Recently I asked Hirsch about what he was reading. His reply:
The Cartel by Don WinslowVisit Reece Hirsch's website.
Don Winslow is one of the very best crime writers working today and The Cartel is one of his most powerful books. Like Richard Price’s Clockers, The Cartel is an immersive and unforgettable reading experience that takes readers to places that they would never, ever – and I mean ever -- want to visit in real life -- the world of the powerful Mexican drug cartels and the U.S. and Mexican law enforcement operatives that combat those organizations.
The Cartel walks an uneasy line between fiction and reportage but ultimately succeeds on both counts. There can be no doubt that Winslow has an encyclopedic knowledge of the social, political and economic dynamics of the so-called War on Drugs, and there are portions of The Cartel that read like straight-up journalism, charting the shifting alliances and battles between the various cartels. At first I wasn’t certain that the mix worked but the cumulative power of the book is undeniable.
Winslow doesn’t draw upon some of his easiest strengths in The Cartel. There’s very little of the pyrotechnic literary style of Savages or The Dawn Patrol, and the humor that’s present is about as pitch-black as it gets. But that approach suits the material and the author’s seeming mission – to depict what’s happening in Mexico today as much more than a crime wave but rather a kind of war on civilization and humanity itself.
As in Winslow’s masterful The Power of the Dog, the book continues to follow the lifelong grudge match between DEA agent Art Keller and Sonora cartel kingpin Adan Barerra. The Cartel is a more than worthy follow-up to The Power of the Dog, and the books should ideally be read together. Taken together, they’re like a modern Godfather epic – if Coppola had started with Godfather Part 2 and then gone even darker with the sequel.
The parallels to the real-life “El Chapo” are obvious and that was one of the elements that interested me most about this book. The novel that I’m currently writing is based on some actual people and events, and in The Cartel Winslow provides a master class in how to write a book that is both rigorously researched and illuminating of the world that we live in, but still a fully realized work of fiction.
Yes, it’s bleak. And there are times when the repetitive, horrific violence is oppressive. But I think that may have been part of Winslow’s strategy. When the book reaches its violent, choreographed and elegantly fitting conclusion, you know you’ve read something that’s going to change the way that you look at the world. Don Winslow is a writer who I would follow anywhere – and that level of commitment is pretty much required to visit the soul-crushing, brutally violent world of The Cartel.
The Page 69 Test: The Insider.
The Page 69 Test: Surveillance.