The Cartel is a high-speed car chase in book form. The novel spans a decade of ceaselessly violent conflict between and among the drug cartels of Mexico; nearly every page is punctuated by acts of torture, death, bloodshed. With that said, the author navigates this hellish landscape by guiding the reader briskly through various set pieces and thrilling confrontations. You don’t have to worry too much about characterization; you know who the bad guys are because they’re suave and handsome; most of the women are incredibly beautiful; and the good guys, the ones with integrity, are the dumpy ones. It’s a helpful shorthand.
It’s also the kind of book with a lot of one-sentence paragraphs.
Sometimes even one-word paragraphs.
At times The Cartel felt almost exploitative, leading the reader through some kind of voyeuristic tour of an all-too-real catastrophe. Yet there were moments of nuance and insight throughout the book: the similarities and distinctions between the wars on drugs and terror; the terrifying progression from gang violence to terrorism and genocide; and most movingly, the courage and unique vulnerability of journalists in this environment. This was a thoroughly entertaining book, most definitely, but the fact that it was grounded in a brutal reality gave the novel surprising heft.
Review Submitted by: Michael Dunn