One of our favourite Lockdown distractions. Don Winslow’s loosely fictionalised novels about the failed war on drugs and the rise of the cartels are a must read.
In the same way that Mario Puzo wrote the supreme Mafia story in The Godfather, Don Winslow has produced the ultimate in narco-fiction. His loosely fictionalised Cartel Series charts the rise of the Mexican drug cartels over a forty year period of brutal immorality and bloody excess. The visceral nature of the storylines is all the more powerful when you realise that the scenes he depicts are generally based on actual events.
What elevates the writing beyond the exploitative is Winslow’s ability to provide the economic and political context behind the bloody chaos. He is a political activist who has spent much of the past few years investing the earnings from his novels into anti-Trump campaigning. America and specifically America’s drug enforcement and economic policies do not come out well from Winslow’s narrative and are seen as directly leading to years of horrendous violence that has come close to turning Mexico into a failed state.
The central character in the novels, US government agent Art Keller, is given something of a secondary role through most of the novels. This isn’t a Jack Reacher-style ‘protagonist as hero’ story or even the clichéd celebration of a maverick at work. Instead, Keller is depicted as a flawed, often conflicted character and much of the narrative force is driven through the lives of secondary characters, from charismatic drug dealers and prostitutes to economic migrants and hitmen.
The pacing is spot-on, the characters are given room to develop and the political backdrop stops just short of the polemical. This isn’t simply crime writing at its best – this is fiction at its best.