CHARACTERS ✓ The Power of the Dog


From the bestselling author of Savages now an Oliver Stone film This novel of the drug trade takes you deep inside a world riddled with corruption betrayal and bloody revenge Art Montana is an obsessive DEA agent The Barrera bro. “But you O Lord do not be far off O you my help come uickly to my aid Deliver my soul from the sword my precious life from the power of the dog” Psalm 2219 20 Everything about Don Winslow’s The Power of the Dog feels familiar As I read it pop culture artifacts as different as Mario Puzo’s The Godfather Steven Soderbergh’s Traffic and the techno thrillers of Tom Clancy popped into my head The dramatis personae is almost a list of archetypes the hard charging straight edged DEA agent; the hard charging agent's charmless boss; and the urbane drug lord who gradually gets his hands dirtier and dirtier This is a novel where you can see all the moving parts but it’s constructed so well that it never matters From page one you are reading downhill The Power of a the Dog is a sweeping 542 page epic of the drug trade It tells a fictional story that is framed by real life events It begins in 1975 with a close in look at the infamous Operation Condor and ends in 2004 when the War on Drugs has taken on a new post 911 look In betweensome very bad things happen Trying to describe the plot is an unnecessary exercise that I won’t attempt except at the most macro level The backbone of the narrative is the struggle between Art Keller the straight edged DEA agent I mentioned above and Adan Barrera the Michael Corleone of the Mexican Cartels Keller is obsessed with bringing down Adan’s organization El Federación This simple motive is the one constant in an otherwise sprawling book which includes characters like Sean Callan an Irish hitman with a load of guilt because he’s Catholic duh; Nora a high class hooker with a heart of gold naturally; a mobster nicknamed Peaches because he likes peaches; an incorruptible priest named Father Parada who reminds me of the “cool” young Jesuits I knew in college he smokes and he curses; and Ramos the last good cop in Mexico who has a preternatural ability to find the bad guys he chews an unlit cigar so you know he’s badass All these are stock types Winslow tries to develop them but they never leap off the page as three dimensional humans Keller for instance is half Mexican comes from barrios and is suitably tortured by his past actions and mistakes Despite this his unbending rectitude makes him the least interesting star in the constellation He is just one haunted cop in the litany of fiction’s haunted cops Many of these people die some uite horribly Their deaths affected me on an intellectual level plot twist but never an emotional one They were just names nicknames and affectations like Tarantino creations Cool yes Memorable yes Psychologically and emotionally realized not uite One character who I will not name plays a long con that is only believable if you do not imagine these people having a life outside the page Mentioning this is almost beside the point Once you start reading you’re going to finish Pointing out clichés in the characters is like bemoaning the view from the top of a roller coaster What matters is how all these characters interact use each other con each other hurt each other Winslow writes at a very high level There are incredible set pieces A mob hit A shootout in the streets A raid by drug enforcement agents Even the 1985 Mexico City earthuake The Power of the Dog is packed with memorable scenes It is also surprisingly powerful In his prologue Winslow drops us into his story with the image of a

REVIEW The Power of the Dog

The Power of the DogThers are heirs to a drug empire Nora Hayden is a jaded teenager who becomes a high class hooker Father Parada is a powerful and incorruptible Catholic priest Callan is an Irish kid from Hell’s Kitchen who grows up to be a mer. “Deliver my soul from the sword; my love from the power of the dog Psalms 2220”A ubiuitous theme in Don Winslow’s brilliant writing is an atavistic examination of power as a force of nature More than that power as currency – it is a neutral element existing as a tool to be used for various reasons and in multiple contexts There is the pre human foundational power of sinew tooth and claw – the muscular violent power of strength and speed in martial contest seen in modern use as military might but existing in a microcosm on any playground gym or bar This is the power of one against another in its most animalistic formBut there is also the power of persuasion – of sex and courage A beautiful woman has power latent in her every move glance and gesture Likewise any observer of a bantam rooster – fowl or human – knows the power of confidence In popular crime fiction this is freuently demonstrated by the tough Irish cop with whom no one will messThere is the power of God – manipulated and personified by the clergy and by the belief and faith in observants There is an old saying that religion has caused wars than any other source Whether as a motivator or as a pretext for land or other power exchange theology can be a force that exerts its power over us in clear or metaphysical waysWinslow’s 2005 novel begins with a government operator in Vietnam who transfers his jungle skills closer to home to take the war against the communists to the war on drugs as a DEA agent The author fills his decades in scope narrative with a heady mix of tasty characters to get to know From the possessed by ideal agent to the family Mexican drug dealers to the New York hired hitmen and Mafiosos to the government black operators who are just gangsters at a different level Winlsow’s Nora is also a deliciously complicated player – a high priced prostitute really of a latter day courtesan who exerts her considerable power over all those who come into her sphere of influenceTwo characters who stand out are Sean Callan and Sal Scachi Callan “the coldest mother I ever saw” was an inner city Irish loner who discovered his particular power of violence by accident in a bar in New York We follow his wet career of assassinations and violence throughout the book Winslow reveals Callan as a reluctant killer one who is tortured by his “ghosts” and who seeks absolution while always drawn to one jobScachi reminds me of Cormac McCarthy’s Judge Holden from Blood Meridian or the Evening Redness in the West – a Mephistophelian personification of evil and a demonstration of Winslow’s theme that government is the biggest gang on the streetBrutal authoritative and compelling this is also clearly a very well researched work as Winslow outlines the socio economic effect of the drug trade and the parallel war on drugs on our global cultureHighly recommended though it’s unmitigated violence will not be appropriate for some readers

Don Winslow ☆ 1 CHARACTERS

CHARACTERS ✓ The Power of the Dog Ö From the bestselling author of Savages now an Oliver Stone film This novel of the drug trade takes you deep inside a world riddled with corruption betrayal and bloody revenge Art Montana is an obsessive DEA agent The Barrera brothers are heirs to a drug empire Nora Hayden is a jaded teenager who becomes a hiCiless hitman And they are all trapped in the world of the Mexican drug Federaci From the streets of New York City to Mexico City and Tijuana to the jungles of Central America this is the war on drugs like you’ve never seen it. Power of the Dog can sit next to other books that portray the American Dream as dark bruise such as Libra American Tabloid and Dog Soldiers but it may feel uncomfortable as it lacks their power of prose depth of character none of the characters are cartoons though and stylistic heights but it does have their ambition and authenticity in its vision of history as double crosses compromises and bloody spectacle But this unfair as this is really a thriller at heart especially its finale inspired by Coppola and Scorsese movies than any literary forebears It’s odd that a genre entertainment like this tackles of what is rotten in the world than a lot of capitol “L” literature This book is also a historical novel and almost everything in it is based on some historical fact So you get to see the grotesue tapestry of the DEA CIA in Latin America Narcocartels Farc rebels wild Irish of Hell’s Kitchen Mafia the Catholic Churchand Opus Dei Heidi FlyssSp styled prostitution ring Chinese arms dealings and genocide in Guatemala El Salvador and Columbia in one book and under the umbrella of America’s war on drugs