Monday, October 26, 2015

The Cartel by Don Winslow



The Cartel

  • Written by: Don Winslow
  • Narrated by: Ray Porter
  • Length: 23 hrs and 24 mins 
  • Unabridged Audiobook


  • Release Date:06-23-15
  • Publisher: Blackstone Audio
The Cartel is a novel that follows the story started in The Power of the Dog.  Though this novel can stand on it's own you really owe it to yourself to start at the beginning so you can have more depth of knowledge to the events that are mentioned in the past of this story, and really gain some insight into our two primary characters and their codependent relationship.  As you can see in the time for this audiobook these are not short stories.  :)

I discovered Don Winslow quite by accident and not in the recommended order.  :)  This usually isn't a good experience, but in my case stands as testimony to Mr. Winslow's writing talent.  

The first book I read was The Winter of Frankie Machine.  It's the story of an ageing mob hitman who is attempting to enjoy his retirement but is pulled back into his old life again. 

I enjoyed the story and looked in to Winslow's other works and began the Neal Carey series, again out of order, with The Trail to Buddha's Mirror the second book in that series which I've also enjoyed and got back in the right order.  The Neal Carey series is supposed to be semi-autobiographical of Winslow's life as a private investigator, and is a very good series. 

The Kings of Cool and Savages (also made into a movie) novels are another set of stories based on drug trade, use, and the unfortunate outcomes of both.  Though I found the movie version of Savages to be somewhat lacking if you don't have the backstory provided in The Kings of Cool, it was a decent effort to convert a book to the big screen.  A process I typically loathe as they are either only similar in title, or they leave out significant plot points, but this is nothing new.  Winslow was involved in this Oliver Stone movie so I suspect that helped out a lot.

To cut my ramblings short I'll summarize with this:  Don Winslow's work is definitely worth reading.

Winslow's vast and illuminating look at the DEA's war on drugs spans 40 years in these two combined novels:  The Power of the Dog, 1975 to 2005, and The Cartel 2005 to 2015. 

This novel goes deeper into the dynamics of the cartels, and the fight between the *families* to maintain control of the drugs and therefore the fortunes. The massive amounts of money are mind-blowing (El Chapo was listed by Forbes as one of the most wealthy and most powerful); the levels of corruption are almost unbelieveable. 

The pages contain torture, beatings, gang rapes, and beheadings.  It's graphically violent, but not sensationalized, because Winslow uses the violence to drive across a point:  This is where your drugs come from and this is what your monies fund.

The most impressive thing to me in this book and the former The Power of the Dog is the amazing amount of research put into it.  Winslow researched for over 15 years to write what has been praised as a magnum opus on the Mexican drug cartels.

The focus on Juarez was especially interesting to me as I had spent a lot of time in and around that city back in 1999 and while I was vaguely aware of the drug spawned killings and trafficking across the border this book gives a deeper look into what was transpiring and why Juarez became a literal ghost town in the early 2000's.

Winslow looks at the events and steps into them. He submerges himself and the reader across the border and into the towns.  He explains the social and economic structure.  He tells the people's story, their genealogy; he gives the town's history, and he narrates the struggles and fights with the cartels.  Even the cartel head must deal with the destruction he has caused, one moment wistfully recalling the beauty of a different Mexico, and then sending his wife to America to give birth and get citizenship. (another fiction that is true)

Winslow's fictional parallel runs staggeringly close to the truth with his creation of the Sinaloa drug cartel kingpin, Ad├ín Barrera, shadowing El Chapo.  The Cartel is fiction based on facts, and with the years of research put into these works,  the real question in the end is what really is the ratio of fact to fiction?

Ray Porter is an excellent performer.  I have found many books based solely on the fact he was performing them. (He is one in a very select group of performers I'll follow based solely on the strength of their abilities.  R.C. Bray is another that I will always recommend highly.)
He does an excellent job with the accents and separation of character voices.

Again I highly recommend these two books and Ray Porter.


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