The Power of the Dog by Don Winslow

There's something to be said about an author who takes the time to research their topic to such an extent that they are able to create a story that completely inhabits the world they researched. In the case of author Don Winslow, he's studied the intricacies of the drug trade on the Mexican border for over 20 years. Winslow has recently taken to Twitter as a vocal critic to President Trump's border control policies. Whatever your political persuasions, there is no denying that Winslow writes and speaks from a place of well-earned understanding and expertise. He may just write fiction, but he's lived in the worlds he writes about, studied the complex social and economic factors behind that world, and written some killer fiction in the process.

The Power of the Dog is nothing short of a masterwork. Attempting to summarize the plot or characters would be an injustice to the narrative that Winslow has worked so diligently to present. Imagine the best elements of a police procedural wrapped up with the crime elements of Sicario or Narcos, and throw in a touch of The Godfather or The Sopranos for good measure. That is just barely scratching the surface of the scope of this novel. Despite the multiple decades covered, crimes committed, and the sheer amount of character lines running through the novel, it never feels confusing or overstuffed. The story flows effortlessly off the page, a true testament to Winslow's ability to present such an intricate world.

At the heart of the novel lies Art Keller, a DEA agent who has worked the Mexico cartels for years. He is motivated to bring down the notorious cartel run by Adan Barrera. Interspersed amongst this main plot are the stories of a young prostitute, a priest, a Mexican cop, and some Irish mobsters. Each character is impacted either directly or indirectly by the drug culture or the fight against it. From the mid-1970s to the early 2000s, we see these characters advance through time and experiences that have inevitable physical, monetary, and emotional ramifications. It truly is an in-depth portrait of the cause and effect of the "War on Drugs."

For all the large set pieces and action, and Winslow spares no detail in his graphic and striking actions scenes, The Power of the Dog is ultimately an intimate character study and a conclusive referendum on the inner workings of both the drug trade and the fight to stop it. It is a true testament to Winslow's authorial prowess that the novel manages to cover such a large period of time and characters while still being the kind of thriller that you can't stop reading. Moreso, the depth of Winslow's research brings an authenticity that grounds this novel in a reality that is undeniable. Several times I had to remind myself that I was reading a work of fiction. The Power of the Dog is the first in a trilogy that includes The Cartel and this year's The Border. It reads as a complete work, but I can't wait to see where these characters go next.

For more information, visit the author's website, Amazon, and Goodreads.
(2019, 14)

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10 Responses to “The Power of the Dog by Don Winslow”

  1. This looks and sounds fantastic Ethan. I've seen his tweets, but didn't make the connection that he is also an author. I love stories like this that are steeped in fact and insider intel. Wonderful review!

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    1. He's written some real page turners, but this is easily his most monumental work!

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  2. I found out about this guy from The Real Book Spy, and recently picked up The Border, which I can't wait to read. I'm liking you more and more Exemplary Ethan because you're reading lots and lots of stuff I like.(lol)For some strange reason, years, and years ago, I picked up this fascination with drug cartels and started following everything there is about the drug smugglers/dealers from the 70's and 80's, Pablo Escobar, Griselda Blanco, El Chapo and the list goes on. I read about it, watched the televisions shows and movies. If these people would have just used their brilliance to do the right thing instead of dealing drugs, the sky would have been the limit of all the positive things they could have achieved for themselves and others. Thanks another wonderful review! Hugs...RO

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    1. It is a good point that they had such misguided ambition. I think Winslow argues that the system fostered that misguidance. I'm looking forward to reading both The Cartel and The Border!

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  3. Wow. I've seen his books more and more, and I have to admit they intimidate me, but your review has me WANTING to dive into one of his books too.

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    1. He writes big books, but they don't feel long when you read them!

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  4. I'm drawn to books that are well-researched and feel like it, but also retain the engaging quality of a story instead of a textbook. Sounds like this author achieved it.

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    1. I can't say enough great things about it!

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  5. This one sounds fascinating - and it seems obvious that Winslow did his research and due diligence. And how great to know that you can dive right into the other books.

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    1. I'm really looking forward to the next ones.

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