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Posts Tagged ‘drugs’

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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andaluciancvr

A lot of good things have come out of the Scandinavian countries: Danish cookies, hot Swedish women, some awesome beer, and ABBA. Yes, I said it … ABBA (which holds a prominent spot in my Zune mp3 player). And as of lately, so is the writing thanks to the Steig Larsson and his Girl with the Dragon Tattoo trilogy. Yes, I have seen the original Swedish version with Noomi Rapace but has yet to actually read the books (aye, shame, shame, shame). And yes, I did see the American version also. Now I’m not going to be one of those pretentious tossers that’ll go around being snooty about the different versions and other such bollocks. Let’s just say that Mara did a great job, but she’s no Noomi, who’s got that dark-haired, sensual, mysterious European thing going for her. Let’s pause for a moment to think about this. Hmm. Aha. Yes. Jolly good. Sadly I have detoured and may have ventured into strange territory. To the review … shall we?

Sophie Brinkmann is a widow, single mom and nurse living a sublime life in some Swedish suburb. Her son, Alberto, is the joy, heart and apple of her eye. During her rounds at the hospital, Sophie encounters an exotic patient named Hector Guzman and despite her training she develops a friendship with Mr. Guzman. Apparently, Hector is quite the Lothario and Sophie is subconsciously drowning in his charm. Unknown to Sophie, she is also unwittingly drawn into a sinister web of sorts as she gains the interest of a Machiavellian female commanding police officer named Gunilla. Yes, that is her name (sounds like a cross with Gun and Godzilla) and yes, she is as vicious as she sounds. Maybe a wee bit more. It turns out that Hector is a subject of interest for Gunilla, and apparently so is anyone that makes his acquaintance. The moment Hector leaves the hospital, it doesn’t take long for the intrigue and violence to rear its head as the reader finds themselves immersed with coke-sniffing, gun-running, Russian Mafiosos; thuggish and corrupt cops; a prescription drug addicted cop that doesn’t mind pilfering the occasional panty or two from female surveillance subject’s house(ah, those kinky Europeans); and as mentioned before, a ruthless, manipulative female commanding police officer that is willing to use anyone or anything as a means to an ends.

Söderberg’s Friend is marinated in intrigue, in a topsy-turvy world filled with virtuous criminals and dreadfully corrupt lawmen. The violence is quick, vicious and merciless often catching the reader off-guard and occasionally knocking them senseless. You’ll find yourself rooting for Sophie as she maneuvers through this vicious labyrinthine game of cat and mouse, a game that she was unwittingly thrusted into. Each character has a story to tell, some heartwarming, and some very dark and disturbing that adds to an intense, fiery tale that thunders towards a breathtaking conclusion that’ll keep you guessing to the very end.

Note to self: must read more Scandinavian writers. Paging Jo Nesbø.

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Running Title – No Angel: My Harrowing Undercover Journey To The Inner Circle Of Hells Angels

Meet Jay Dobyns. Real-life ATF agent. A walking, talking line that protects the law-abiding from the psychos. In every sense, Mr Dobyns is an unsung hero. In No Angel, Mr. Dobyns recounts the ordeals of life as an undercover agent infiltrating the Hell’s Angels Motorcycle gang. Reading the book feels like throttling down the highway at full speed on a 1200 cc chopper with no brakes … and on a highway that is also filled with blind turns. Infiltrating bike gangs are a lot more work than most folks can fathom. There are rules and certain codes of conduct that one must observe. Violation of certain “biker etiquette” will not get you slap on the wrist by a gloved hand but in some cases could result in a hole in the head … by a leather gloved hand. The type of holes that are somewhat terminal. And as the Dobyns and his “crew” try to build up a club and a reputation, they are constantly tested everyway and they often have to be on constant guard as if their life depended on it … which strangely in many cases it usually does. And sometimes people have to become innovative … like taking a piss in the bathroom and dropping a few bits of pee on your boots for “good luck” to impress some VIP in the biker gang. Needless to say, I do not envy these chaps. I’d prefer to take my chances in a Brazilian creek filled with ravenous piranhas … whilst bleeding profusely. Still it is a testimony to the work that these special breed of individuals do in order to protect the Joe Public from the outlaws out there. Something that we often take for granted. Quite often undercover law enforcement agents are constantly held under severe scrutiny by the public but few really do understand what many of these individuals have to deal with. No Angel shows life on the razor’s edge by through the eyes of an agent and the mental roller coaster both he and his family had to endure whilst undercover. Very suspenseful, filled with intrigue, and keeps you dry in the throat as you turn every page. It is the closest you can get to going undercover. If you know any one that works in law especially as an undercover agent, then be sure to pat them on the back or give them a firm handshake in acknowledgement for what they put on the line. Great read. Awesome bloke, Mr. Dobyns.

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