Tuesday, April 9, 2019

Review: The Border

The Border The Border by Don Winslow
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

They say that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again while expecting a different result. So maybe America should start questioning its ‘war on drugs’ which is almost 50 years old now?

Nah. Let’s just keep doing the same thing we always have. It’s gotta work eventually.

Art Keller’s story began in The Power of the Dog when he was a young DEA agent dispatched to Mexico in the ‘70s. There he got into a feud with Ad├ín Barrera who becomes one of the most powerful cartel kingpins, and their bloody fight would go on for years. Keller’s efforts to bring him to justice were complicated by the US’s covert support of the drug trade to fund anti-communist operations in Central and South America. The war between Keller and Barrera goes on past the turn of the century in The Cartel when a power struggle in Mexico leads to stunning levels of violence and corruption.

Now America’s dependence on opioids has created an expanding market for heroin and fentanyl, and Keller has been appointed head of the DEA to try and stem the tide. Keller’s strategy is to adopt a more tolerant attitude to low-level users and dealers while going after the high level money men profiting from the trade. Unfortunately, a loud-mouthed presidential candidate accuses him of being soft on crime while pointing the finger at illegal immigration and Mexican government corruption, and Keller has to beware of right wingers in his own agency trying to sabotage him.

Then Keller gets evidence indicating that the candidate’s son-in-law is about to launder hundreds of millions of dollars in cartel money under the guise of a real estate deal, but just trying to investigate it will mean being smeared by the alt-right even as he fears that the cartels have just bought the White House. Meanwhile, there’s another vicious war for control of the drug trade going on in Mexico, and host of people like a small time junkie, an undercover cop, the son of a slain DEA agent, a young boy fleeing gang violence in his own country, and a retired hit man are all caught up in the chaos in various ways.

Don Winslow has been researching and writing about the Mexican drug trade for years now, and he’s got a lot to say about the ultimate futility of trying to stop it with cops. He’s also not shy about pointing out the hypocrisy of how America is the biggest customer of this trade while blaming other countries like Mexico for it. Winslow’s trilogy makes these social and political points while also delivering an epic crime tale with Art Keller at its center. These aren’t just entertaining books, they feel like important books.

Unfortunately, this one was a little hard for me to read because it all too accurately mirrors current events with the character of John Dennison, a liar/ racist/ fraud/ criminal/ asshole who somehow becomes president of the United States that was obviously created as a stand-in for the real thing. For the purposes of this book Winslow has shifted the dirty dealings from Russian oligarchs to Mexican drug lords, but honestly, if we found out that the orange shitbag had taken cartel money, would anyone really be surprised?

Since reality is such a bummer these days it made reading this even more depressing than the other books. It’s relevant and good, but it is tough to read a fictional version of America destroying itself in ways that are really happening.

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