The Power of the Dog
Don Winslow
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The Power of the Dog
Don Winslow
539 pages
May 2006
rated 4 1/2 of 5 possible stars

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El poder del perro: the Power of the Dog. This novel delivers a potent message, a dose of reality in the theater of violence as one man shadows drug enforcement agencies from the poppy fields of South America to the Mexican border, all laced with the politics of self-deception and political agendas.

Art Keller traces the advances of the drug economy from Operation Condor in Sinaloa in1975, Guadalajara in 1984, El Salvador in 1985, Mexico and NAFTA in 1992 through the late nineties. A Company man, Keller is one of the "lost, the lonely, the cultural misfits with a foot in two worlds and a place in neither, half-Anglo and Half-Mexican.

While doggedly pursuing a man who once duped him and is now a key figure in the drug world, Keller traverses the complicated infrastructure of the US-Mexican border. Too-often burned by his own government, Keller handles most of his business outside of the purview of the government agencies, that lethal alphabet soup of DEA, FBI and ATF, committed to maintaining the facade of success on the war on drugs.

North American firepower and munitions meet South American business-as-usual in a disheartening mix of military power in the hands of the politically untouchable who decimate the country's economy in pursuit of profit. Art Keller's personal journey, navigating this particular nightmare, illustrates how deeply flawed is the attempt to control illegal substances, the exorbitant cost of the lesser of two evils, where moral ambiguity becomes the coin of the realm.

Through his years of experience, Art has observes that all Third World slums are the same, "the same mud or dust, depending on climate or season, the same smells of charcoal stoves and open sewers...malnourished kids with distended bellies and big eyes. Not so in the South American countries, where citizens are reduced to abject poverty with a tiny percentage of ultra-rich holding the reins. South America is a killing ground, where the poor are slaughtered with impunity and the authorities look the other way.

While Winslow pens a fascinating fiction of drug trafficking and those it touches so intimately, he also exposes the agencies who have failed to control the uncontrollable, the massacre of thousands in the name of profit, bribery and corruption so endemic that each layer only reveals another, a mix of murderers and drug lords who act with impunity to protect their way of life.

In this blistering indictment of the war on drugs, American support of Third World guerillas financed by the illegal narcotics trade and the easy greed of officials who sell their accommodation to the highest bidder, Winslow spins a powerful yarn that is both informative and deeply disturbing: "The hardest thing in the world isn't to refrain from committing an evil, it's to stand up and stop one."

Click here for Luan Gaines' interview with The Power of the Dog author Don Winslow

Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at Luan Gaines, 2005

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