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.
Buy the book here…
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.
Buy the book here…
Pre-Order The Cartel
Ex-cop P.M. Newton burst onto the Australian crime writing scene four years ago with her impressive debut The Old School. Newton’s distinctive style and experience brought a point of view sadly missing from most Australian crime novels. And the introduction of Detective Nhu ‘Ned’ Kelly was a welcome change from the usual clichéd lead character in Australian crime fiction. Set in the early 1990s Newton explored a world of corruption, racism and sexism, where history weighs heavily on everybody’s shoulders.
I am going to go out on limb here (a very sturdy limb) and state now that I think Beams Falling is even better than The Old School. Beams Falling takes up where The Old School left off. One of the pitfalls of many crime series is continuity. Often the hero comes back in the next installment, slightly scarred, but ready to continue the fight, with few hangovers (so to speak) from past cases or events. But one of the great things about P.M. Newton’s writing is the authenticity she brings to the page. Yes there is a murder to solve in this book but one of the main parts to this novel is Ned’s recovery, physical and mental, to the horrific events at the end of The Old School.
After recovering in hospital and working the system Ned is passed fit to return to work. However her old station doesn’t want her back after what she did. She eventually ends up in Cabramatta, part of a task force assigned to crack down on the rising crime in the area. To the media she is now a hero cop and the brass are going to milk that for all it’s worth. When two young boys are gunned down in separate incidents, more victims in the never-ending drug war, Ned realizes the hard way she is not ready to come back to the job and must now confront the possible bitter truth about whether she actually wants the job back at all.
Newton has packed so much into this book. This is not only an intricate crime mystery but a fascinating exploration of the social, political and economic impact of migration in Sydney’s west. Newton shows there is much more to Cabramatta than what the media fed us in the 1990s and shows the human side and the human cost of a so-called “war” on drugs. At the same time Newton explores the complex issue of corruption, demonstrating the varying degrees and guises it can take, the consequences it has and how the concept of good and bad, right and wrong gets totally and utterly blurred. Combined with the psychological aspect and Newton has produced a truly remarkable novel.
Buy the book here…