introduction to the drug world and the events put in motion that will eventually destroy him.
One of the things I love about Don Winslow is his style of writing, the way he paces his words with the story but with The Power Of The Dog he really underplays it. Savages, The Winter of Frankie Machine, The Dawn Patrol all ooze style. But here Winslow dials it back and let’s the story carry you along. The violence is absolutely brutal, nothing is held back including a shocking scene on a bridge in Colombia which I’m told is based in actual events.
I was also much more aware of the structure this time around. The 15 chapters of the book are surprisingly self-contained with a much more episodic feel than I remember. I always thought The Power of the Dog should be a 12-part HBO series because of the epic nature of the story being too long for a movie but after re-reading it I am even more convinced that a True Detective-style series would be amazing. You could easily have different episodes featuring Callan (his New York story and South American story), Adan and Nora’s stories with Art’s story the common thread tying everything together. The journey of each of the characters over the twenty-five years would be amazing to see over 10 hours.
There is not another thriller out there that comes close to The Power of the Dog. It is the anti-war novel of the “War on Drugs”. Just like a great war novel the absurdity of the war is laid bare for all to see and the reasons for the war are exposed for the hypocrisy and falsehoods that they are. And like all war there is no victor just never-ending victims of a vicious cycle of greed and power. But unlike others wars this one continues unabated, with no end in sight.
I can’t wait to see where Don Winslow takes the story in part two. I know it isn’t going to be pretty. But it is going to be insightful, meaningful and another damning indictment on the never-ending, morally corruptible war on drugs.