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by Don Winslow

Pub Date: May 1st, 2005
ISBN: 0-375-40538-0
Publisher: Knopf

A sprawling, old-fashioned saga focuses 25 years of Mexico’s violent drug history through the interlocking loyalties, obsessions and vendettas of a DEA agent, a drug lord, a courtesan and a killer-for-hire.

Winslow (California Fire and Life, 1999, etc.) starts with Art Keller, a DEA adviser who wants so badly to take down Don Pedro Aviles, the Patron of Sinaloa, that he makes what turns out to be a bargain with three devils: rising drug power Miguel Angel Barrera and his nephews Adan and Raul. Sean Callan, meanwhile, grows up overnight in Hell’s Kitchen when his sudden resolve to save his friend O-Bop from mob intimidation turns them both into teenaged killers on the run. And California girl Nora Hayden, who’s always enjoyed her power over the older men hitting on her, decides to turn pro under the tutelage of a San Diego madam. President Nixon, showing that like Art Keller he’s consistently two steps behind the Barerra family, declares war on drugs, and the policy of throwing money at interdiction ushers in an era of related real-life disasters. Crack cocaine makes its debut. American forces back freedom fighters in Central America. An earthquake rocks Mexico City. The Catholic Church resumes normal relations with the Mexican government. Heroin makes a big comeback. Along the way, Nora misses true love with Callan and becomes Archbishop Juan Parada’s best friend and Adan’s mistress; mounting casualties in the War on Drugs cause Art to break with the Barreras and swear revenge against Adan; and countless deals between warring drug factions and governments are torpedoed by double-crosses. Few members of the large cast will survive the final curtain, and you’ll need a scorecard to keep track of the quick and the dead.

Winslow’s most ambitious yet, though its irony and pathos work better in individual episodes than across the whole broad historical canvas.