Books of 2015, #38: The Cartel, Don Winslow

I am given to understand that this is a big book; I don’t actually know, because it’s the same size as all my other books, because I have more or less given up on reading things printed on paper.

It certainly didn’t feel like a big book, because I zipped through it in, I think, three days—it was more or less impossible to put down.

Its compelling nature is surpassed only by its depressing nature, because this book is bleak as fuck. While not quite an “everybody dies” narrative, it comes pretty damned close (though I’m willing to guess that you’d be surprised by some of the handful of characters who make it out the other side, you will be saddened by many of the ones that don’t).

I think it cements my feeling that David Simon has it correct: if you really want to know what started our society on this careening path of horribleness that we seem to be Hell-bent on pursuing to its end—where incidences of police killing civilians (particularly those of color) occur with distressing frequency, where even the rights and freedoms of even the upper (largely white) classes are abridged as a matter of course by programs of surveillance and law-enforcement overreach, where you have to take off your shoes to fly on an airplane—it’s hard to argue against the War On Drugs as being a significant factor.

I mean, we have a natural experiment at our fingertips: simply consider, today, how many people enrich themselves through the illegal sale of alcohol?

Virtually none, and although the jokes about the questionable behavior of large corporations that are heavy-hitters in that arena write themselves, I don’t think it’s inaccurate to say that no one’s doing so in any big, organized way.

When alcohol was forbidden during Prohibition, though, that drove up incidents of domestic terrorism, fostered a culture of pervasive official corruption both politicians and police, inured people to the idea of criminality by making illegal what had long been perfectly acceptable behavior, and generally fucked things up until we came to our senses.

And now we’ve got the War on Drugs—recapitulating all these issues, without even having gone through the process of ratification; simply declared because…well, it’s an interesting question. Presumably nothing so silly as Nixon being pissed off at the Hippies, but you never know.

Anyway, read this novel—so much of which is rooted in and resembles actual events in Mexico—and you have to wonder if there’s any possible way that it could be worth it.