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I've been with audible for 13 years now and I've listened to hundreds of books. I can say without reservation that "The Cartel" is in the top three. It is the sequel to "The Power of the Dog," (which I also loved) and it's one of those sequels that surpasses the original. I don't mean in any way to say that this is a happy or uplifting book. It's the opposite: gritty, brutal, depressing. But SO good. I found myself overjoyed when there were clothes to fold or dishes to be done, and I probably walked farther during this book that I would have otherwise. I was taking any opportunity to put my earbuds in and get back to the story. I cannot recommend this highly enough.
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This Just In.....Life imitating Art: Today the world's most powerful drug lord, Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman, escaped from a maximum security prison in Mexico. This is his second escape from a maximum security prison after vowing he could not be contained, and after the Mexican government (that refused to extradite him to the United States) vowed he would not escape again. Evidently -- he couldn't, and he did. For readers of Winslow's Power of the Dog (2005), and especially The Cartel, this is an eerie coincidence.
NPR's Alan Cheuse referred to The Cartel as a "True Crime Adventure," and how much truer can it get? Winslow's fictional parallel runs staggeringly close to the truth with his creation of the Sinaloa drug cartel kingpin, Adán Barrera, shadowing El Chapo -- even breaking out of his maximum security confinement...(excuse the spoiler). It's enough to make you wonder if Winslow has watched these events repeat themselves so often that he can predict what can happen next.
Winslow's vast and illuminating look at the DEA's war on drugs spans 40 years in these two combined novels: Power of the Dog, 1975 to 2005, and The Cartel 2005 to 2015. Though not a journalist, Winslow did extensive research, over 15 years, to write what has been praised by journalists as a magnum opus on the Mexican drug cartels. The Cartel's narrative picks up from the Power of the Dog with DEA agent Keller continuing his almost obsessive quest to destroy Adán Barrera and revenge his partner's gruesome death. Of course, with the cartel's inventive brutality involved--what other kind is there?
Cartel goes deeper into the "centrifugal dynamics" of the cartel families, and the fight between the *families* to maintain control of the drugs and therefore the fortunes. The massive amounts of money are mind-blowing (El Chapo was listed by Forbes as one of the most wealthy and most powerful); the levels of corruption, knee-buckling. The pages are soaked with the blood of unimaginable torture, beatings, gang rapes, beheadings -- it's graphically, numbingly violent. (Remember the movie line: "Kill him again!?) But not sensationalized, because Winslow uses the violence to drive across a point, like an eye-opening whiff of ammonia under the nose. USERS: This is where your high comes from; this is what your $$ funds.
Winslow looks at the events and steps into them. He submerges himself and the reader across the border and into the towns; he explains the social and economic structure; he tells the people's story, their genealogy; he gives the town's history; and he narrates the struggles and fights with the cartel. Even the cartel head must deal with the destruction he has caused, one moment wistfully recalling the beauty of a different Mexico, and then sending his wife to America to give birth and get citizenship (another fiction that is true).
The Cartel is fiction based on facts, but it is worth noting, if you are considering this book, that critics have said the following:
--"It is as much a work of meticulous journalism as artful fiction" [Anna Mundow, Barnes and Noble Review]
--"a jarring glimpse into a reality about which many Americans remain blissfully unaware.” [Michael Pucci, Library Journal]
--"a riveting expose of a modern tragedy" Alan Morrison, Sunday Herald
--"Steeped in reportage, the novel. . . possesses a virtue I associate with traditional documentaries: it explains things. I finished the book understanding why Juárez is so violent; why cartels murder so many innocent people; why both the American and Mexican governments favor some cartels over others; and why the war on drugs is not just futile, but morally compromised. It’s here that fiction and documentary come together in a shared sense of, well, bleakness.” John Powers, Fresh Air --- From the professionals, you simply can't find more facts in any one place.
A good book appeals to many people on many levels, and sparks conversation. The Cartel certainly will spark conversation, it's unfortunate the conversation most needed won't take place. Don Winslow has given many interviews with his informed opinions, talking about what he calls the trillion dollar failed drug war, the connection to the drug cartels and ISIS, and finally, and most importantly, his revelations as to whom really is the cartel. "It is high time for us to arise from sleep" Romans 13:11 [The Cartel]
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