Sprawling, lacerating account of the drug war along the Mexican border, which is nothing but a slow-motion holocaust, according to veteran nonfiction author Bowden (Blues for Cannibals, 2001, etc.).
“Mexico and the United States are partners in an unofficial economy called the drug business,” posits the author, who initially explores this thesis through a family tragedy. In El Paso, Texas, in January 1995, a civilian named Bruno Jordan was shot dead by a 13-year-old from the Mexican border city of Juarez. It was a supposed carjacking, but Bruno’s brother Phil, Dallas DEA bureau chief, and his cousin Sal, a DEA undercover, suspected otherwise. Numerous clues implicated the Juarez drug cartel, but the teenaged perpetrator refused offers of immunity, took the rap, and the case fizzled out. When the conviction was overturned two years later, Phil and Sal shouldered Bruno’s killing as a personal mission, with ruinous results for both. Ostensibly, this account concerns the Jordan family’s dissolution through their Kafkaesque dedication to drug-law enforcement, but Bowden skillfully pursues detours that convey his hard-won understanding of the terrifying milieu of the Mexican drug economy. He focuses on figures like Amado Carrillo, the phantom Godfather of Juarez, a seemingly refined figure of ironic sensibilities who killed anyone who even might betray him, and on the cells of corruption within Mexico’s byzantine federal law-enforcement structure, which Bowden indicts in hundreds of unsolved disappearances and in the notorious 1985 torture-murder of DEA agent Kiki Camarena. Nor does he spare the quixotic foolishness of American law enforcement. Bowden’s hard-boiled prose and the generally violent tone are reminiscent of Hunter Thompson and James Ellroy, but this author’s gaze remains trained upon fundamental human issues. His unerring sense of detail and his intimacy with this scary terrain elevate the narrative into something grand and ghastly, evoking the classical tragedy inherent in thousands of lives and vast resources squandered in an intractable conflict.
Memorable and remarkable, as true-edged and dangerous as a brand-new stiletto.