Reviews > Published on June 23rd, 2015

Bookshots: ‘The Cartel’ By Don Winslow

Bookshots: Pumping new life into the corpse of the book review


The Cartel

Who wrote it?

If this was a just world, 'The Cartel' would be Winslow’s true breakout novel and it would place all of Winslow’s future novels at the top of New York Times bestseller list.

Best-selling and award-winning author of Savages and The Power Of The Dog, Don Winslow

Plot in a Box:

A few short months after the capture and arrest of Mexican drug kingpin Adan Barrera on U.S. soil by DEA Agent Art Keller, Keller has gone into retirement, at least until Barrera arranges extradition to Mexico where he then “escapes” from a Mexican prison and begins to rebuild his empire. Obviously, due to the scope and breadth of The Cartel, it’s pretty much impossible to properly summarize everything that happens in the novel in just a few sentences.

Invent a new title for this book:

Santa Muerte

Read this if you liked:

The Godfather By Mario Puzo and Homicide: A Year On The Killing Streets By David Simon

Meet the books lead(s):

Art Keller: A single-minded badass DEA agent obsessed with bringing down drug kingpin Adan Barrera.

Adan Barrera: Mexico’s most powerful and ruthless drug kingpin who is obsessed with bringing down DEA Agent Art Keller.

By the way, even though Keller and Barrera are the primary characters in The Cartel, the novel has a rich cast of dozens of strong supporting characters.

Said lead(s) would be portrayed in a movie by:

I’d love to see Bruce Willis as Keller. But with Adan, I’d like to see an unknown actor take on the roll. But if I was forced to make a decision on who to cast, then Michael Peña would do in a pinch. Also, I’d like to see it filmed entirely in Spanish.

Setting: Would you want to live there?

The bulk of the novel takes place in Juarez and Mexico City, so fuck no.

What was your favorite sentence?

He became his own blues song, a Tom Waits loser, a Kerouac saint, a Spingsteen hero under the lights of the American highway and the neon glow of the American strip. A fugitive, a share cropper, a hobo, a cowboy who knows that he’s running out of prairie but rides anyway because there’s nothing left but to ride.

The Verdict:

Mexico scares the shit out of me. It didn’t always used to be this way, when I was a kid, whenever we would go to San Diego for a weekend getaway (we only ever really went to two places when I was a kid, and that was San Diego or Las Vegas), we would inevitably end up in Tijuana. My first fireworks and pretty much every knife I’ve ever owned came from TJ, and I have a lot of good memories walking the streets with my family. But if you asked me today as an adult if I would ever take my family to Tijuana, or really anywhere in Mexico, my answer would be a big fat NO, and It would be no for two reasons:

1) I read a lot of international news and I know the climate in Mexico, and Mexico isn’t even a safe place for Mexicans, let alone a slightly doughy suburbanite such as myself.

2) The Power Of The Dog By Don Winslow.

Yeah, The Power Of The Dog and Winslow’s intensely violent imagery pretty much ruined the country for me. Don’t get me wrong, I love and respect the Mexican people, but their country, not so much.

But how does The Cartel stack up against The Power Of The Dog? Is it a worthwhile sequel to the original? The answer is a resounding yes. In fact, if this was a just world, The Cartel would be Winslow’s true breakout novel and it would place all of Winslow’s future novels at the top of New York Times bestseller list. What makes it such a worthwhile sequel is because Winslow knows Mexico. He understands the politics of the drug war and the wide range of corruption that goes along with it. Also, Winslow is a much better writer than when he originally wrote The Power Of The Dog. Now for me to say this is actually kind of a big deal, because I pretty much consider The Power Of The Dog to be a perfect crime novel. So, needless to say, I loved The Cartel, and I guarantee you will, too.

About the author

Keith Rawson is a little-known pulp writer whose short fiction, poetry, essays, reviews, and interviews have been widely published both online and in print. He is the author of the short story collection The Chaos We Know (SnubNose Press)and Co-Editor of the anthology Crime Factory: The First Shift. He lives in Southern Arizona with his wife and daughter.

Reedsy Marketplace UI

1 million authors trust the professionals on Reedsy. Come meet them.

Enter your email or get started with a social account: