on 6 August 2007
This is one of the best crime novels I've ever read. It might make you cry; cheer; feel angry; thrilled; and exhausted. It will certainly not leave you unmoved. For those who just want action, then there is hardly a chapter without action. For those who want an interesting and intelligent read, it is that as well. It is like a cross between 'The Godfather' and 'American Tabloid'.
The core of the story is the crusade of Art Keller, an American-Hispanic DEA agent, against the Barrera family, Mexican drug barons, who he meets as a young man at the beginning of his career, is initially friendly with, but soon becomes their dedicated enemy. The fight between them lasts nearly thirty years.
It is also a tale of political expediency; cynical pragmatism and corruption.
The Mexican government feels it cannot afford to crack down on the drug trade; The American government have their own agenda in South America, in their fight against communism; and the Catholic church wants a way back into Mexico. So the result is a deadly minefield for anyone who dares to try to do some good.
There are five main characters, whose lives criss cross over the years. Art Keller, the constant outsider, who understands the mentality of the barrio;Adan Barrera, who, rather like Michael Corleone, in the Godfather, turns to 'the dark side' after a brutal act of violence against him and wants into the family business; Father Juan Parada, the decent, brave priest who always speaks his mind; Nora Hayden, the call girl with a heart; and, Sean Callan, the hitman who wants out, but keeps being dragged back in. There are many more great characters.
I raced to the end of this book and was sorry I had finished it.
on 20 October 2015
Sometimes you wonder why an absolute gem that would doubtless be enjoyed by millions of readers can remain a diamond in the rough for so long. The fact that this was published in 2005 and I've only just read it is a testimony to the difficulties that quality literature has breaking through in this crowded market.
It was the excellent reviews for his latest book, 'The Cartel', that lead me to its prequel 'The Power Of The Dog' and I have to say, I am completely and utterly knocked out by his work. It is a book that delivers on so many different levels. It informs, it entertains, it horrifies and at times it simply renders you speechless. Furthermore it is extremely well written.
How successive US administrations could be so misguided and corrupt with both their South American foreign policy and the entirely stupid war on drugs is laid bare in this absolute powerhouse of a thriller and this book should be compulsory reading for every US Foreign Secretary.
Wimslow takes one of the most important issues of our times and turns it into an absolute white knuckle ride of a thriller that will lead readers to understand completely why places like Juarez are the hell holes they are today.
The plot is intricate but the tension doesn't lapse for a moment as a tale that spans more than twenty years introduces you to a cast of characters who will in turn, make you laugh, cry and shudder with fear. There are no cardboard characters in Wimslow's opus. If Charles Dickens had been an American living on border with Mexico in the twenty-first century, this is the book he would have written.
Buy it now and make it number one in every best seller list. By God, it deserves it. Absolutely fabulous stuff.
on 6 August 2006
The story of 40 years of history as seen through the eyes of two men on either side of the drugs trade. It will open your mind and should seriously make you question aspects of American Foreign policy and the truth behind the War on Drugs. Full of amazing characters and beautifully written.
Absolute quality that is difficult to put down. Do yourself a favour and read this book.
on 20 November 2006
With 'The Power of the Dog', Don Winslow has written one of the best books I have ever read. It tells the story of the Mexican drug trade through the 70s to present day. Not only do you get Mexican gangsters, but also the Italian Mafia, Irish, Cubans, corrupt Mexican cops, covert CIA ops and the DEA.
This rich brew of characters and influences makes the book both action packed and riveting to read. The novel has four major characters that drive the plot forward over 30 years and also has plenty of supporting characters who have differing fates.
Winslow does not shy away from the violence of the drug trade and also seems to have researched very well giving the book an informed feel. The characters are fantastic; Winslow makes all of them three dimensional so even the nicest character may get sucked into evil. The style of writing and story itself is excellent throughout and will leave you gripped.
Read this book.
I like Don Winslow. I like his quirky, literary mind, his enthusiasm for Peregrine Pickle, Cuchulain, and his understanding of the influence these fabled characters have on his allegedly untogether but self-effacing heroes like the redoubtable Neal Carey, and in this novel, Callan.
Aside from "The Power of the Dog", my favourite is his first, "A Cool Breeze on the Underground", in which Carey messes with London punks and holes up in the Lake District. Winslow is a Yank, but seems to know Britain quite well. His second book evidences a decent knowledge of China, and his third and fourth seem at home in the mid-west.
I understand "The Power of the Dog" took him six years to research. Some say it is not really fiction, and at many points it reveals a comprehensive understanding of the history of the whole of Central America over a thirty year span. In particular showing how your nice cuddly Ronald Reagan, among others, terrorised a whole region of the world in the interests of protecting the USA from Communism, as he thought. Personally I've never read anything that has made me think Communism as such was ever going to take a hold in that region, just farmers trying to make a living.
I have read several nonfictional accounts of recent history in Central America and at no point does "The Power of the Dog" make me think, `Oh, he's gone way off here.'
Perhaps it is easier to construct a dynamite plot which doesn't creak at the hinges when it is all based on reality.
Either way it is up there with Stone's film "Salvador" as a brilliant fictional treatment of the dark underbelly of US Imperialism.
This is a real block-buster of a book about the Mexican-USA drug business - it will give you, in detail, more than you could possibly hope to encompass by any other means, about the drugs cartels and the DEA's/CIA's fight against them - a film couldn't do the detail, for instance. This book is about death, violence, betrayal, on a Shakespearean scale. It is a savage book with some fantastic set-pieces that are gripping and visceral - perhaps more so than you really want to read. In fact you probably won't read this book unless you are of a strong stomach with a liking for realism. Though it's hyper-realism in many ways and the tide of blood is a disturbingly ever-present given.
There is a long cast-list, but the main characters - one on each side - are Art Keller (CIA) and Billy Callan (Drugs Gang), though neither are at the top of their game in the beginning, both are working their way onwards to the admirably ironic and ambiguous finale. Don Winslow has peopled this world with great skill and it should not be thought that they are either infallible or that they don't possess empathy, just because they happen to be drug dealers or CIA. This is a story about human wants and needs - about human failings most of all. The story about to unfold is also about the Church, about South American politics, about the drugs lords and the men who try to stop them. This is a book that does not stop at the torture-chamber door. It is not about drug addicts, except peripherally. This is, perhaps the book's one failure, that it does not show where drugs lead or the effect the trade has on the people who take them. But to be practical, that would be a different book.
I found it un-put-downable; dark, violent, tremendously moving and angry, with its own kind of skewed integrity and gravitas. It is an impressive achievement, but is definitely not for the faint-hearted.
on 12 July 2015
I just re read this book (the sequel The Cartel has just been published so I wanted a refresher before reading it), and it is even more brilliant second time around. Truly, an excellent, gripping, meticulously researched socio-political thriller about a three decade feud between a DEA agent and a mexica narco-cowboy. Both characters are at times sympathetic and abhorrent, plus a great cast of other characters (a high class call girl, a priest, a Hit man etc). Definitely worthy of all the comparisons to james elroy, Michael connelly etc. loved it
on 29 July 2013
"The Power of the Dog" starts in 1975 and follows the DEA's involvement with the War on Drugs and various aspects of Operation Condor. It took the author over 6 years of writing and research before its publication. In every aspects it is evident the tremendous effort he has invested into his version of events and has provided us with a fast paced page turner that is impossible to put down.
Set on the US/Mexican border, we witness mainly through the eyes of Art Keller the beginning of his operative work with the CIA on Operation Condor and through the next 29 years as he attempts to do his job while not becoming a victim.
I was easily sucked into the whirlpool of characters in all shades of black and grey, into the corrupt agencies and the government underhand encouragement, actively financing the development of the drug cartel. This story is a tapestry of violence and depicts actual events some may remember, we are not spared the true ugliness of war, the word excruciating may be apropos during some sections. This is a dense novel, rather pessimistic but in no way does it drag. The prose is energetic, intelligent and has the right rhythm for the subject as the sprawling saga shifts points of view.
This story may not be for everyone it is nevertheless a captivating read I would recommend
on 9 November 2006
Wow - this book has jumped straight to the top of my favourites list. It has it all - drugs, sex, violence, politics, religion. It has Mexican drug cartels, Italian and Irish Mafia, veteran DEA and CIA agents, hookers and priests, communist guerrillas and high-level government cover-ups. Its like a cross between Scarface and Killing Pablo, charting the rise of the fictional Barrera brothers from street hoodlums to billionaire drug lords, and the catalogue of torture and killing left in their wake. Central to this is the obsessive DEA agent Art Keller, who pulls out all the stops to bring them down, battling the bandits and his own conscience as he discovers the truth about the real war on drugs.
Every chapter has a running gun battle, an interrogation scene, a double-crossing or a brutal murder. At times it even feels like there's too much action, but this doesn't detract from the gripping and complex plot. It's huge in scope, spanning 30 years and several countries, interlinking different characters and organisations and playing them off against each other, keeping us guessing until its bloody conclusion.
Wimslow's prose is great, eloquent enough but sprinkled with street slang and gangster-speak. No flowery language, just straight to the point and hard as nails. The violence is shocking and frequent (torture scenes leave little to the imagination). This is undoubtedly a blokes' book, a testosterone-packed powerhouse of a novel, and certainly not for the faint-hearted.
My favourite book used to be The Godfather. Not any more. Power of the Dog is even better, and as the front cover states, a future classic.
Essential reading. 5 stars.
on 7 July 2006
Could not find fault with this book. An absolute page turner from start to finish. Easily the best book I've read this year. Will certainly be reading more from Mr. Winslow.