Count me a great big fan of Don Winslow’s novels. Cartel blew me away with its horrific storyline on the present-day Mexican cartels, their uncontrolled, unimaginable violence, and their corruption of all levels of government. 

Winslow’s book dedication, listing 131 journalists murdered by the cartels, sent its own message before I started page one.

Right now, I’m in the middle of his recent novel, The Force, about the NYPD, and the high profile Manhattan North Special Task Force. The author set the tone again, before page one, this time listing three pages—small type—of all the police personnel killed in the line of duty, during the time he was writing the book.

So, thanks to Winslow’s compelling writing style I’m already in Detective Dennis Malone’s corner, the book’s protagonist. He wants to protect his fellow cops, his family, his city. Maybe I have some wanna-be cop since I’m carrying Irish Catholic DNA like Denny. He madly loves his kids, too.

Sure, Denny and his police crew cut corners to put bad guys away, real bad dudes. And if you’re a perp and you run, they’ll beat on you. 

You don’t shoot at cops, ‘cause they’re the good guys and you may get shot and the ambulance is late, like “wait-till-I-finish-this-cigarette-slow.”

Maybe Denny and his crew confiscate illicit greenbacks and dope and don’t turn it all into the evidence room. They need their personal resources—in hidden accounts the feds can’t find— enough put away for an emergency attorney or to make a run.  

Here’s a taste of Winslow:

All he’s seen, Malone isn’t a big fan of God and figures the feeling is mutual. He has a lot of questions he’d like to ask him, but if he ever got him in the room, God’d probably shut his mouth, lawyer up, let his own kid take the jolt.

. . .This was the fourth girl this animal had done, and every cop in the Three-Two was looking for him. 

The Haitians got there before the cops did, found the perp still on the rooftop and tossed him off into the alley.

Malone and his then partner caught the call and walked into the alley where Rocky the Non-Flying Squirrel was lying in a spreading pool of his own blood, with most of the bones in his body broken because nine floors is a long way to fall . . . 

The cops feel for the Vics and hate the perps, but they can’t feel too much or they can’t do their jobs and they can’t hate too much or they’ll become the perps. So they develop a shell, a “we hate everybody” attitude force field around themselves that everyone can feel from ten feet away.

You gotta have it, Malone knows, or this job kills you, physically or psychologically. Or both. 

The feds come after our hero, Detective Sergeant Denny Malone. They want him to flip. He refuses. He’s totally not a rat. Then, he agrees to give up several corrupt Assistant District Attorneys. Denny’s troubled, but he never liked the legal beagles anyhow.  He knows, no matter how he spins it—he is a rat. But no way, no how, will he give up cops.

And now the federal task force wants dirty cops and Denny needs to deliver. 

Winslow has done such a superb job at this point in capturing the reader, I mean, we understand the mean streets Denny has to own and without his thin blue line, rules be damned, we’re all at risk, aren’t we? 

Screw “probable cause.”

Planting a gun on a really bad hombre? No biggie. 

Except that Winslow’s expert writing ensnares us again. Our protagonist runs out of self-rationalizing room. And we realize that Denny, truly a hero cop, is corrupt. The sheepdog has turned wolf too many times. We like Denny and think we understand Denny, but . . . 

So, at this point, at 1:30 a.m. PCT, I wasn’t feeling good about my man, Denny, and his options—couldn’t see any way out, and neither could Denny, so I had to turn the lights out, half-way through the book, and hope for sleep.

It’s been two days. I guess I’m ready to go back in and see how Denny is doing. I’m nervous and I’m concerned because I never get the feeling that Winslow specializes in happy endings. He’s too busy writing what’s really going on.

By the way, Winslow’s writing in The Cartel, so horrifically accurate, triggered word on the street that Winslow better start looking over his shoulder. I love the guy. 


WISHES DO COME TRUE—and the Trump White House

Remember “Be careful what you wish for?”

Well, I wished for Donald Trump to win the Republican Presidential nomination in 2016. Am I a Republican? Not even close. I felt the Bern. 

I knew that Trump, carrying all his casino-libido-lazy-self-centered-rumor-laden baggage would guarantee Hillary Clinton the presidential prize. No question. I even sent money to the Hillary campaign to make extra sure of the win. I never send money to political candidates.

I reveled in how Trump personally belittled his Republican opponents in the primary, fracturing the party beyond any possibility of coming together for the November election. I mean who, on a national stage, insults his opponents with references to the wife’s appearance; a political opponent’s father’s alleged involvement in the JFK assassination; an opponent’s physical appearance, and energy level? And they are all in the same party? And, Trump used to be a Democrat, eons ago?

I also thought, “Hell, if he gets in, he’s just a Democratic Trojan Horse. So, it’s Clinton vs. Clinton in Trump-drag.

I even thought to myself, from September, 2016 on, why are the newscasters even pretending there’s a contest? It’s over already! I shouted in my mind.

I read Trump’s book, The Art of the Deal, thirty-seven years ago and concluded back then he was a real jerk. Thirty-seven years ago!

Now, here we are, and I am really, really worried for our Republic.  I came to the following conclusions personally before the author Seth Hettena did. His new book, TRUMP/RUSSIA, is scary because he has the facts. I only had rumor and data fragments.  Hettena chronicles the greatest threat to our national security since the Cuban Missile Crisis, fifty-six years ago. 

Jane Mayer, the expert author of Dark Money, whom I respect a great deal, says,  “Hettena is a first-rate reporter and wonderful storyteller, and the tale he tells here is mind-boggling.”

Let me use excerpts from Hettena’s book. He explains it better than I want to. From the inner book jacket: 

“ …there is growing evidence that Trump has spent decades cultivating ties to corrupt Russians and the post-Soviet state. …From the collapse of his casino empire—which left Trump desperate for cash—and his first contacts with Russian deal-makers and financiers, on up to the White House, Hettena reveals the myriad of shady people, convoluted dealings, and strange events that suggest how indebted to Russia our forty-fifth president might be.”

In the book, Hettena also notes: 

“Vladimir Lenin is often credited with coining the phrase “useful idiot” to describe shallow thinkers in the West who did the Communist Party’s bidding without realizing it. …With each passing day, it becomes more and more difficult to avoid the conclusion that the current president of the United State, Donald J. Trump, is either hiding something when it comes to the Kremlin, or simply one of its useful idiots. Neither conclusion is comforting. 

….While Trump sold apartments in Trump Tower to criminals in the 1980s and welcomed them into his casino in the 1990s, Russia was disintegrating into what Boris Yeltsin described as a “superpower of crime.” …. Putin’s rise from the KGB to the presidency of Russia revealed his deep connections, dating back years, to some of the same organized crime figures who were in the shadows of Trump’s business empire.”

But, here’s the worst part. The Republican Party, my father’s party, both of whom I politically disagreed with on so many things—are nowhere to be found—and the country is at stake. Where in the hell is the party of Lincoln? The Republicans are supposed to be the responsible ones and look out for our national security while we Democrats bleat and bleed about the needs of our neighbor.

The best analogy: It’s as if Charles Lindberg was elected President in 1940, instead of Roosevelt. If you don’t understand what that means, re-read your history books. 

History does matter.

Then, the recent insider tell-all book by Michael Wolff, FIRE AND FURY, confirms the need to rally ‘round our upside down flag, the sign of distress.

Wolff closes his book with this:

Trump, in Bannon’s view, was a chapter, or even a detour, in the Trump revolution, which had always been about weaknesses in the two major parties. The Trump presidency—however long it lasted—had created the opening that would provide the true outsiders their opportunity. Trump was just beginning. 

Standing on the Breitbart steps that October morning, Bannon smiled and said: “It’s going to be wild as shit.”  

I have stopped wishing. Too many wishes come true.





[excerpt from upcoming book, BETRAYAL OF FATHER GARZA, to be available from Amazon]

“Accenna al savio e lascia far a lui.” Give the wise man a hint and leave him to act.



I almost told him, but Owen’s plate was too full — yeah, cliché.

Yesterday when he called me, another mail delivery had already arrived with the usual sanitized note inside, sans fingerprints on the outside envelope.

No fingerprints verified the sender in the past, too clever for something obvious.

This note said — there was usually a note — “From your friend who belongs to the oldest lost cause still active in the Western world.” Insider joke about being Jewish. Served as a signature-verification, too.

I need to go to ground for a while. You will see why, eh? Explosive . . . interesting. May not present what you call convincing case, but is what I have. Will not name sources. Will say close friend of the son-in-law who knows my boss’s boss. Fill in the missing pieces. My source thinks this is dangerous idea.

Obviously this came from Nasrani. I asked him in Rome, way back, why he always added “eh” in his conversations and many times in writing, too. He said he learned his English from the British and observed how the upper classes often ended their sentences with a question. It would give his English responses a bit of panache, “Wouldn’t you say, old boy?”

Attached to the note:


Mr. President, here’s our analysis and final recommendation, stamped NODIS — more secret than classified and means no distribution — easier to track leaks that way.

While it may appear cynical, it is the only way.

We forfeited the “War on Drugs” decades ago. The Baby Boomer mantra of sex, drugs and rock’n’roll created a revised counterculture. We pay for it today with acceptance of unwed pregnancies, an unskilled native-white workforce, and drugs everywhere as a form of recreation.

This strategy recognizes the new cultural shift and dramatically lowers the future body count. We will apply all DEA, FBI, CIA, and other law enforcement resources — even military intelligence — against the Mexican and Colombian cartels and the Mafia families, except for the family headed up by “The Nose,” whom you have chosen.

This particular New York Family has agreed to provide us with inside intelligence for the complete elimination of all competition. With the betrayal by “The Nose,” we will arrange for the other families and the cartels to wipe each other out. Once everyone else is terminated, you are positioned to move against the remaining family.

However, we urge caution against that. Former Attorney General Robert Kennedy, if he got elected in 1968, planned that kind of double-cross after they took out his brother in 1963.

This will be a bloody year. You must declare a national emergency against opioids. Our strategy will manufacture successful headlines with arrests and body counts of bad guys.

Unfortunately, the use of drugs will continue until there is a generational cultural shift. Realistically, we can only accomplish a short-term plateauing, before the decline in usage.

The Department of Commerce could assist the designated New York family in setting up new drug corporations which enable users to wean themselves away from their addictions.

Thus, our deal with the devil allows the remaining family to monopolize the trade, lower the long-term body count, level off addiction and secure a monopoly — through patents — to assist drug users to manage their habits.

This could entail the legalization of some drugs, which we believe will undo the cultural appeal of “forbidden” to the ever-rebellious, next youth-generation.

The Nose informed us he is prepared to deal. He likes the no-risk upside, plus the future morph into legitimate business. I heard he has a son hooked on something, but will never admit it.

In a remarkably short period The Nose et al. become sole distributors of illegal product, and then sole patent owners, and finally sole market distributors of the addiction management prescriptions.


Then I read the next pages, in a different type-font, no identification or date, just one word: TRANSCRIPT.

Leaving the room, Source said to Briefer, “Wanna know how ‘The Nose’s’ family was selected?”

“Yeah, how?”

“Several other New York families own more resources and contacts. But his outfit — totally ruthless — will double-cross the rest of the families if it leaves The Nose on top.

“In addition, the tie-breaker — The Nose holds special Russian tapes showing the Prez in a compromising position when he visited Moscow way before the campaign. Very compromising and, let’s say, ‘wet’ — you know, if you’ve been following the rumors. That’s always the catch with rumors — some truth there, but not always 100%.

“The wife is pissed about that. She blames The Prez because she never wanted him to run for office. She feared the 24/7 scrutiny. Seems like hubby isn’t always around and she gets bored. Man, I wish I was around when she got bored. Name of their sham marriage, ‘political convenience.’ Lot of that in Washington.”

“This whole thing — unbelievable.”

“Well, what’s more unbelievable is that the damn strategy will work.With one sole distributor of product, and no competition, the brutal turf wars will end and the silent death rate will start to reduce. Overdoses and addictions will remain high for the rest of this generation. But in about ten years, you’ll see a shift where drugs are just another form of alcohol. Most people can handle their booze . . . some don’t.”

I guess my game plan was to let things settle a bit with the other secret blockbuster revelations. This note felt more dangerous, dealing with folks who recognized even fewer boundaries than intelligence agencies. Or, maybe they all knew no limits?

If I had given the Mafia elimination strategy to my Kemosabe friend, I’m sure he would have looked paler than usual when he handed the sheets back to his Tonto. The real world was bleeding through. I too wanted to run away, somewhere, when I first read it, because the info could hurt someone, majorly.


Father Gabriel Garza waved Owen Friel’s car away with a “Vaya con Dios.”



I performed my weekly routine, checking in by phone with the individual council members. Somehow, in the course of the conversation, the councilman commented that he always checks his rearview mirror and never goes home exactly the same way: “Can’t be too careful, you know.”

I remembered that a couple of his council colleagues had quietly passed the word and boycotted him out of his modest, post-retirement business after he started challenging how things worked in the class-divided community.

Given the local politics, he advised me to be cautious, to always slightly change driving routes to work. His advice unsettled me because he was a strong, outspoken supporter of mine, and he had been a former military officer–no nervous nellie. There was no intent to make me nervous, just a helpful hint.

Talking to another member of council the same afternoon, another City Manager supporter, I mentioned the advice I had received, still slightly disbelieving.

She not only endorsed his advice but elaborated. She counseled that the going rate for a contract on someone was ten thousand dollars around there and that I should be careful. Because of our geographical location, that activity was not unheard of.

I was unnerved. Although I didn’t feel immediate danger, I did call my brother-in-law back in Washington and told him what was going on. He had past connections with the Justice Department and other folks.

I didn’t want to be dramatic. I tried to make light of it but said that if something did happen to me, to have it checked out — for the sake of my wife and two small daughters.



[Suggestions, observations, and advice, writing as Ben Leiter]

In thrillers, always keep the reader on the edge, never let them relax. 

There are all kinds of thrillers: the usual spy-thriller, action-adventure thrillers; police thrillers; romantic thrillers; military thrillers; legal thrillers; and the list goes on.

I think I did this in my last book, BETRAYAL OF FATHER GARZA, more than my others, but did I do it enough, or is the thrill gone?

AFTERLIFE: Eben Alexander vs. Woody Allen

LEITER WRITING TIPS #4 — AFTERLIFE: Eben Alexander vs. Woody Allen
[Suggestions, observations, and advice, writing as Ben Leiter]

from PROOF OF HEAVEN by Dr. Eben Alexander, who experienced a significant near-death experience:
[“And particles are made up of …Well, quite frankly, physicists don’t really know. But one thing we do know about particles is that each one is connected to every other one in the universe. They are all, at the deepest level, interconnected.”
“This other, vastly grander universe isn’t ‘far away’ at all. In fact, it’s right here — right here where I am, typing this sentence, and right there where you are, reading it. It’s not far away physically but simply exists on a different frequency. It’s right here, right now, but we’re unaware of it because we are for the most part closed to those frequencies on which it manifests. We live in the dimensions of familiar space and time, hemmed in by the peculiar limitations of our sensory organs and by our perceptual scaling within the spectrum from subatomic quantum up through the entire universe. Those dimensions, while they have many things going for them, also shut us out from the other dimensions that exist as well.”
“The universe has no beginning or end, and God is entirely present within every particle of it.”]

But Woody Allen says: “I don’t want to achieve immortality through my work. I want to achieve it through not dying. I don’t want to live on in the hearts of my countrymen. I would rather live in my apartment.



Greeley and Catholicism

A couple of thoughtful quotes from Andrew Greeley in THE CATHOLIC MYTH.

Catholicism is a religious tradition that is enthralled by metaphors that it finds itself using. …
Grace in the broad sense of that word is nothing more than the self-disclosure of God in the world. …
…Unlike the socialist, the Catholic is profoundly skeptical about remaking basic traits of the human personality.