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Posts Tagged ‘cartels’

For some strange reason I am drawn to some of the dark aspects of this life in this world, both written and screened. If Netflix and my cable subscriber is reporting on my viewing habits, there is probably (at most) some interesting files sitting somewhere in some interesting buildings or (at least), some warnings issued to potential mates. So when someone donated the Don Winslow book to my branch, there was something that screamed “you’ve got to put this in the stacks … and you have to check it out”. It probably had to do with the fact there was a bulletproof vest featured on the cover with the word “Cartel” on it. Aye, I’m an easy sucker for a catchy visuals and titles. Well so much for the pleasantries and other such bollocks, so let’s get on with the bloody review. Yeah?
First off … Cartel is over 700 pages long. What, you ask, could they write about in 700-plus pages in a book simply entitled, The Cartel? Apparently, a lot, and there is nae a dull moment in none of those pages, and the best part is even when you finish the book you still feel that there should have been … MORE. Aye, it is that (terrifyingly) good.

Art Keller is a Vietnam veteran turned DEA agent and one of his biggest accomplishments is toppling the Sinaloan cartel, El Federacion, and capturing it top leader, Adan Barrera. Cartel finds Art residing in a Mexican monastery as its primary and premium beekeeper, producing good honey whilst enjoying a bit of solace away from the crazy world … though his Sig Sauer isn’t far from reach. Unknown to Keller, Adan has negotiated an extradition to a Mexican prison to serve the rest of his jail sentence. What the Americans don’t realize is that Adan’s extradition to a Mexican prison is about as harsh as me being transferred to a library branch … in Hawaii … with free housing … in a big mansion … for 5 to 10 years. From the scariest prison in Mexico, Adan lives it up with all the comforts of a premium five star resort as he runs his drug empire and is protected from his enemies from confines of his “jail” … as he plots the demise of Art Keller. Of course, When Art is informed of this change of events, more than vows are broken as Art willingly joins up for this narco-war. And so begins the rapid descent into the world of terrifying, viscous darkness and re-definitions of barbarism as an unorthodox game of cat and mouse is played. Though the Cartel is supposedly orbiting around Art and Adan, there are some interesting “scenic routes” in terms of characters that show up and add to this immense, yet terrifying and twisted mosaic: a group of reporters, foot soldiers, beauty pageant winners (yes, this is not an editing error). Compared to what is shown in the (sanitized) news, the fictional Cartel sheds some terrifying light on the real world of cartels. Where beauty pageants don’t offer scholarships to Ivy League colleges but are actually grooming grounds for wives and mistresses of narco-kingpins. Where cartels have better surveillance and intelligence gathering capabilities that rival those of the CIA and FBI, and along with corrupt members of law enforcement can reach out and squash those that are deemed a “threat”. Where being a journalist means literally putting your life on the line to write and publish the truth. Where loyalty doesn’t always promise longevity and the possibility of being a convenient sacrificial lamb and the promise that your family will be well taken care off (as Joe Isuzu would say … sure !!!). Where rising up the ranks in the cartels means to engage in strange game of chess, where a pawn can suddenly become a king and vice versa; or you can be cannibalized (sometimes literally) by your own chess pieces (I’m guessing not much time to sleep is a staple of being in the higher rungs in this “business”… hmm … where do I sign up?). Where rising to the top as female makes you the scariest person in the room, since the narco-world is very misogynistic and takes a whole lot of machismo (and some extreme levels of depraved viciousness) to impress these chaps. At this point of time, it is needless to state that this is not going to have any fairytale endings and folks emerging out at the end are not quite unscathed, mentally or physically (or both).

Cartel though fictional is (sadly) not in the least, some exaggeration of what’s actually out there. And that, folks, is some scary shit to say. Several years ago I reviewed a book called Zero Zero Zero by Roberto Saviano which is a NONFICTION documentation of the cocaine trade around the world, and it reads like Winslow’s Cartel … except that it is well … REAL. Cartel is one of the few fictional books that actually points an accusing finger at us with the question, “How much is your high, really worth?”. The answer, as both books would indicate, apparently a very high price and what some of us are paying for that indulgence, stateside, is the “discount” price. And though some of the viciousness that have been associated with cartel violence has been termed “barbaric” and “barbarians”, I’ve looked up several known historical barbarians and I hate to say it, but even those barbarians had a code that they lived by. What Winslow’s Cartel describes in many pages is something beyond barbarism.

One final note, it turns out that Winslow’s Cartel is actually a second book of The Power Of The Dog trilogy. Aye, I must admit that I have not read the first. The good news is that Cartel holds it own and is a dog’s bollocks standalone. All that is required is a good stomach. Happy readings, mates. And good show, Mr. Winslow.

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otherson_cvr

I know, I know. It is that time of the year where we all get touchy and as the eggnog flows, most people want to curl up to something warm and fuzzy. The last thing you want to read about is about Swedish psychopaths. Alas, I missed that memo. Sorry chaps.

About a year ago (or so), I had reviewed Söderberg’s debut, The Andalucian Friend, and we were introduced to Sophie Brinkmann, the nurse, and her son, Albert. In Friend, one of Sophie’s patient was a drug kingpin named Hector Guzman who, seemingly, took a liking to her. Unfortunately, the moment Sophie started falling for his charms, that was the moment her world exploded as her path collided with a delightful (and frightening) array of characters that pretty much blurred the lines between good and evil. Actually, they practically erased the bloody line. Seemingly vicious gangsters that actually had somewhat of a moral compass and law enforcement officials that were morally void sociopaths that would render most demons speechless. All those roads (littered with corpses and drenched in blood) seem to lead to Sophie. Needless to say, not in a pleasant way. In the end of Friend, we find Hector Guzman in a coma and Sophie being offered a choice she can’t possibly refuse: take control of Hector’s affairs or face the possibility of being dirtnapped. Hmm, decisions … decisions.

Other Son opens, six months later, and we find Sophie managing the slowly crumbling Hector Guzman empire whilst being guided throught the proverbial shark-infested waters of the drug trade by Hector’s loyal and lethally efficient right-hand, Aron Geisller. Living her life constantly peering over her shoulder and bogged down by Aron’s security protocols, Sophie finds herself being pushed further and further to the edge of the abyss. To add to her troubles, Ralph Hanke (Hector’s rival) has become quite bold and vicious in his attacks as he sanctions the kidnapping of a Lothar Tiedmann, Hector’s illegitimate son. Sophie soon finds herself being tested by various cutthroat factions and being pushed into making decisions that raises Aron’s eyebrows … and that is not a good thing. Now I know what you’re thinking … it can’t get any crazier than this. And I have to say to you that you really don’t know Scandanavian crime novels. Enter Tommy Jansson (corrupt cop extraordinare), Antonia Miller (an actual decent cop with really good wits), Ove Negerson (a half-black, half-Swedish psychopath), and Miles Ingmarsson (a surveillance expert that seems to spends most of his time in strip clubs), Koen (a heroin addicted hitman) and the loveable bear of a Russian mafioso, Mikhail, returns. Aye, to say that the shit is about to hit the fan is, laughably, the biggest uderstatment of the century. There are more twists and turns than disorganized origami and intrigue is so thick that you can almost gag on it. The body count climbs (caution: try not to get attached to characters) and the blood spatters like something in Dexter’s wet dream. The race to the jaw-dropping (yet abrupt) conclusion will keep you riveted, fired up and jonesing for the next sequel by Söderberg.

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zero00_cvr

Several years ago, I wrote a review on Roberto Saviano’s Gomorrah. It is one of the few books out there embeds itself in your head, like a Taylor Swift song, and you never quite recover from it. Yes, it made an appearance as a coffee table book on the set of HBO’s True Detective (season two, episode eight … I think). And yes, my mind can be that weird, and I tend to notice stuff like that. And sure they made a movie about it (a bit over two hours long) and even though some complained about the violence, I had to chuckle. Even though the movie was close to three hours long, the violence was nothing compared to the book which is probably likened to a Quentin Tarantino wet dream. In Gomorrah, the author went to great lengths (and risk) to detail the many deeds and names in the criminal underworld in Naples. And it was not pretty. It pretty much kicked all that romantic bollocks about gondolas, floating in Venice, steered by serenading oarsmen … in the minerals with a steel-tipped Doc Martins boot. And for the most, many of us thought that it couldn’t get any worse. It turns out that I was wrong. Apparently, the world’s a wee bit more shitty.

Zero Zero Zero was Saviano’s immersion into the wonderful world of cocaine. Please note that the word “wonderful” is layered in unhealthy, blistering layers of sarcasm. In a sense, think of Saviano as Morpheus and Zero Zero Zero as a literary red pill. Sorry no blue pill on this run. He traces it’s humble beginnings from Colombia onward to its ever growing tentacles that have spread over the world. Yes, more precious than gold, silver and oil … this white powdery gold is in high (and growing) demand and every criminal element in the world wants to invest and control. Needless to say, the trip down the rabbit hole does not get pretty and it gets really deep, and makes the Mad Hatter seem quite sane. Filled with colourful characters, Saviano shows a stark industry that is built on terror, corruption and unbridled barbarism. From El Chapo (yes, that El Chapo) to the Los Zetas to Griselda Blanco … and the bloody list goes on. And the really messed up part is every criminal element in the world, even terrorists (who are looking for a means to finance their operations) are looking to get in on this cash cow. A shocking disclosure: America is one of the biggest importers of cocaine. Another shocking disclosure: Mexican cartels frown on pushers selling drugs to Mexicans (yes, you are reading this correctly), drugs are strictly for sale to the gringos. Actually, some cartels have been known to put Mexican addicts through rehab. Awww, you think, that’s so nice. Wait for it. There’s a catch: once they’ve gotten better, they’ve got to work for the cartels. And just say no is not an option. As Pablo Escobar used to say “plata o plomo”: silver or lead. Get paid or get dead. And the level of barbarism mentioned in the book is enough to make you lose your lunch, bowel control or lots of sleep: cartel murders and torture, the murder and torture of DEA’s Kiki Camarena, the training techniques of the Kaibiles (Guatemalan Special Forces) … oh joy. It gets better. To think of drug kingpins as just a bunch macho blokes walking around with .45s stuck in their waistband and puffing away on Cubans as they surround themselves with hot “chicas” … is as outdated as the printing press or using the “withdraw/pull-out” method as birth control. Some are even re-investing their ill-gotten gains into “research” and innovations such as submarines or submersibles (and no, I’m not kidding) and liquid cocaine. It is frightening what’s at our doorstep. Zero is basically a mirror that is held up to every addict or “recreational user” face, with a simple question: how much is your getting high really worth? The sad news is the price is extremely high, and many people are unwittingly paying that price in other parts of the world with unbelievable suffering and their lives.
Once again, Mr. Saviano does it again.Zero Zero Zero is a sobering read, not exactly for the faint of heart (at times) and for some, it just might be a wakeup call. Hope you enjoy the ride down the rabbit hole, mates. Morpheus, thy name is Saviano.

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