Thursday, April 7, 2016

Review: "The Cartel" by Don Winslow

Another Wrestlemania week has come and gone, and just like last year, I picked a real winner to take with me on the trip itself. The Cartel, Don Winslow’s sequel to The Power of the Dog, one of the very best books I read last year, is a stunning achievement. It’s passion, research and narrative skill shine on every page, and the story it tells is of the complexity and amorality of the drug war is of the very essence of good and evil: how one cannot exist without the other, and the sobering fact that most of the time they exist on opposite sides of the same spectrum instead of being two totally different abstract ideas. Taking place around five years after the events of The Power of the Dog, where Art Keller, at the cost of everything, finally put Adan Barrera behind bars, this 616 page novel takes place over ten years, and expands the world that we knew so intimately in The Power of the Dog. We meet a new faces in this burgeoning drug game from all rungs of the ladder, but a good portion of this book focuses on the journalists who risk life and limb to cover this story honestly, evidenced by the long, sad list of journalist who the book is dedicated to, who have been murdered or have disappeared. Like the first novel, this book doesn’t pull punches, and some scenes come off as absurd and some come off as deeply nightmarish, but it all seems painfully truthful coming from a writer like Don Winslow, whose deep wisdom and natural storytelling ability will have you in awe. It is 2005; Adan is in prison after Keller, luring him into a trap using his disabled daughter as bait, has put him in prison. Said daughter dies at the beginning, and he vows to kill Art Keller. Keller is trying to live peacefully, tending bees at a monastery. Soon, Adan has negotiated his way into a Mexican prison, where he rules like a king, and Keller is on the run, being pulled back into his old job when Adan escapes and he realizes he has to kill him. While Adan is building his empire back up, he faces a new threat as betrayal starts a civil war, and the Zetas, a brutal gang of enforcers, reek havoc on the city of Ciudad Juarez, and forces unlikely allegiances to made in order to stop the violence. The violence here can be staggering, like a scene later on, where a whole bus is taken hostage and forced to fight each other to survive, or the methodical killing of a police officer’s family. But there are great amounts of hope here to, like when the women of the city, led by Keller’s love interest, take a stand against what is happening, and the heroic death of a journalist who dies brutally, but puts a final nail in the cartel’s coffin. And the book ends on a note of breathtaking redemption that nearly brought me to tears. I won’t delve into the geopolitical aspect the novel presents, other reviewers will do that, this is a story of immense power and scope, imaginative and informative, intricate and memorable. This will be a hard act to follow for the rest of my reading year.

Rating: 5/5

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