Book Review: The Cartel – A Novel

The events depicted in this exhaustively researched book are verified by contemporary news reports, and confirmed by many Texas border ranchers. The staffs’ families of Circle Ranch and our neighbors have been the victims of horrific murders, similar to those described. Like 150,000 others – 20,000 last year alone – virtually all remain unsolved and uninvestigated. This book accurately depicts the reality along the US/Texas-Mexico border from which many Americans – for various reasons – avert their eyes.

“The Cartel paints a depressing picture of the drug violence that has and continues to engulf Mexico. It is driven almost entirely by the insatiable demand for drugs from Mexico’s neighbor to the north, the US. The violence that has been unleashed as a result of this “war on drugs” has been devastating to ordinary Mexicans just trying to live their lives. It touches everyone there. The book paints a depressing yet compelling picture of those who have profited by the drug trade, those who have been victimized by it, and those whose lives are inextricably tied up in it whether they want it to be or not. And there are heroes in this book, those who have decided that the drug barons are not going to control their towns and villages, often at great personal cost. It’s a great read, one that will keep you glued to it and at the same time repelled. Everyone needs to read this to get a gut feeling about how pervasive drug violence has become in Mexico and how it affects life there and in the US. Not for the squeamish, it doesn’t varnish over the brutal characters and their horrendous acts of violence and degradation. This applies to both the good guys and the bad guys (and women).”

…Typical reader’s review



The Cartel by Don Winslow

From the internationally best-selling author of the acclaimed novel The Power of the Dog comes The Cartel, a gripping, true-to-life, ripped-from-the-headlines epic story of power, corruption, revenge, and justice spanning the past decade of the Mexican-American drug wars.

It’s 2004. DEA agent Art Keller has been fighting the war on drugs for thirty years in a blood feud against Adán Barrera, the head of El Federación, the world’s most powerful cartel, and the man who brutally murdered Keller’s partner. Finally putting Barrera away cost Keller dearly—the woman he loves, the beliefs he cherishes, the life he wants to lead.

Then Barrera gets out, determined to rebuild the empire that Keller shattered. Unwilling to live in a world with Barrera in it, Keller goes on a ten-year odyssey to take him down. His obsession with justice—or is it revenge?—becomes a ruthless struggle that stretches from the cities, mountains, and deserts of Mexico to Washington’s corridors of power to the streets of Berlin and Barcelona.
Keller fights his personal battle against the devastated backdrop of Mexico’s drug war, a conflict of unprecedented scale and viciousness, as cartels vie for power and he comes to the final reckoning with Barrera—and himself—that he always knew must happen.

The Cartel is a story of revenge, honor, and sacrifice, as one man tries to face down the devil without losing his soul. It is the story of the war on drugs and the men—and women—who wage it.

The Cartel can be found on

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  • A friend remarked:

    Don Winslow is a masterful writer. The Dawn Patrol is an exquisite mystery story. But these hard core realism drug tales by him and Cormac McC are too viciously graphic for me to bear. I know drug evil exists but can’t stomach the gross elements which comprise it.

    To which I responded:

    Hello XXX,

    That may be – (…too viciously graphic for me to bear. I know drug evil exists but can’t stomach the gross elements which comprise it) – but when you ask if the report you sent previously is accurate, my answer is that the reality is far worse.

    It is all documented. Vicious torture, rape and murder at the most gruesome levels are daily events and 33,000 people will be killed in Mexico this year – and the press in both countries are silent. The book explains why. It explains what the ‘War on Drugs’ really is. It shows how the Mexican system from top to bottom has been coopted, coerced and enriched into becoming complicit. The book explains how this system operates. To me it was an eye-opener on the system, even though it is ‘fiction’.

    After reading it I have come to believe the greatest kindness we can do for the Mexican people is to break the cartel stranglehold which has and keeps on killing so many, has dispossessed so many – I literally mean forced them (including our foreman XXX) from homes and small family holdings which are then resettled with cartel members, terrorized the lowest neighborhoods, ground commerce to a halt thereby impoverishing Mexico with all the consequences that make the Wall a necessity.

    This is next-door Mexico not Somalia, and the problem does not stop in the middle of the river. It is infecting our whole country. As a matter of civics we should get a clear understanding of all this, which very few people are willing to do. Read the book then let us visit; too exhausting for memos.


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