This is the third in the Border Trilogy (or Cartel trilogy) and it’s as excellent as the others which, in total took over 20 years of research and writing . These are big sprawling novels of families and crime over decades along with some current era politics.
In the first book, The Power of the Dog (2005), readers are introduced to Art Keller, a middle aged and divorced DEA Agent who is obsessed by a certain drug lord who goes by the name of Adan Barerra. Barerra was responsible for the brutal killing of another DEA Agent. He’s also and the head of a powerful and violent family-type gang in northern Mexico.
The Border by Don Winslow
2019 / 736 pages
read by Ray Porter – 29h 8m
rating: A+++ / crime- gang warfare
The Cartel finds Keller dealing with the younger generation of drug lords as they take over, although Barerra is still in charge, with increased violence and greed. Barerra is presented as being very similar to “El Chapo,” the infamous drug lord of the Sinaloa cartel, who deviously escaped all prisons and is now residing in a US facility. The US response in The Cartel seems to be confused and ineffective as well as corrupt. (These books are probably the most graphically violent and stereotypical of any I’ve ever read, but there is a point.
Before we get far into The Border, we find Keller is now the head of the DEA just before an election (2016). He’s married to the woman he fell in love with in Mexico and works out of Washington DC. The gangs continue their wars and sales because that’s what this is really about; who controls the lucrative drug trade, especially heroin and Fentanyl. The gang families are still very powerful but with different and seemingly more violent leaders, often sons and wives In more than a few ways, this is similar to The Godfather by Mario Puzo from back in the 1960s but if memory serves, The Border is more graphic – more of our own times.
By all reports these books are impeccably researched and I believe it. Gangs like these use violence to show power and induce fear both in their Mexican communities and within competing gangs. In this series there is no one to trust, from the mean streets and junk yards of Guatemala to the exquisitely decorated penthouse suites of Manhattan or to Pennsylvania Ave in Washington DC.
Winslow uses the language of thugs and law enforcement as well as the kids of the streets. It works. He also uses Shakespeare as a literary motif with tragedy written all over it. These are not joyful books in any sense of the term. They’re grim and deliberately so.