The Cartel by Don Winslow

For newer readers to my blog, some months back I reviewed the book that precedes this one called “Power of the Dog” also by Don Winslow. I gave it an unequivocal 5 stars and this one continues the story and receives the same 5 stars. I went and bought the book new, soft cover at the book store simply because I could not get the first book out of my head and talked about it to every reader I know.

This book picks up where the last left off. Adan Barerra, the powerful leader of the drug cartel that Art Keller decimated, has managed to finagle his way out of U.S. custody back to Mexico to serve his prison time there.

In the glorious vein of Lucky Luciano and Pablo Escobar, he begins rebuilding his cartel from behind bars. This includes setting up his cell as a luxurious 5 star suite and having prison authorities, government authorities and cartel members all on his payroll. He also manages to establish a private army and take a jailed beauty queen/drug smuggler as his mistress after the demise of his marriage.

Adan has only one other ambition besides re-establishing his drug empire. He has a $2 million dollar bounty on the head of DEA agent Art Keller. As for Art Keller, he knows Adan will try to be the kingpin again and he wants Adan dead too. Stalemate.

Throughout the border towns the funnels are controlled by a variety of dons who have filled the vacuum since Adan’s capture. An all-out war erupts between the new dons and the old to control the means of movement of drugs through the plazas and border cities throughout the rest of North America.

This time, we are treated to some new players. A group of activist journalists and writers based in Jaurez provide a running commentary on the carnage and represent the people caught in the middle of this all out bloodbath for control of the drug trade. Pablo, Ana and Oscar are our guides in this group.

Marisol is a physician, fighting to assist the broken and damaged as well as an activist who, by raising her profile and speaking out publicly, has also put a target on her back. She also provides us with a new love interest for Art. This is a good thing because I despaired for Art’s soul and humanity at the end of the first book.

As with the first book, the stakes are high and the violence is brutal and graphic but the storytelling is exceptionally high caliber. I am going out on a limb here but in my opinion, this could well be the next “Godfather”. It is that good. It might even be better. This makes “Scarface” look like a cartoon.

The alphabet agencies are all in play again and we get a better look at Mexican politics and military tactics as well as the paramilitary organizations the cartels control to enforce their dominance and protect their territories. The cost of the drug trade is very high and one weeps for the average citizen who lives in these areas and is forced to deal with domestic terrorism, human trafficking and crushing poverty on a day to day basis.

I have become a Don Winslow fanatic. Even as I write this review, I am planning on going by the bookstore tomorrow to pick up two more Winslow books and see what else this storyteller has up his sleeve. There are books I keep and books I pass on. Winslow’s have a permanent place on my shelves with a guillotine hanging over borrowers heads who do not return the books. You have been warned!!

Please, buy this man’s books so he will keep writing. It is a wonderful reading experience. 5 stars plus.

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