The war on drugs, will when there’s some measure of distance from it, will go down in history as one of the greatest travesties in civilisation.
At the moment, there are blogs reporting it in real time. Journalists and civilian activists are being slaughtered and displayed as warnings against further resistance.
Mexico has a rich and vibrant heritage both culturally and artistically but the drug war has reduced it to a slaughterhouse.
It would be glib to offer solutions and Don Winslow is not writing a treatise or a policy document. The Cartel harkens to the tradition of the novel as a way to stare the horror in the eye and come away unharmed. It will unnerve, disturb and sicken in places but I knew that going in.
Remember that fairy stories once held horrors and to sanitize or censor is in itself a measure that cripples rather than protects.
What The Cartel does, alongside the previous novel The Power of the dog is show you the drug war in terms of the cost in lives and communities.
What it does to the combatants and how effectively it’s become a constant spasm of violence and reprisals whilst the supply, distribution and purity of the product grows higher.
It’s a fantastic book. If any of the above admonitions haven’t put you off then I will talk about why you should read it.
The plotting is tight, logical and follows things through to conclusions sourced in the desires and abilities of the characters. Even as the book descends into operatic levels of violence, to the point where you are almost numb with it, Winslow shows us the defiance and the humanity of these people. Even the most vicious drug lords have loves and affections that resonate with you yet it is the ordinary people who draw your attention and affection. Armed only with defiance and shame, their lives touched mine.
I was moved by this book to tears. Winslow has a humanity that welded to carbon tight prose gives it all a relentless guttural poetry. He sets up and pays off with the skill and unerring focus of an experienced and capable writer.
The gloves are never on in this fight but you’ll be unable to look away from the worst of it because it’s genuinely that good. It’s troubling in the best tradition of both the social literature and the crime novel. It makes the Godfather look like a nursing home trip to the bingo hall.
Brilliant. Go read it and feel that golden righteous fury of someone with a point to make but who knows how much more effective it is when you tell a great story.