Tuesday, April 26, 2016

The Cartel

The only time most Americans think about Mexico’s drug cartel is when the violence crosses the Rio Grande and claims the lives of one or two American citizens.  Well, shame on us, because other than those rare moments when they spill blood here, do we even consider the reality of what Mexicans have been living through for at least the last two decades.  When it comes to controlling drug traffic and territories, everyone is fair game to the resulting violence: family members, newspaper reporters, teachers, women, children, policemen, the innocent and the guilty, alike.  And, worst of all, like their terrorist cousins on the other side of the world, the gangs now capture the shootings, explosions, and decapitations on video for the entire world to see.  Don Winslow’s The Cartel schools us on just how horrible the situation along the U.S./Mexican border really is today – and why so many Mexicans cross that border to escape the mayhem.   

Sometime Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) agent Art Keller learned all about the cartel from the inside.  Keller, half-Mexican himself, has known reigning drug kingpin Ad├ín Barrera since the two were children.  The onetime close friends, though, are now mortal enemies, and each has sworn to put the other in his grave.  As The Cartel begins Keller is content with the new life and identity he has created for himself on the U.S. side of the river.  He knows that Barrera is looking for him, but Keller is surprised when his old DEA boss finds him first and presses him to rejoin the fight to destroy the cartel. 

The battle is on – and what a battle it turns out to be.  Over the next several hundred pages, Winslow follows the bloody evolution of a drug cartel coming apart at the seams as one drug lord after another falls in a pool of blood to his successor.  No one is safe; no one can be trusted; and no one is going to live long enough to become an old man.  The hell of it, though, is that they will take thousands and thousands of Mexicans down with them.

Don Winslow
This 19-CD audiobook clocks in at more than twenty-three hours of listening time, so finding an expert reader has to have been a high priority for its producers – a goal they met admirably by hiring Ray Porter for the job.  Porter’s mastery of accents, voices, and vocal inflections makes it easy for listeners to distinguish between the book’s many characters and their complicated relationships, something that audio readers will appreciate more and more as the book progresses. 

Bottom Line: The Cartel is a brutal crime thriller intimately based on the research that Don Winslow did on the Mexican drug cartel.  Its audiobook version is the perfect choice for the next extended road trip you take, just be forewarned that it is not a story for little ears.  It’s an ugly old world down there. 

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