The drug thriller "The Cartel" by Don Winslow is no easy evening reading, it is a brutal ride through the Mexican drug swamp: relentless, explicit, excessive. The predecessor “Days of the Dead” is already considered to be one of the most important crime novels of the last few years. And the second part of the trilogy - the last volume "The Years of the Hunter" is available from February 27th - made it onto the relevant bestseller lists.


The cartel: B.rutal like reality

Don Winslow's drug thriller “Das Kartell”, published by the Droemer Knaur publishing group, tells of the eternal struggle between the USA and the Mexican drug lords. Incidentally, the 800-page novel writes the history of a country that has been marked by a decades-long raid by drug barons.

The cartel is the sequel to "Power of the Dog" (Eng. "Days of the Dead"), with the Don winslow made its breakthrough in 2005. In the first part of the drug crime trilogy, Winslow dispensed with romanticizing notions of iconic crime bosses who are half criminal and half heroic. “Days of the Dead” was as brutal and ruthless as the reality that readers actually don't want to know about - but should know so much. Don Winslow dispenses with a gentle introduction to the genesis of the Mexican drug war in “The Cartel” - he has already told you all of this. Instead, he throws his readers right into a battle pit of blood, violence and perversion.

The drug thriller "Das Kartell", published by Droemer Knaur, landed on the relevant bestseller lists. Photo: André Volkmann
The drug thriller “Das Kartell”, published by Droemer Knaur, landed on the relevant bestseller lists. Photo: André Volkmann

What Winslow has put on paper in parts goes far beyond the bearable: you want to stop reading and at the same time persevere. The awareness that all the crimes are happening in Mexico on a daily basis is shocking. And angry. Sometimes desperate too.

"... those who are not destroyed by physical torture will be driven insane by mental agony."

The cartel, Don Winslow

The story begins where the predecessor ends. Arthur Keller, drawn from the struggle against the drug mafia, has recently found refuge in a remote monastery in the wasteland of New Mexico. He lives withdrawn into the daytime, looks after bees as a beekeeper and enjoys the peaceful, simple monastery life.

The list of cartels in the book cover looks clear: the drug war itself is pure chaos. Photo: André Volkmann
The list of cartels in the book cover looks clear: the drug war itself is pure chaos. Photo: André Volkmann

Until one day a bounty is put on him - offered by his former friend and now enemy Adán Barrera, who is preparing for his return to the milieu out of prison. Arthur Keller does what aged heroes like him do in situations like this: he returns to the DEA, allows himself to be transferred to Mexico and waits for the right moment to strike.

Then, in 2007, Mexican President Felipe Calderón declared war on the cartels - and Mexico exploded in a cloud of brutality and violence.

"Mexico is a graveyard of secrets."

Art Keller isn't the only one who declared war on the drug lords in "Das Kartell". The serial not only tells of an overarching drug war between the United States and Mexico, it also tells the stories of very simple Mexican residents who get caught between the lines, fight back, and often die.

The plot arouses emotions. It's about fears, about dying, but also about hope. Photo: André Volkmann
The plot arouses emotions. It's about fears, about dying, but also about hope. Photo: André Volkmann

The years of research that Winslow has done for his drug thrillers is paying off. The richness of detail in the main and side stories captivates readers. Not immediately, but progressively with each page of the book read. To reduce Winslow's work to the representation of a slaughterhouse does not do justice to his skill and zeal. “Das Kartell” knows how to arouse emotions: sadness, anger, anger, incomprehension, worry - fascination. The story is fictional but based on facts. There are real role models behind many of the characters, the plot is real anyway, which makes the novel “The Cartel” terrifyingly tangible.

"It took two days until all corpses were recovered and all body parts assigned."

The cartel, Don Winslow

The cartel is a tour de force. Also because Winslow is not squeamish about the stories about the little people. The journalist Pablo Mora or the doctor Marisol Cisneros, both closely interwoven with the events surrounding Art Keller, are never safe - even if readers would wish them to be invulnerable. “Das Kartell” is mysterious in a fascinating way, always surprising, and in the end ruthlessly honest.

Don Winslow continues the story of the drug war between the USA and Mexico with his novel "The Cartel": Photo: André Volkmann
Don Winslow continues the story of the drug war between the USA and Mexico with his novel “The Cartel”: Photo: André Volkmann

You have to recognize Don Winslow's literary achievements, but also his courage: the chaotic drug war is not a gem in US history, but has always been a kind of memorial to political failure and shoved responsibility. Winslow names the guilt of the US authorities. He presents the “drug problem” not as a purely Mexican problem, but as a global one. Transit countries, consumers, banks, politicians, business people: they are all part of the novel - and thus part of a global network of problems. Don Winslow is mercilessly taking all of them to justice, making readers look over his shoulder at the indictment.

Anyone who climbs into the arena on foreign territory against such powerful opponents as Adán Barrera must expect losses at all times. “The cartel” is concerned because it is a story - and because it is also a kind of truth. Be sure to read it in preparation for the third part of the drug crime trilogy, "The Hunter's Years" by Don Winslow.

Competition: Win "The Cartel" by Don Winslow
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