Monday, July 03, 2006

Don Winslow uses a quote from Psalms to give his powerful new thriller a title: “Deliver my soul from the sword; my love from the power of the dog.” It's an extremely apt frame for this heartbreaking chronicle of the drug wars between the U.S. and Mexico: Biblical in its dramatic scope and the classic beauty of its prose, which rumbles in the background like heavenly thunder. (Readers might remember feeling the same emotions when they began Mario Puzo's The Godfather.)
Choosing to tell a story that takes place over 25 years in the present tense is an act of considerable courage, but Winslow has created a lead character who can carry it off: a DEA agent named Art Keller who is a walking monument to the dedication and futility of those people who spend their lives fighting drugs. As a rookie posted to Culican, Keller makes friends with the Barrera brothers - who turn out to be related to Mexico's leading drug dealer. One of the brothers, Adan, takes over the family business: both he and Keller are contenders for the favors of Nora Hayden, a call girl with a heart of pure cocaine. And a hired killer named Sean Callan is the official ambassador of the American Mafia to the Latin American narcotics scene.
Using these four main characters, Winslow (whose 1998 thriller THE DEATH AND LIFE OF BOBBY Z is one of the classics of the crime genre) manages to cram into over 500 pages enough new information about how and why the drug wars have gone so badly that we want more - especially the explosive poetry of his writing.