by Rosie Krushen
Without question, the best book I’ve read in the past couple of decades was The Power Of The Dog by Don Winslow.
Nothing in Winslow’s previous work could prepare you for the brutal brilliance of Dog. And if you knew nothing about Mexico’s drug cartels prior to reading it, you’d probably think he was making it all up.
But he wasn’t. Although Dog is fictional, pretty much everything in it is rooted in fact. A thorough background check revealed that, if anything, real life is more shocking.
You may think Donald Trump’s Wall is a lunatic idea – and, of course, you’d be right.
Still, if you read Power Of The Dog and its more recent sequel, The Cartel, you would at least begin to understand why the idea surfaced. It isn’t about seamstresses and gardeners crossing the border for a better life. The battle of the Rio Grande is a battle between barbarians and what we like to think of as civilisation.
On the one hand, you have the ludicrous ‘war on drugs’, which has so far cost America alone over one trillion dollars. It’s been going on for 45 years and currently costs $51bn a year, so you do the math, as they say.
On the other hand, you have the drug cartels who, to encourage everyone else to co-operate, will skin you alive, cut off your head, and leave it in the street, or at a mall. Anything for maximum exposure.
If they want your co-operation, but you’re a little reluctant, they might massacre your entire family, in front of you.
All of this, Winslow graphically chronicles in a book that is every bit as brilliant and powerful as the Godfather films (setting those films apart from Mario Puzo’s books, which are, frankly, nothing to write home about).
And then, having done it once, he continues the story – 10 years later – in The Cartel. Don’t read Cartel first, just because it’s the latest. Its power will be diminished if you haven’t read Dog.
And by the way, once you’ve read those two, there are further treats in store. Winslow hit his stride around 1997 with The Death And Life Of Bobby Z. But Isle Of Joy from the previous year, while not Winslow’s best work, is still better than most thrillers. California Fire And Life (1999) made him a must-read forever. After Dog in 2005 came The Winter Of Frankie Machine, The Dawn Patrol, The Gentlemen’s Hour, Savages (a brilliant drug dealer vs cartel thriller made into a pretty dreadful film), Satori and The Kings Of Cool (which is a prequel to Savages).
I’d caution against the earlier Neal Carey series that started with A Cool Breeze On The Underground in 1991. They seem to me like the work of a writer trying to find his voice. Then again, that might not bother you.
But if you only read one more book this year, make it The Power Of The Dog. Of course, once you’ve read that, you won’t be able to resist The Cartel. And then you’ll be the most knowledgeable person in your set on the subjects of drugs, cartels and the war on drugs.