By Mike Daniewicz
Author Don Winslow wrote two novels about the War on Drugs. The first was “The Power of the Dog,” published in 2006. The second was “The Cartel,” published in 2015. Both novels follow numerous characters in a multi-perspective story.
“The Power of the Dog” follows a young Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) agent named Arthur “Art” Keller, a Mexican-American Vietnam veteran who works for the CIA. As the story’s hero, he is determined. Other main characters include Adan Barrera, the nephew of the leader of the Guadalajara cartel; Nora Hayden, a young prostitute; and Sean Callan, a hitman from Hell’s Kitchen. All these characters’ arcs are interwoven in a morally-complex story spanning 30 years.
The novel is extremely bleak and rarely has any uplifting moments. If a moment seems to get close to uplifting, it is instantly shot down. The morality of the novel is black on grey. There are no real heroes. The first pages of the novel are a flash forward to 1997, when Art is examining the scene of a massacre.
The sequel is not much better, in terms of bleakness. Following “The Power of the Dog,” “The Cartel” follows Keller hunting down Barrera for another 10 years. They are interlocked in a bloody feud. Other more ruthless aspects are brought up that the previous novel did not, which was due to more things happening between both novels.
What makes the novels stand out is Winslow’s inability to bring any light into a dark situation. If it can go wrong, it will. The novels have a cynical nature in the same light as HBO’s “The Wire.” Idealism is punished, and the inability to see past that can get you or others killed. Another thing that makes the novels stand out is the amount that passed on reality. Some aspects may seem far-fetched or impossible, but due to Winslow’s extensive research on the subject, they are far from it.
The novels are long, with both exceeding 500 pages, but worth every page. Each page is filled to the brim with gripping events and intriguing characters. The novels raise important moral questions about the War on Drugs which can only be examined by reading. The novels are intense and brutal, but will keep you turning pages until the end.