Review: The Cartel by Don Winslow
by Jon Page - June 23rd, 2015
Ten years ago Don Winslow wrote the thriller of the decade. The Power of the Dog was an epic thriller that detailed America’s thirty year war on drugs on both sides of the U.S.-Mexican border. Ten years later he has done it again. Winslow blows The Power of the Dog away detailing the next ten years of the so-called “war” on drugs taking everything that was groundbreaking, epic and mind-blowing to a whole new level.
Art Keller and Adán Barrera square off again, only this time the stakes are much higher. There is a price on both their heads and Adán’s time in prison created a power vacuum in Mexico which has filled by a number of new drug cartels. Art is determined to track Adán down and won’t make the same mistake as last time. Art has learned the hard way that justice can only be delivered in person as corruption’s taint stretches far and wide, and across borders.
Adán meanwhile is slowly, and at times reluctantly, rebuilding his empire. But the drug trade has changed in Mexico. All the rules there supposedly were are being eroded, body by body. The cartels fighting for territory and power have militarised. They have also become media savvy which takes the violence and terror to unimaginable levels. Levels that are too sadly real as Winslow once again rips his story straight from the awful truth.
Like with The Power of the Dog Winslow slowly builds up the characters of the novel focusing solely on Art and Adán for much of the first half of the book. Not that there is anything slow about the cat and mouse game Art and Adán are playing. Characters are slowly brought in from the periphery. We are introduced to The Zetas – a force in the drug trade that is truly terrifying, we meet Crazy Eddie Ruiz aka Narco Polo and Jesus the Kid – whose nightmares will give you nightmares. When a series of betrayals occur the war on drugs becomes a true war and Mexico is literally and tragically torn apart. All the while it is business across the border, where the actual drugs are sold, used and abused.
Winslow dedicates the novel to all the journalists killed in Mexico in the last ten years. The dedication page is two full pages of names. We are introduced to the journalists in Mexico who cover the drug war through the battle of the Juarez Valley, the most heartbreaking point of the novel. We have already seen how law enforcement in Mexico at every level is corrupted by the drug cartels now we witness how they systematically destroy the media and a population. And the violence goes up another awful level.
Bloody, brutal and at times barbaric Don Winslow shines a harsh light on the true war on drugs. A war that the west has ignored and has been complicit in. A war where tens of thousand of people have died, where hundreds of thousands have been displaced, all for the sale of a product into another country where nothing is down to address or curtail the soaring demand for a product that has torn another country to shreds. We have seen what drugs and the war on drugs has done to western cities and politics through brilliant shows like The Wire but we have no comprehension of the true horror being reaped in getting those drugs into western cities. (Both Winslow’s books should be made in to TV series rather than movies)
Don Winslow has again written a thriller that is impossible to put down and impossible to forget.