book reviews, books, creative writing, politics, war, writing

The Cartel by Don Winslow

25182454The 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.

television, Uncategorized

Silence,I’m Watching Televison

Jessica Jones –

It’s much better than Daredevil because it’s obligations to continuity are slight, so it’s allowed to tell a story that’s ostensibly about obsession, autonomy, guilt and grief. It also has some bits that made me cringe a little but it’s all written and performed with so much energy and sincerity that it proved perfectly beguiling. David Tennant is incredible in it, demonstrating a corrosive charisma and later on, showing the damage that made him that way. Krysten Ritter radiates a wounded beauty, and although for television, there is still a reticence to show sex and sexuality in a way that’s honest and untitillating, the central relationship between Jones and Cage is genuinely arousing.


In a saner world, Pablo Escobar would have had to make his money smuggling exotic animals. Instead, he built a terrible and massive empire smuggling drugs across the border to the US. Narcos is uncompromising and brilliant television, in that the most outlandish actions that Escobar took to maintain and advance his position actually happened. Underpinned by great performances, a willingness to show his actions without judgement and an honest appraisal of how difficult it was to form a case and prosecute him, Narcos was fantastic television.


A tragic, slow burning epic where the sins of the past scar the present and a family are torn apart by the revenge of the exiled eldest son. Beautifully filmed, humane and yet still glittering with the greasy allure of good noir. The performance of Ben Mendelsohn is a stand out although everyone in this cast is top of their game.

Making of A Murderer/The Jinx

I’ve not really dabbled with crime fiction, although I read a lot of it. True crime has a wrenching bleakness to it that I find mesmerising. Lots of overweight people sat at kitchen tables, staring into the middle distance trying to make sense of a world that doesn’t. Making of A Murderer guarantees that if I am ever driving through certain parts of the US, that I have a lawyer on speed dial and The Jinx showed what damage a single man can do, and how so often luck and investigative flaws can allow a sizeable amount of horror to occur. Making Of A Murderer is fantastic, compelling television and it’s been inspirational in the flash fiction because as much as we expect criminals to make choices that benefit themselves, there’s something truly frightening about law enforcement coming down from the moral high ground to wallow in the dirt.