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review 2019-01-15 03:23
A truly magnificent book that I can't adequately express my appreciation for
The Power of the Dog - Don Winslow

The Americans take a product that literally grows on trees and turn it into a valuable commodity. Without them, cocaine and marijuana would be like oranges, and instead of making billions smuggling it, I’d be making pennies doing stoop labor in some California field, picking it.


And the truly funny irony is that Keller is himself another product because I make millions selling protection against him, charging the independent contractors who want to move their product through La Plaza thousands of dollars for the use of our cops, soldiers, Customs agents, Coast guard, surveillance equipment, communications . . . This is what Mexican cops appreciate that American cops don’t. We are partners, mi hermano Arturo, in the same enterprise.


Comrades in the War on Drugs.


We could not exist without each other. 


You ever start a book and within a few chapters you know, you just know -- the way you know about a good melon -- that this is going to be a great book? Not just a good book, an entertaining book, a rave-worthy book, but a great one? Sure, it doesn't happen often enough, but we've all been there. It's happened almost every time I've read a Winslow book, I have to say.


Yet there are eleven books by Winslow that I haven't read yet. Explain that to me, please.


It's hard to say exactly when it was that I realized that with The Power of the Dog but it happened -- and it took me by surprise for a half of a second, and then the voice in the back of my head said, "Of course." The scope, the style, the voice, the audacity of the novel -- there's no easy way to describe it. And now I have to try to talk about it? I do super-hero novels, stories about detectives who use magic -- or hunt for rare vinyl LPs, teenagers post videos of their drunken parents on Youtube or Picture Books about Die Hard -- I posted about (and loved) 2 completely unrelated Crime-Solving Comic Book Artists last year! How am I supposed to talk about this?



After a quick -- and disturbing -- look at the cost of the War on Drugs in 1997, Winslow takes us back to 1975 in the State of Sinaloa, Mexico. There we meet new DEA agent Art Keller -- a Vietnam vet, who's come to use his experience to help take on the Opium trade. Thanks in large part to those efforts, the Opium trade is devastated -- but the industry shifts to cocaine, and well -- things go from bad to worse.


We follow Art's career from 1975 to 2004 -- watching him try to stop the flow of drugs from Mexico into the U.S. Calling that a Quixotic effort seems to be an understatement at best -- but one particular cartel has made things personal for him and he directs most (if not all) of his efforts -- you could argue most of his life -- at disrupting their business and, hopefully, dismantling it. It's no small task, and no quick battle.


But this isn't just Art's story -- he disappears from the focus several times, in fact. It's also the story of a maverick Mexican priest as he struggles to minister to various drug dealers, their family members -- and their victims. We get to know some members of the Federación very well (too well, in some cases). Also, because the Federación needs customers, we meet several, ahem, NYC-based importers. Connected to all of the above is a high-class prostitute. We see these characters moving through actual history -- Iran-Contra, the Mexico City Earthquake, political shifts in Washington. It was striking reading this in 2018/2019, remembering that once upon a time the name "Giuliani" was an invocation of law and order -- a name that symbolized a change in organized crime's power (at least perceived). Watching these individual's stories weave in and out of each other's over the decades and over huge geographic areas moves this from an intricate crime story to an epic.


None of these criminals is wholly evil (well, you could make the case for a couple of them, maybe), there are very relatable moments for just about all of them. They love, they laugh, they nurture their kids -- they do good things in their community. The same can be said for the law enforcement characters -- they aren't wholly good, in fact, some of what they do is downright despicable. All of them, in short, are very human.


Winslow's skilled at weaving in seemingly disparate tales into this tapestry and eventually you can see enough of it to appreciate why they're all there. There are scenes in this book that are among the most depraved I've read. Scenes of torture, scenes of murder, scenes of heartbreak. But they're not written for thrills, they're not exploitative -- they're just horrific, and very likely based on something that actually happened. There's a sweet little love story, tucked away in the middle somewhere that I kept wondering why we were getting. It was hundreds of pages, really, before I learned why -- I enjoyed it while I could.


There is within this book a very heavy critique on the so-called War on Drugs in the U.S. -- at the very least, on the way it's being waged. Sometimes this comes from the narration, sometimes from a narcotraficante (see the opening quotation), sometimes from DEA agent -- it doesn't really matter whose mouth the critique comes from, it's biting and it's typically on point. It will likely make many people uncomfortable -- by design; it should make many people upset. But Winslow never browbeats you with these critiques -- unless you take the entire book as one, which it very arguably is.


I don't know if I have the ability to describe Winslow's writing here. Despite the scope and intricacy of the plot, it's not a difficult read. Despite the horrors depicted, it's not overwhelming. In fact, there are moments of happiness, and some pretty clever lines. Which is not to say there's a light-hand, or that he ever treats this as anything but life-and-death seriousness. It's not an easy, breezy read -- but it's very approachable.I don't know if there's a moment that reads as fiction, either -- if this was revealed to be non-fiction, I would believe it without difficulty. I will not say that he transcends his genre to be "Literature," or that he elevates his work or anything -- but I can say that Winslow demonstrates the inanity of pushing Crime Fiction into some shadowy corner as not worthy of attention of "serious" readers.


I think I've pretty much covered everything on my pared-down outline. I really want to keep going, but I can't imagine that many have read this far. As it is, this is at best, an inadequate job describing the book and how wonderfully constructed and written it is. Hopefully, this encourages you to seek more information, or actual reviews about it. Really, The Power of the Dog is a tremendous book and should be read by many. Be one of those.

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text 2019-01-09 18:45
Reading progress update: I've read 70% and
The Power of the Dog - Don Winslow


this book is simply: OUTSTANDING!


To be honest, I purchased the audiobook THE CARTEL by this author in error, not realizing that it was book 2 of a series. 


When I discovered my error, I decided to buy this one-mostly because of Ray Porter, the narrator. 


Now I'm pretty much consumed by this story of:




Drug Cartels

The Mafia

The Catholic Church

Armies trying to take over South American countries

(and how they are backed or not backed and the reasons why.)


If I didn't already know what happened back then I might not believe what's going on in this book. But I do know the truth of some of what happened and I have no choice but to believe it. Don Winslow has done his research.


It's compelling, it's believable, the characters are engaging, (not even the bad guys are ALL bad - making them quite believable in the process), the story in turns shocking, sad, stunning and un-put-downable.


Lastly? Ray Porter is a narrating GOD. 

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review 2018-12-24 22:20
“Hieronymus Bosch does the War on Drugs”
The Power of the Dog - Don Winslow

Good but not great. This documents in horrifying detail the vicious takeover and expansion of a Mexican cocaine cartel, it’s involvement in America’s war on communism, the political machinations of Opus Dei and much else. On the surface, it’s a rip-roaring read; Winslow has put the research in and he sure knows how to make stuff happen. I must document I was very happy to be engaged by such a page turner as 2018 drew to a close. The only problem is that – on the basis of ‘Dog’ – Winslow is no James Ellroy and this has more in common with a first draft thriller than you might expect.     


Lets start with the positives. I was gripped within the first Chapter and there is storytelling going on here that is well above average. Art Keller’s back story, his first encounter with Adan and Raul, the fate of Pilar, Callan and O-Bop’s rise as gangsters, Callan’s year-long “Irish sabbatical”, his road-trip with Nora and her own depressing story; all of these could have been stand alone short stories or novellas, really toothsome mid-season episodes full of interesting character work. Winslow also zooms in and out with aplomb; he can reveal that the Pope is a keen support of Opus Dei and therefore complicit in an anti-communist bloodbath while really making you live Callan’s year of hell in “Single Room Occupancy”. The story and references had me heading to Wikipedia to orientate myself, if nothing else ‘Dog’ gives you a terrifying primer on the hell on earth that is the so-called war on drugs and at times I idly fantasised about a nuclear strike on the entire continent or, alternatively, a long shower. It’s a heck of a picture Winslow paints.   


Except coincidences abound. Egregiously so. Callan just happens to run into old lag Mickey in a bar in another country years after leaving New York. Callan then winds up romping onto a beach and saving the one prostitute, Nora, he saw once in a brothel in another country years previously. Nora, handbrake-turning from whore to Madonna, bumps into Father Parada in the middle of – get this – the Mexico City earthquake, the same priest Art Keller ran into in Tijuana brandishing a cross years earlier. Nora then not only gets it on with drug lord Adan but informs on him to Keller. Sal Scachi is a New York wise guy who works for the CIA and Opus Dei. It’s a novel, granted, not real life but in the end it all stacks up. You start asking the novel is there anyone who isn’t going to have a connection to Nora?  


Furthermore, I didn’t believe in Nora for a moment. Here’s a college girl (“Nora the Whora”) who drops out to go on the game, makes all the men go weak at the knees (natch) but reads the Wall Street Journal over breakfast, negotiates an arms deal with the Chinese (quoting from the Sun Tzu she’s just read on the plane) and on the run with Callan picks up “Anna Karenina, Middlemarch, The Eustace Diamonds and a couple of Nora Roberts romances”. Ah, fiction. The moment Father Parada starts making sentimental plans for the future a red warning sign might as well start flashing. Poor old Pilar never gets more character than “God, what a beauty”. Tio Barrera gets pitifully addicted to cocaine but reappears in the finale without so much as a shake. Both Keller’s and Adan Barrera’s families are there to facilitate attacks of conscience and phone taps when the plot requires but otherwise disappear, as does Callan’s first love Siobhan. Character work is all too convenient for the story Winslow is trying to tell.     


Finally, Winslow flat out abandons prose for script directions during the action scenes. So we get:


   The bullet takes Raul in mid-stride.

   Square in the stomach.

   Art sees him tumble, roll and then start to crawl forward.

   Then the night lights up.


…and there is reams of this. No one is ever going to rave about Winslow’s sentences. It’s all about the story and that’s fine, God knows I love a page-turner, but with its time jumps and novella-length vignettes this sometimes feels more like one of the old “fix-up” novels than a single, linear narrative. A lot of this would be fixed in the transformation of this novel into a workable script – which many scenes already are – but on screen, the same faces popping up again and again it just wouldn’t fly. In the end, Winslow makes you wonder whether your time might be better served reading a non-fiction account of the events rather than a clumsily fictionalised account.


So why do I still intend to gobble up “The Cartel” and “The Force”? Because none of the above complaints do anything to subtract from the power of a toothsome, propulsive narrative however shonkily put together. And that, my fellow sicarios, is the real power of the dog.  

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review 2017-11-26 18:14
The Force: A Novel - Don Winslow
I’m late to the party with this one & there are already a ton of reviews to help you decide whether or not to add it to your TBR pile. I doubt I have anything new to add so I’ll just toss out a few thoughts.

First of all, this came with an incredible amount of buzz…always dangerous. But I picked it up after hearing it compared to Ken Bruen, an author I’ve long admired.

I’ll be honest…by the time I reached about 150 pages it was firmly in 3 star territory. Denny Malone is the MC & we spend a massive amount of time in his head. Every character & location is seen through his personal lens & it’s a somewhat distorted view. As he tours his “kingdom” we get a full history lesson on every colleague, criminal, building & intersection that comes to mind as he reminisces about his impressive career. I confess I found this part a tough slog as it’s all Denny all the time & I can’t say I particularly enjoyed his company.

The story picked up at about the 200 page mark as the plot finally kicked in & things got interesting. Other characters began to get more air time & they’re a compelling crew from all walks. Very few of them come off well & Machiavelli himself wouldn’t stand a chance. The level of corruption on all sides is breathtaking & there’s no question of it ending well, just who will be left standing. 

Winslow’s knowledge of the history of New York’s crime, cops, politicians & scandals is encyclopedic. I can’t begin to imagine the hours of research & the whole thing reads like a dark, violent love letter to the city.

Perhaps that is where the comparisons to Bruen came from. His books are also bleak, gritty cop tales. But that’s where any similarity ends. His MC Jack Taylor is far from angelic but is honest with himself about who he is, unlike Malone who shies away from examining himself (and his motives) too closely. Instead he convinces himself he’s a man of the people & doing everything for the sake of the city he loves. Make no mistake…Denny is all about Denny. Taylor’s philosophical musings are full of self deprecating black humour & combined with Bruen’s elegiac prose, the result is a character you become invested in. For me, that makes all the difference. So while I can stand back & admire this book as a whole, ultimately I just couldn’t muster enough interest in Denny’s fate & it was other characters that kept me reading.

Renewed pace & intricate plotting in the second half bumped it up to 4 stars. But as usual, it’s all about personal taste & there are many glowing reviews on here that may give you a better idea of what to expect.
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review 2017-10-01 20:38
Look For Her by Emily Winslow
Look For Her - Emily Winslow

A special thank you to Edelweiss and William Morrow for an ARC in exchange for an honest review.

The fourth in a series, Winslow is getting better with each book.  Told from various points of view in first person narrative, this case is about a cold case of a beautiful missing girl from a small English village.

In 1976, Annalise Wood, a teenage girl disappears on her way home from school.  Her body was later discovered, the person responsible for the crime was never found.  Decades later, Annalise is a celebrity of sorts to the small town and for one woman especially.  Named after the dead girl, Annalise Williams believes that sharing the same name has bonded her to the dead girl.

DNA linked to the Annalise murder surfaces and investigator Morris Keene enlists the help of his former partner, Chloe Frohmann to finally solve the mystery and bring closure to the residents of Lilling.  As the investigation progresses, more questions arise rather than answers, the body that was perceived to be the missing girl may be someone else and that a recent drowning also has connections to the cold case.

The partnership between Keene and Frohmann is what great detective series are made of.  These characters are flawed, but endearing, and just so likeable.  The perspective of Dr. Laurie Ambrose added to the story giving it more of an edge and pushing it more into the psychological thriller genre.

My only criticism is how Winslow ties up some of the storyline.  Again, her downfall is linking too many of the supporting cast—it feels a little forced and sometimes convenient.

Finally, finally the marketing team at William Morrow has stopped using Donna Tartt to advertise these books.  

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