Alfred A. Knopf, Random House/Penguin, $27.95, 617 pages, ISBN 978-1-101-87499-8
The Cartel, by Don Winslow has been published to rave reviews by the likes of: Lee Child-Sensationally good, Harlen Coben-Absolute must-read, Michael Connelly-First rate thriller, James Ellroy-Stunningly plotted . . . to which I’m going to add my own humble accolades.
The Cartel is a big, hefty novel that will give the reader a true picture of what’s happening “South of the border, down Mexico way,” to quote the old song, while at the same time enthralling him, or her, with a fast-paced and wildly entertaining thriller that has more intrigue, treachery, mayhem, violence, blood-letting and murder than a Shakespearian drama or a Borgia political campaign.
It is an epic story that reads as if it was ripped from the daily news. The novel begins in 2004, when we meet DEA agent Art Keller, who’s spent the last thirty years battling a Mexican drug lord named Adãn Barrera. He leads El Federacion, the most powerful congress of drug cartels in the world. Keller finally succeeds in destroying the organization and putting Barrera in a maximum security federal penitentiary in the United States . . . but at a tremendous cost. His partner is brutally tortured and murdered, his wife—and his belief in justice—is gone, as is any chance of a normal life. Keller’s a hunted man with a price on his head, payable to any sicario, (cartel soldier-gunman) who kills him.
Then, Adãn Barrera gets himself transferred to a Mexican “Super-Max” prison where he lives like a prince, and quietly begins rebuilding his drug empire. When Barrera engineers his escape, Keller vows that he won’t live in a world with Barrera in it . . . setting off a ten year conflict, a war within a war, as the two men try to kill one another . . . all set against a larger backdrop of the killing fields of Mexico, as the drug lords war against each other, the Mexican police, and American law enforcement agencies. It’s a battle to the death, across all Mexico, for control of the plazas that lead to El Norte and its insatiable American appetite for drugs and infinite profit potential for the Narcos.
The Cartel has been called the ‘War and Peace’ of drug novels. It is epic and ambitious in scope, educational and entertaining in content,and one helluva an adventure in fact. Inspired by actual events, the book is dedicated to 131 journalists—all individually named—who’ve been killed or “disappeared” for their reporting efforts on the drug violence in Mexico. Those brave men and women are only a small fraction of the number of causalities—100,000 Mexican citizens have died in drug related violence in the last ten years—due to the so-called war on drugs, now in its fifth decade with no end in sight.
If you only have time to read a single book in the next year, you owe it to yourself, your family and your country to read this gripping and mind-opening novel.