– Post by Scott M.
Over ten years ago, Bobby McCue, my boss at LA’s The Mystery Bookstore, gave me a copy of Don Winslow’s The Power Of The Dog for Christmas. While I love Winslow’s work, for some reason, I never picked up. Maybe it had to do with the five hundred pages. Being spurred on by the June release of its sequel, The Cartel, I finally cracked it open. Now I’m kicking myself for not reading it sooner.
The novel has the sweep and structure of a Herman Wouk-style historical novel, but since it is Winslow’s look at our war on drugs in the last three decades of the Twentieth Century, the style, attitude, and content are hard boiled without a doubt. We follow four characters: Art Keller, a former CIA spook who trades in Vietnam for Latin America with the DEA; Nora Hayden, a high priced call girl; Cullan, an Irish American enforcer and hitman; and Father Prada, a Mexican priest dealing with the poverty and cartel corruption in his country. All four deal with the Barrera Brothers, two heirs to one of the largest drug empires, as allies and enemies at different times.
“Winslow forges his relationship with his readers like a great film director does with his audience. He writes in crisp sentences that sacrifice substance for brevity.”
Each character is swept up in the world of illegal narcotics, struggling to control their own fate. Agent Keller becomes obsessed with nailing the Barreras for his murdered partner. His quest for revenge, it could be argued, is the only thing that gives his position purpose. Father Prada, one of the most heroic and human depictions of a priest that I’ve read, fights for his community against the corruption and violence of the cartels without becoming corrupt himself. Nora starts out as a concubine for Adan, the more sensitive of the Barrera Brothers, and later a power player while she tries to find a sense of purpose working with Father Prada. Cullan bounces from factions to faction, through bloody gunfights, losing his soul as he becomes as much weapon than a man who uses one.
With these characters he takes us through the drug war in an intimate, breaking down the book into digestible sections, creating a narratives within the framework of a larger one. Through Keller, we see how the Regan administration was helping the same narcotics traffickers it had the DEA fighting as part of the Reagan Administration’s deal with the Contras in Nicaragua. Cullan works for the the old school Mafia, eroded by the rise of the cartels. Nora begins as a fly on the wall for the cartels and later finds ways to manipulate and gain power within them. Father Prada and his people are caught in the crossfire. Winslow keeps us engaged with these people and others as they take in the events around them, making everything personal. While it looks at a dark shadow history, it also takes on the bigger theme of finding grace in Hell.
“The Power of The Dog explores the price paid for this unending war we declared.”
Winslow forges his relationship with his readers like a great film director does with his audience. He writes in crisp sentences that sacrifice substance for brevity. He gives perfect moments to his characters, capturing them at their most dramatic and revealing moments. This book has some of the best action sequences, with Winslow doing an exquisite craftsmanship in building up to the violence so it resonates completely. Those five hundred pages fly.
The Power Of The Dog explores the price paid for this unending war we declared. It invests our emotions in the good, bad, and many who float in between with a narrative that never forgets to entertain as it enlightens. Don’t make the same mistake I did, go out and get a copy now.