Don Winslow delivers a conclusion to his epic trilogy at our war on drugs and it’s effect with Mexico with The Border. It puts DEA agent Art Keller as the director of the agency, devising a sting to strike at the cartel’s money and that could involve a presidential candidate, as well as dealing with the cartel wars that have risen to fill the vacuum created by the death of his nemesis Adan Berrera. This is a story told on a large canvas with several major characters, looking at every side of the narcotics epidemic. Mr. Winslow was kind enough to take a few questions from MysteryPeople about it.
1.Since this was never planned as a trilogy, what brought you back to the drug wars for a third time?
Boy, if I really knew the answer to that question, I might not have written the book. Because, you know, as you alluded to in your question, I swore that the second book that was it, I was done. The problem was, the story wasn’t done. We were looking the worst violence in Mexico since they started keeping track, the heroin epidemic here in the US, the immigration issue . . . there was just more to talk about, and, as in the first two books, I thought I had something to say about them through the medium of crime fiction. Also, if I’m being really honest, I somehow knew that I wasn’t through with the main character, Art Keller, that he had to come to some kind of reckoning with himself.
- While the title is The Border, this is the book in the trilogy that spends the most time in the United States. What lead the story in that direction?
I’ve long and often said that the ‘Mexican Drug Problem’ isn’t the Mexican Drug Problem but the American Drug Problem. We’re the consumers, we’re the ones funding the cartels and fueling the violence. That truth dictated that the story come home. As I mentioned above, I wanted to write about the heroin epidemic—to, yes, explain its Mexican connection—but also to describe it in personal terms. I also wanted to write about the current political environment here. It’s too easy to point the finger at corruption in Mexico, but we don’t look at corruption here at home.
- This is the first time you follow some addicts as main characters. Was there something that spurred that on?
Sadly, yes. I’ve been writing this story for over twenty years, and in the course of that I’ve come to develop a lot of relationships. Some were with addicts. You know that it’s rarely going to end well. (There are, there were, thank God, exceptions.) But that knowledge doesn’t really prepare you for their deaths. The ‘heroin epidemic’ is a headline, we talk a lot about numbers—and we should—but I wanted to get beneath the statistics and try to show the life of an addict from a personal level. I hope I did that, I don’t know.
- Since you killed Adan Barrera in The Cartel and The Border deals with the players filling the vacuum, how did you go after this story without the obvious Cartel kingpin antagonist?
Well, that was the point. A big part of the real-life story I wanted to tell was what happened in the post-Chapo Guzman era, the chaos that ensued as the players were trying to figure out how to fill the vacuum. That was my literary challenge as well—could I make a cast of characters as compelling as a single ‘villain’? I also wanted to write about the next generation of narcos, who were very different people than their fathers. These were kids who grew up amidst incredible wealth—how would they deal with adversity and conflict? You know, Shakespeare’s Henry IV and V are obviously great plays about a powerful king, but Henry VI, about what happens after his death, is more complex, in some ways more interesting.
- I sort of hate myself for enjoying Eddie Ruiz so much. His actions are horrible, but he’s smart, funny, and has an entertaining perspective on the life he has chose. How did you go about constructing him?
That’s funny, so do I. I always felt a little moral contempt for myself for enjoying writing the Eddie scenes so much. You know, Eddie goes back to Cartel, and I wrote him in that way because I felt I had to bring an American perspective to bring American readers into the Mexican world of the cartels. He was sort of a tour guide. In The Border, I used him in that role—to guide us through the world of prisons, Mexican gangs, money laundering. He’s also a guy who crossed the border and came back again. Dante had to go to the Inferno, but he had to come back in order to tell us about it.
- After writing and researching the drug wars for over twenty years, what is your biggest take away of it?
That we need to end the War On Drugs, legalize drugs and treat them as the social health problem that they are. Every horror story you can tell me about drugs (and, believe me, I’ve seen my fair share of them personally) have happened while drugs were illegal. What we’re doing hasn’t worked, isn’t working—the drug problem is worse than ever, more Americans died last year from drugs than in car accidents—and will never work. We will never solve the drug problem on the production end, we can only attack it on the consumption end. But to do that is going to take some deep, serious soul-searching, and I don’t know if we’re ready for that kind of honesty.