MANHUNTERS by Steve Murphy


How We Took Down Pablo Escobar
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Two former Drug Enforcement Administration operatives serve up a thriller-esque account of chasing down a notorious narco kingpin.

“It was our colleagues from the Colombian National Police who actually pulled the trigger, but after spending every waking moment going after that scumbag for six years, it was our victory as well.” So writes Peña at the end of a narrative in which he and Murphy—the agents who were portrayed in the Netflix series Narcos—take turns recounting the hunt for Colombian drug lord Pablo Escobar. The exultation at Escobar’s demise in a monsoon of bullets is a little unseemly, but one quickly comes to understand why the world should be happy that Escobar is gone—even if, as the authors allow, not a whole lot has changed, with actors on the bad side simply shifting roles and positions of authority. Among the players that Murphy and Peña describe is a “sicario,” or hit man, who boasted of killing more than 300 people on Escobar’s behalf. Most such foot soldiers were teenagers who lived for only a year or two before being killed by paramilitaries, vigilantes, rival gangsters, or the police, but while they lived, they were able to provide for their families in ways unavailable to otherwise unemployed youth. The narrative is a pretty by-the-numbers affair: There are the obligatory scenes of their early years and how they came to be federal agents, the academy hijinks, and the internal politics and interagency rivalries. The best part of the book is the authors’ portrait of two very different countries, Colombia and the U.S., and the different cultures of the police in each country. For example, one leading Colombian law enforcement official who figures prominently in their account was glad to yield to Escobar in negotiations, a concession that “prolonged the war against him and led to the deaths of thousands of innocent victims." Mark Bowden’s Killing Pablo is by far the better book, but this one reveals enough interesting details to keep the pages turning.

For Narcos fans and drug-war buffs.

Pub Date: Nov. 12th, 2019
ISBN: 978-1-250-20288-8
Page count: 352pp
Publisher: St. Martin's
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1st, 2019