A fan’s book review of The Border.
Never met Don Winslow, or saw him on TV. Just read his books. If I had written his books, I could leave this life tomorrow totally justified that I had stared down true evil with my “faction”—that’s fiction which is totally true. And, that my life had meaning.
Winslow’s fictional protagonist is Art Keller, former DEA Agent, now high up in the Washington DEA bureaucracy. He took a “time out” years ago and spent it in a monastery raising bees. Also, kept a big Sig Sauer under one of the hives, you know, just in case. He was trying to get his head straight from the brutal personalized combat he experienced in the Mexican drug cartel wars. He figured they might come for him one day.
The key protagonist in my books is Father Gabriel Garza. Like Art Keller, bad boys are after him too. While Keller is still on The Watch List, my protagonist got moved to The Hit List.
Unlike Father Garza, but like me, Keller is married to a Latina. Only Keller’s Mexicana was shot up by the cartels and he cares for her in her crippled state. Good man.
In The Border, there’s this blip on the radar screen in 2016 called a Presidential race. One candidate, John Davidson, who becomes President, has a son in law who owns a very expensive building in downtown Manhattan; beautiful building, but seriously short on cash flow, like hundreds of millions short and it’s time to refinance. Help is needed. A German bank looks like it might step in, but the source of the money is . . . ah . . . murky? Perhaps Mexican pharmaceuticals?
Later in the book, less Winslow hinting and more telling about the son-in-law’s situation: “He’s working with bankers, government people and some people in our business to loan $285 million to an American real estate group owned by the son-in-law of the new president. The syndicate has basically bought the American government for a paltry three hundred million. It’s the bargain of the century.”
As the DEA Head, Keller’s tracking all this and people have died to get the Intel. And now Keller is being offered plato o plomo after the American election; take the silver or the lead.
Keller has choices: see, hear, no evil, especially where the new President’s family is concerned; or Keller could ride off into the sunset with his federal pension and minister to the health of his beautiful and previously shot-up, wife, Marisol. Or, Keller could do neither and keep on in his usual bull-headed, self-righteous fashion—risks understood.
I’m only half way through Winslow’s 715 page, 2019 book, The Border. Absolutely compelling. Can’t put it down, but I have to; can’t read it before I go to bed, or else I won’t sleep. It’s not just the powerful, realistic writing, but the awful allegations behind the writing that are hinted at.
The hints are brought to life when we read the actual daily issues of the Washington Post and the New York Times in real time, in real life.
I am not a wannabe Art Keller, Winslow’s protagonist. I could not see what he has seen. I could not hear the horrific cries of torture he has heard. I could not face the evil he experienced. I could not endure the daily rumors of being on the hit list of Mexican cartels. But, like you, I know bravery when I see it.
The book carries subtle threat, intimidation, and the continual unease that bad-things-are-going-to-happen-to-good-people—on every page, thanks to nuanced writing by the author. This proposes an unrelenting tension because you know the truth of what the author says. And his truths make lies of our national self-image and what we say we represent. With Winslow, there isn’t even a Kennedy-Camelot to distract us with its politically manufactured myths.
Winslow’s written Savages, The Force, The Cartel, and The Power of the Dog.
This man and his contemporary writing is a national treasure.
He calls them all out.

Footnote: Don Winslow is a “former investigator, antiterrorist trainer and trial consultant,” according to the book jacket. Personally, I think that’s for public consumption. This guy knows way too much and it’s way too disturbing and if his current book bothers you like it does me, because the bright brutal light of truth tends to hurt, put it down and pick up some pleasant Western Romance.

Footnote: Years ago, in one Western city where I served as city manager, we hosted an investor from back East. I don’t recall exactly how the connection was made, other than it was political, and apparently above my pay grade, since I wasn’t involved in the meeting. The politico who briefed me after the fact, said he had asked the portly Italian man with a heavy Jersey accent, “What is the source of your investment funds?
The smiling man waved his pinky-fingered hand, “Mexican pharmaceuticals.”

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