Pulpy account of a glamorous narcotrafficker ensnared by her past.
Former Newsweek writer Porter (Columbia School of Journalism), whose previous book, Blow (1993), spawned a Johnny Depp film and slightly overlaps this tale, writes in a relaxed, comprehensible style that seems a good fit for the true-crime genre. The author constructs a sprawling, mordant narrative about the drug trade, focused on “Pilar,” a noirish Central American femme fatale whose life followed several unlikely, high-risk tangents. As a rebellious, beautiful woman from an upper-class Colombian family, Pilar became involved with the burgeoning cocaine business of the 1980s, marrying two large-scale smugglers and participating in deals that permitted an addictively luxurious lifestyle. But once she’d settled in South Florida and extricated herself from the business, an imprisoned ex-husband “shopped” her to a DEA–run task force. With little resistance, she became a confidential informant in 1991, purportedly turning to the cash-laundering sideline that the cartels required, although her handlers “didn’t buy the altruistic bullshit Pilar had expressed as her motivation.” Still, the ambitious cops recognized Pilar’s value: “Luring big operators out of their lair…that was the fantasy that captured the task force.” Porter develops verisimilitude through interviews with major players, who engage in caustic recall about Pilar. Her money laundering setup worked too well, unnerving the feds, who began demanding arrests as well as intelligence. Indeed, every character seems motivated by cynicism: the macho agents seem addicted to the seized funds, while Pilar’s scheme resulted in the murders of at least two middlemen. In 1995, as the increasingly complex operation was encountering friction in Washington, D.C., Pilar was kidnapped in Cali, supposedly by revolutionaries. Released after a few months of labyrinthine negotiations and eventually diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, Pilar sued the government over their negligent handling of her, only receiving a settlement in 2014.
An engaging, improbable true-crime tale that underscores the grandiose futility of the drug war.