A Mexican drug lord heads into a final showdown with the obsessed American Drug Enforcement Administration agent who has been dogging him for years in this vast and ambitious thriller from Winslow (The Kings of Cool, 2012, etc.).
Winslow has envisioned his novel on an epic scale, evident not just in the length, almost 600 pages, but in the grave tone. Various chapters bear epigraphs from Hemingway, Shakespeare, and the Bible. At heart, this is the familiar tale of symbiosis between pursuer and pursued, reconfigured for the war on drugs and given a mean noir edge. The opponents are the Mexican narcotics kingpin Adán Barrera, who manages to escape from prison and resume control of his business, and Art Keller, the DEA agent who, exhausted and his marriage kaput, retreated in the years following his capture of Barrera to the silence of a monastery. Winslow, whose crime novels set in the surfing world (like The Dawn Patrol) had a casual ease, seems to have written each word of this very long book in granite. Sadly, that seriousness has provided mostly clichés on the order of “he was born on Christmas Day to campesinos in Apan, where life promised little opportunity except to make pulque or go into the rodeo” or “the son of an Anglo father who didn’t want a half-Mexican kid, he always had one foot in each world, but never both feet in either.”
Like its hero, this novel hovers between two styles—pulp fiction and literary seriousness—which, taken together, render the genre formulas leaden.