Anne Bonny #BookReview The Power Of The Dog by @donwinslow #AmericanNoir #CrimeFiction #Mexico #Cartels #DEA “A fantastic insight into the real ‘war on drugs’”

The Power Of The Dog by Don Winslow
My Own copy from TBR mountain

Drug lord Miguel Angel Barrera is head of the Mexican drug federación, responsible for millions of dollars worth of cocaine traffic into the US and the torture of those who stand in its way. His nephew, Adan Barrera, is his worthy successor.

Art Keller is a US government operative, so determined to obtain revenge for a murdered colleague that his pursuit of the cartel veers dangerously towards an obsession outside the law. This is a world characterised by its brutality, yet all Winslow’s incredibly varied cast – including a high class prostitute, an Irish hitman and a charismatic Catholic priest – are all in their own ways searching for salvation.

My Review:

I don’t quite know where to begin with this review. The novel is so in-depth and detailed about the cartel lifestyle and Mexican/American political systems that enabled it. It that it is incredibly hard to breakdown. The characterisation is brilliant, the author slowly builds the characters up as the plot unravels. You are left under no illusion what an immensely tough job it must be to enforce DEA law and attempt to stop the cartel’s flow of drugs. Not only are the police facing a criminal network that spans the globe and is savage and violent in its approach. But they also face dirty cops, bribed officials and people who would put themselves above the good of the country and its citizens.

‘A lot of money goes into bribes.
silver or lead’

The prologue opens in El Sauzal, Mexico 1997. Art Keller our protagonist and US operative is at the scene of a violent and bloody murder. 19 bodies lay slain, including a mother and baby. The death toll is 10 men, 3 women and 6 children. The victims were lined up against the patio wall and shot, execution style. Some of the family members show signs of torture, leading the cops to believe this is gang/cartel related. One lone victim remains, who was forced to watch the violence take place.

The novel goes on to describe the various methods of torture for crime committed. For example, traitors are shot in the back of the head and informers in the mouth. Life is the cartel is far from easy.

‘El poder del perro’ – The power of the dog

From the start the novel has a violent and explosive opening. However, the novel does go on to detail various areas of Mexico, who is affected by the cartel trade which includes the poor and just trying to get by citizens. But it also covers the policing, how a multidisciplinary team approach is desperately needed. But no one trust each other.

Art Keller is new to Mexico at the opening of the novel, but the end he is accustomed to the harsh way of life/death the cartels live by. At the beginning he is suffering flashbacks from his tour in Vietnam.
I wondered myself, which would be worse war? Or the war on drugs?

The DEA has been in operation 2yrs and Nixon has recently declared his ‘war on drugs’ stance. This is as the same time Art find himself recruited from the CIA to the DEA. Art is an experienced soldier, but I believe at the beginning he was naïve at just how integrated the cartel structure is into everyday life. His boss Tim Taylor hates him, and he is isolated and alone in and new to Mexico. This is when he first meets Adan Barrera. . .

‘Years later, Art would have given anything in the world to have just killed Adan Barrera on the spot’

‘A partnership made in hell’ – Art Keller & Tio Barrera

There are a wealth of characters from Father Juan to Nora Hayden, it would be impossible for me to break down all the details of who fits into the plot and where, just know that each individual mentioned is relevant and they all play a part no matter how big or small in the formation of a divide.
Which will sit Art on one side of the fence and the cartel on another.

Art is also dealing with his own new marriage and personal problems. He is a complex character and there is so much more to Art than first meets the eye.

‘The only redemption for having a bad father is being a good one’

Art has adapted the motto YOYO aka you’re on your own. A motto that when dealing with the cartel will serve him well, as you never know who you can trust.

When Art’s colleague Ernie Hidalgo goes missing, all hell breaks loose the DEA will stop at nothing to return one of their own.

“If I have to. . . I’ll start a fucking war” – Art Keller

Adan Barrera’s character also evolves. He is quite the strategist and manages to ensure he is top-dog of the cartel empire. But how long can that last for?
And how quickly can you be taken down or killed?

Adan also has a daughter that suffers a rare genetic condition. He personally feels responsible for this and it causes a huge rift in his marriage. With both him and his wife, ready to accept full responsibility for the condition.

‘Neither god nor science can help his daughter’

The novel goes on to explain Adan’s rise within the organised infrastructure of the cartel drug trade.

‘Adan Barrera has reinvented the drug business’

The cartels are comfortable with the situation of buying the very police sent to stop them, they see it as a franchise, a business expense.

‘Just look the other way, be someplace else, see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil and the monthly payment will be there in full and on time’

The cartel trade runs into profits of $8million a WEEK, yes that is a WEEK!!!!!! It is easy to see that every man, woman or child just has a price tag attached. Except one man, Art Keller can not be bought and will not be put on the pay roll.
It just might be his downfall and he knows it. . .

‘He’s only sure that either he will kill Adan or Adan will kill him, and those are the only two ways this thing can end’ – Art Keller

This novel has a deeply layered plot, that covers politics, corruption, flow of drugs, cartel wars, deception and violence. The last 20% is very intense and sets the scene perfectly for the next novel in the series The Cartel. Which I already have sat on my tbr pile.
A fantastic insight into the real ‘war on drugs’.

Don Winslow

Currently Reading – 35% in:
The Force
The Force by Don Winslow

Everyone can be bought. At the right price…

Detective Sergeant Denny Malone leads an elite unit to fight gangs, drugs and guns in New York. For eighteen years he’s been on the front lines, doing whatever it takes to survive in a city built by ambition and corruption, where no one is clean.

What only a few know is that Denny Malone himself is dirty: he and his partners have stolen millions of dollars in drugs and cash. Now he’s caught in a trap and being squeezed by the FBI. He must walk a thin line of betrayal, while the city teeters on the brink of a racial conflagration that could destroy them all.

***Although I am reading this via kindle, I urge you to sample the audiobook. The narration is fantastic. In fact, so fantastic I actually own it in both kindle & audio.***

#Review City Without Stars by @TimBakerWrites @FaberBooks #Cartels #DEA #Mexico #CrimeFiction

City Without Stars by Time Baker

The only thing more dangerous than the cartels is the truth…

In Ciudad Real, Mexico, a deadly war between rival cartels is erupting, and hundreds of female sweat-shop workers are being murdered. As his police superiors start shutting down his investigation, Fuentes suspects most of his colleagues are on the payroll of narco kingpin, El Santo.

Meanwhile, despairing union activist, Pilar, decides to take social justice into her own hands. But if she wants to stop the killings, she’s going to have to ignore all her instincts and accept the help of Fuentes. When the name of Mexico’s saintly orphan rescuer, Padre Márcio, keeps resurfacing, Pilar and Fuentes begin to realise how deep the cover-up goes.

My review:

Narcos, DEA agents, drugs, secrets and corruption!
Perfect ingredients in this Mexico based thriller.

The novel has chapters titled with the various central characters. You get a full scope of their backgrounds, and how/why they came to be the people they are today. They are all driven by different motives and that is what makes this novel stand out.
For the drug cartels of Mexico life is far from black and white.

The novel opens in May 2000, with victim #873 Isabel Torres. Throughout the novel we become aware of the magnitude of deaths of young women, who simply vanish from the streets. The brutality and irrelevancy of human life is hard to imagine.

‘Immunity destroys prudence.
And murder becomes mundane’ – Pilar

Pilar is a non-nonsense activist, a feminist of the highest order and respect. She has noticed a trend in the exploitation of women and the regularity of which the bodies are discovered, thrown out like trash. I admired the characters determination for social justice and drive to change the current economical situation for all women. But as you read on, you realise death stalks Pilar, as close as it stalks all women of Mexico. Pilar refuses to back down and stares death in the eye, as she chants “protection for the women! Justice for the victims”.

‘The logic of exploitation is too profitable to resist’

The organised crime of Narcos and cartels is fully explored through the characters of El Santo and El Feo. We learn how they operate and how they took such a hold of Mexico. We also learn how the war on drugs is not as clean cut as the politicians would have the citizens believe.
The cartels are ruthless, they think nothing of carrying out a massacre. Innocent civilians are irrelevant to them and their business operations. There will be no witnesses, when no one dares speak out, for fear of death….

The novels central police officer is Fuentes, his internal dialogue is an example of some fine writing. Whether he is mulling over the Mexican’s relationship with death, religion or organised crime. There are often statements of such accuracy, they leave you thinking, long after you turn the page.

‘The church itself that fed the fear and the superstition; that grew strong and rich on ignorance’

‘The church was supposed to be there to help its faithful, but too often all it did was torment its own believers’

Which leads us to the character that I became the most fascinated with Padre Marcio. The padre’s childhood is explored, and it makes for harrowing reading. I don’t think I will ever forget some of the passages I read. This itself made me wonder how such a childhood would impact the man he would become.
Would this be his prophecy and what kind of legacy would he leave behind him in his wake?

‘Most priests seemed to prefer playing devil to angel’

The novel compares Mexico’s economy and political feeling from the 1960s to the present day. I will admit that I know little of the countries history. After reading this novel, I must make a conscious effort to explore this further with my non-fiction reading. This novel leaves you under no illusion that Mexico’s history, is one that deserves to be heard.
The central theme of the novel however, is the 800+ murdered women. It has a strong crime fiction theme, despite the added depth of a literary novel. The police are baffled by the case. Is it the work of a lone killer? A serial killer with several copy-cats?
Or a team of killers?
The crimes have taken place over ten years and the savagery alone should make them front page news globally. 9/10 murders are premeditated making them solvable and convictable. But when it comes to the murdered women, the police hierarchy have no interest in solving the case. With more and more women going missing. Fuentes is determined to get justice for the dead. For so many dead bodies to pile up, with no questions asked. Fuentes is sure the case has substantial links to police corruption.

‘Every corrupt cop places pressure on the honest ones; puts their lives in jeopardy’

The novel details El Santo – James Santiago aka ‘the saint’ and his uprising to head of the cartel. It also covers how the violence has escalated over into the killings of wives and children of enemies in a grotesque manner. Just when you find yourself asking why anyone would want to be part of an illegal drug cartel. We learn the figures. Cartels are big money business, more money than you can ever imagine and definitely more money than you could ever spend!

‘When revenue is up, revenge is down’

Cartels like any criminal organisation have turf wars and enemies. The Ciudad Real cartel vs the Tijuana cartel is the basis of this novel. But are the murders linked to the cartels, if so how? And which cartel?

The novel covers various themes of betrayal, retribution and justice. There is a death scene within the novel, that is possibly one of the best kill scenes I’ve EVER read! It is so clever, yet twisted and dark that I was left astounded! I also felt alarmingly, that it was completely and utterly justified! But I will let you explore that scene for yourself.

‘Trust is an odd thing. Its like love. A big emotion that grows out of nothing, that you take for granted but which devastates you when it disappears’

This novel is clearly perfect for fans of the TV series Narcos. But it is also perfect for readers who like a full exploration of the themes, setting and politics that allow organised crime to flourish. It is dark, brutal and yet so addictive!

‘That’s the nature of true evil: you simply cannot imagine it… until it happens’

Tim Baker