Official Thrillerfix Review by Andrew Watts
10 September 2018
Sprawling. Epic. Gritty. These are the words that best describe Don Winslow’s novel about the Mexican drug war, The Cartel.
The story begins in a Blackhawk helicopter, filled with elite soldiers, flying over rain forests towards a mysterious target. The helicopter takes fire from below, and spins out of control…
The reader is transported years back in time and treated to one of the best written novels on the Mexican drug trade ever written. This was the first book I’ve ever read by Don Winslow, but it certainly won’t be the last. The Cartel reminded me of The Godfather – and I’ve heard other Winslow novels described similarly.
The Real Book Spy gave a great write-up to Winslow’s most recent book, THE FORCE. But it was one of my own readers who suggested The Cartel when I mentioned that I was writing a book that involves the Mexican drug trade. If you like mafia stories, if you like the netflix series Narcos, if you enjoy a gripping suspense novel that educates you as much as it enthralls, you’ve got to read this book.
Winslow’s writing style reminded me a bit of Stephen King and Elmore Leonard. He’s one of those freaks of nature that cuts out all the extraneous fluff and makes you feel like you’re really there. Winslow “just keeps the good stuff” as they say. The quick but vivid descriptions. The sharp dialogue. The insightful truths in the minds of his characters.
The action is intense. Some of it gory. But The Cartel, as far as I can discern, accurately portrays what life was like in Mexico, in the DEA, in that world of the narcos. The killings and tortures. The warring gangs. The sex and violence and money. It describes what life was like for the kings of these organizations, a never-ending life of posturing and backstabbing.
You follow Adan Barrera as he is extradited from a US prison to a Mexican one. Once there, he orchestrates his escape, and re-captures control of the most powerful cartel in Mexico. His character is complex, as is the hero’s. A DEA agent by the name of Art Keller. Their past and future intertwined, both are forced to constantly choose between multiple dark paths. Keller trying to recapture or kill Barrera. Barrera putting a multi-million-dollar contract on the head of Keller.
It is ultimately a story of love and betrayal, of seemingly unstoppable evil infecting the Mexican country in the form of the drug trade. It makes you re-think what you thought you knew about who the good and bad guys really are. Or whether there are even any good guys at all…
Bottom line – The Cartel is a masterpiece.