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The Border


The Border

THE BORDER, which completes Don Winslow’s Cartel trilogy (THE POWER OF THE DOG, THE CARTEL), is not so much a book as a universe unto itself. This sprawling work is several hundred pages long and begs almost impossibly to be read in one sitting. Winslow’s narrative is at times focused with laser-like intensity. At others, John Coltrane’s description of his own music --- taking off in both directions at once --- seems appropriate. It’s difficult to finish the book without comparing it, favorably or otherwise, to everything you might read after. This, even as the weight of what is presented ultimately makes a sharp-edged point that Winslow did not intend to make. More on that later.

The prologue begins in April 2017 with a scene that occurs near the conclusion of the book. The story itself kicks off in November 2012, almost immediately following the events that took place in the violent conclusion to THE CARTEL. Please note that if you have not read the first two volumes (and you really, really should), Winslow does an excellent job of bringing newcomers into the fold. That said, there are so many players and fluidly changing alliances here that a scorecard of the characters would enhance the enjoyment of the narrative, which in many ways makes “Game of Thrones” look like an extended version of “Seinfeld.” One character upon whom a reader can focus is Art Keller.

"Winslow’s powerful and unflinching descriptions will keep you up at night --- reading, thinking and wondering how we got to this point, and the dirty work that needs to be done to change things."

Having achieved a large and illegal measure of revenge on a hated drug lord at the end of THE CARTEL, Keller, who has waged a decades-long battle against the Mexican cartels, has been elevated to the head of DEA, an agency he once was a part of that he views with mixed emotions. What he soon finds, though, is that his previous actions against the cartels, which include everything from double-dealing, assassinations and interceptions, have seemingly only made things worse. The level of violence in Mexico has increased and threatens to spill across the border into the United States. The flow of drugs into (and money out of) the U.S. has increased as well.

Keller is all too ready to concede that he championed the wrong approach, and wants to try a different way, one that focuses on fighting the scourge in the U.S. as opposed to continuing the battle inside Mexico. However, he faces resistance from within the agency and the federal government. A change of administrations makes it even less likely that his new policy will be implemented, either successfully or otherwise. When he receives intelligence that leads him to believe that the Mexican cartels will have access to the White House, Keller makes a last-ditch and potentially self-destructive attempt to bring down the power structure in both countries.

Meanwhile, several other stories spin out from the center of THE BORDER. These include plotlines involving a bloody and violent power struggle among the drug cartels that rule various sections of Mexico; the efforts of a young Guatemalan boy to traverse the distance between his native country and New York; a professional American hitman who is trying to save those he loves by engineering one final act of vengeance; and an undercover New York cop who goes in deep with a drug dealer with ties to a dangerous Mexican cartel warlord. The tales never seem to end, even after the last sentence of the final page is read. That may be because they have not.

THE BORDER is written in the memory of the 43 college students who disappeared following the still-unsolved 2014 mass kidnapping that took place in Iguala, Guerrero, Mexico. Winslow offers a possible, credible and, yes, horrific explanation as to what occurred, theorizing it to be the result of unholy collusion among government, law enforcement and a cartel. The novel is full to the brim with stories like this.

It is therefore ironic that it undercuts its own premise in two ways. One is inadvertent. While THE BORDER exhaustingly describes the problems related to drug trafficking, it constitutes, as huge as it is, just one problem --- human trafficking, social welfare, terrorism and crimes related to all of the above being some of the others --- resulting from the porous southern border and unchecked illegal entry. The other is that the events detailed here regarding the drug wars in Mexico are horrific enough to easily lead one to conclude that the U.S. has the mother of all states of emergency at its southern border and needs not only a wall but also a moat, a minefield and whatever else to keep it at bay.

Winslow’s powerful and unflinching descriptions will keep you up at night --- reading, thinking and wondering how we got to this point, and the dirty work that needs to be done to change things.

Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on February 28, 2019

The Border
by Don Winslow

  • Publication Date: February 4, 2020
  • Genres: Fiction, Suspense, Thriller
  • Paperback: 752 pages
  • Publisher: William Morrow
  • ISBN-10: 0062664492
  • ISBN-13: 9780062664495