Tuesday 17 September 2019

The Border: Read witty Don Winslow and weep

The Border
The Border

Jake Kerridge

If you think art can change the world for the better, look at the career of Don Winslow and weep. In 2005 he published The Power of the Dog, an epic thriller that explained why the American political establishment's 30-year "war on drugs" had achieved nothing apart from enriching Mexican gangsters.

A decade later came a sequel, The Cartel, which depicted a Mexico vitiated by gang warfare. Now comes a third volume, showing how the Mexican cartels are exploiting the US opioid crisis to offload cheap, sometimes lethally doctored, drugs.

For all the effect his books have had on the US government's ruinously counterproductive policies, Winslow might just as usefully have spent the past 20 years banging his head against a brick wall.

One can hardly believe his anger hasn't driven him mad; but it also oxidises his prose, expands the range and ambition of his storytelling, and makes the trilogy one of the great literary achievements of the century so far.

It is as multi-stranded as a novel by Victor Hugo, with dozens of characters and storylines, but at the heart of the first two volumes is the relationship between Cassandra-like Drug Enforcement Administration agent Art Keller and his Moriarty, Mexican drug baron Adan Barrera.

In The Border, Barrera is dead, making the cartels even more unstable and dangerous, and Keller switches his focus to an oafish US president named Dennison, whose calls for a border wall are a cover for his own collusion with the cartels.

Winslow's work is witty and thrilling as well as righteous, and it's a shame he is not better known. This may be because, as TS Eliot put it, humankind cannot bear too much reality; but in an age of Dennisons, we need writers who bear witness to the truth as unflinchingly as Winslow.

©The Daily Telegraph

fiction

The Border

Don Winslow

HarperCollins €23.99

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