From the New York Times bestselling author of The Cartel comes an explosive novel of the drug trade that takes you deep inside a world riddled with corruption, betrayal, and bloody revenge.
The prequel to The Cartel, and set about 10 years earlier, The Power of the Dog introduces a brilliant cast of characters. Art Keller is an obsessive DEA agent. The Barrera brothers 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 merciless hit man. And they are all trapped in the world of the Mexican drug Federación. 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.
About the Author
Bestselling author Don Winslow has written nineteen books and numerous short stories, as well as writing for television and film. He has received the Raymond Chandler Award, the Los Angeles Times Book Prize, and the Ian Fleming Steel Dagger Award. A former private investigator and trial consultant, Winslow lives in Southern California.
Read an Excerpt
State of Sinaloa
The poppies burn.
Red blossoms, red flames.
Only in hell, Art Keller thinks, do flowers bloom fire.
Art sits on a ridge above the burning valley. Looking down is like peering into a steaming soup bowl—he can’t see clearly through the smoke, but what he can make out is a scene from hell.
Hieronymus Bosch does the War on Drugs.
Campesinos—Mexican peasant farmers—trot in front of the flames, clutching the few possessions they could grab before the soldiers put the torch to their village. Pushing their children in front of them, the campesinos carry sacks of food, family photographs bought at great price, some blankets, some clothes. Their white shirts and straw hats—stained yellow with sweat—make them ghost-like in the haze of smoke.
Except for the clothes, Art thinks, it could be Vietnam.
He’s half-surprised, glancing at the sleeve of his own shirt, to see blue denim instead of army green. Reminds himself that this isn’t Operation Phoenix but Operation Condor, and these aren’t the bamboo-thick mountains of I Corps, but the poppy-rich mountain valleys of Sinaloa.
And the crop isn’t rice, it’s opium.
Art hears the dull bass whop-whop-whop of helicopter rotors and looks up. Like a lot of guys who were in Vietnam, he finds the sound evocative. Yeah, but evocative of what? he asks himself, then decides that some memories are better left buried.
Choppers and fixed-wing planes circle overhead like vultures. The airplanes do the actual spraying; the choppers are there to help protect the planes from the sporadic AK-47 rounds fired by the remaining gomeros—opium growers—who still want to make a fight of it. Art knows too well that an accurate burst from an AK can bring down a chopper. Hit it in the tail rotor and it will spiral down like a broken toy at a kid’s birthday party. Hit the pilot, and, well . . . So far they’ve been lucky and no choppers have been hit. Either the gomeros are just bad shots, or they’re not used to firing on helicopters.
Technically, all the aircraft are Mexican—officially, Condor is a Mexican show, a joint operation between the Ninth Army Corps and the State of Sinaloa—but the planes were bought and paid for by the DEA and are flown by DEA contract pilots, most of them former CIA employees from the old Southeast Asia crew. Now there’s a tasty irony, Keller thinks—Air America boys who once flew heroin for Thai warlords now spray defoliants on Mexican opium.
The DEA wanted to use Agent Orange, but the Mexicans had balked at that. So instead they are using a new compound, 24-D, which the Mexicans feel comfortable with, mostly, Keller chuckles, because the gomeros were already using it to kill the weeds around the poppy fields.
So there was a ready supply.
Yeah, Art thinks, it’s a Mexican operation. We Americans are just down here as “advisers.”
Just with different ball caps.
The American War on Drugs has opened a front in Mexico. Now ten thousand Mexican army troops are pushing through this valley near the town of Badiraguato, assisting squadrons of the Municipal Judicial Federal Police, better known as the federales, and a dozen or so DEA advisers like Art. Most of the soldiers are on foot; others are on horseback, like vaqueros driving cattle in front of them. Their orders are simple: Poison the poppy fields and burn the remnants, scatter the gomeros like dry leaves in a hurricane. Destroy the source of heroin here in the Sinaloan mountains of western Mexico.
The Sierra Occidental has the best combination of altitude, rainfall and soil acidity in the Western Hemisphere to grow Papaver somniferum, the poppy that produces the opium that is eventually converted to Mexican Mud, the cheap, brown, potent heroin that has been flooding the streets of American cities.
Operation Condor, Art thinks.
There hasn’t been an actual condor seen in Mexican skies in over sixty years, longer in the States. But every operation has to have a name or we don’t believe it’s real, so Condor it is.
Art’s done a little reading on the bird. It is (was) the largest bird of prey, although the term is a little misleading, as it preferred scavenging over hunting. A big condor, Art learned, could take out a small deer; but what it really liked was when something else killed the deer first so the bird could just swoop down and take it.
We prey on the dead.
Another Vietnam flashback.
Death from the Sky.
And here I am, crouched in the brush again, shivering in the damp mountain cold again, setting up ambushes.
Except the target now isn’t some VC cadre on his way back to his village, but old Don Pedro Áviles, the drug lord of Sinaloa, El Patrón himself. Don Pedro’s been running opium out of these mountains for half a century, even before Bugsy Siegel himself came here, with Virginia Hill in tow, to nail down a steady source of heroin for the West Coast Mafia.
Siegel made the deal with a young Don Pedro Áviles, who used that leverage to make himself patrón, the boss, a status he’s maintained to this day. But the old man’s power has been slipping a little lately as some young up-and-comers have started to challenge his authority. The law of nature, Art supposes—the young lions eventually take on the old. Art has been kept awake more than one night in his Culiacán hotel room by the sound of machine-gun fire in the streets, so common lately that the city has gained the nickname Little Chicago.
Well, after today, maybe they won’t have anything to fight about.
Arrest old Don Pedro and you put an end to it.
And make yourself a star, he thinks, feeling a little guilty.
Art is a true believer in the War on Drugs. Growing up in San Diego’s Barrio Logan, he saw firsthand what heroin does to a neighborhood, particularly a poor one. So this is supposed to be about getting drugs off the streets, he reminds himself, not advancing your career.
But the truth of it is that being the guy to bring down old Don Pedro Áviles would make your career.
Which, truth be told, could use a boost.
The DEA is a new organization, barely three years old. When Richard Nixon declared a War on Drugs, he needed soldiers to fight it. Most of the new recruits came from the old Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs; a lot of them came from various police departments around the country, but not a few of the early start-up draft into the DEA came from the Company.
Art was one of these Company Cowboys.
That’s what the police types call any of the guys who came in from the CIA. There’s a lot of resentment and mistrust of the covert types by the law enforcement types.
Shouldn’t be, Art thinks. It’s basically the same function—intelligence gathering. You find your assets, cultivate them, run them and act on the intelligence they give you. The big difference between his new work and his old work is that in the former you arrest your targets, and in the latter you just kill them.
Operation Phoenix, the programmed assassination of the Vietcong infrastructure.
Art hadn’t done too much of the actual “wet work.” His job back in Vietnam was to collect raw data and analyze it. Other guys, mostly Special Forces on loan to the Company, went out and acted on Art’s information.
They usually went out at night, Art recalls. Sometimes they’d be gone for days, then reappear back at the base in the small hours of the morning, cranked up on Dexedrine. Then they’d disappear into their hooches and sleep for days at a time, then go out and do it again.
Art had gone out with them only a few times, when his sources had produced info about a large group of cadres concentrated in the area. Then he’d accompany the Special Forces guys to set up a night ambush.
He hadn’t liked it much. Most of the time he was scared shitless, but he did his job, he pulled the trigger, he took his buddies’ backs, he got out alive with all his limbs attached and his mind intact. He saw a lot of shit he wishes he could forget.
I just have to live with the fact, Art thinks, that I wrote men’s names down on paper and, in the act of doing so, signed their death warrants. After that, it’s a matter of finding a way to live decently in an indecent world.
But that fucking war.
That goddamn motherfucking war.
Like a lot of people, he watched the last helicopters taking off from Saigon rooftops on television. Like a lot of vets, he went out and got good and stinking drunk that night, and when the offer came to move over to the new DEA, he jumped at it.
He talked it over with Althie first.
“Maybe this is a war worth fighting,” he told his wife. “Maybe this is a war we can actually win.”
And now, Art thinks as he sits and waits for Don Pedro to show up, we might be close to doing it.
His legs ache from sitting still but he doesn’t move. His stint in Vietnam taught him that. The Mexicans spaced in the brush around him are likewise disciplined—twenty special agents from the DFS, armed with Uzis, dressed in camouflage.
Tío Barrera is wearing a suit.
Even up here in the high brush, the governor’s special assistant is wearing his trademark black suit, white button-down shirt, skinny black tie. He looks comfortable and serene, the image of Latino male dignity.
He reminds you of one of those matinee idols from an old ’40s movie, Art thinks. Black hair slicked back, pencil mustache, thin, handsome face with cheekbones that look like they’re cut from granite.
Eyes as black as a moonless night.
Officially, Miguel Ángel Barrera is a cop, a Sinaloa state policeman, the bodyguard to the state governor, Manuel Sánchez Cerro. Unofficially, Barrera is a fixer, the governor’s point man. And seeing how Condor is technically a Sinaloa state operation, Barrera is the guy who’s really running the show.
And me, Art thinks. If I really want to be honest about it, Tío Barrera is running me.
The twelve weeks of DEA training weren’t that hard. The PT was a breeze—Art could easily run the three-mile course and play basketball, and the self-defense component was unsophisticated compared with Langley. The instructors just had them wrestle and box, and Art had finished third in the San Diego Golden Gloves as a kid.
He was a mediocre middleweight with good technique but slow hands. He found out the hard truth that you can’t learn speed. He was just good enough to get into the upper ranks, where he could really get beat up. But he showed he could take it, and that was his ticket as a mixed-race kid in the barrio. Mexican fight fans have more respect for what a fighter can take than for what he can dish out.
And Art could take it.
After he started boxing, the Mexican kids pretty much left him alone. Even the gangs backed off him.
In the DEA training sessions he made it a point to take it easy on his opponents in the ring, though. There was no point in beating someone up and making an enemy just to show off.
The law enforcement–procedure classes were tougher, but he got through them all right, and the drug training was pretty easy, questions like, Can you identify marijuana? Can you identify heroin? Art resisted the impulse to answer that he always could at home.
The other temptation he resisted was to finish first in his class. He could have, knew he could have, but decided to fly under the radar. The law enforcement guys already felt that the Company types were trespassing on their turf, so it was better to walk lightly.
So he took it a little easy in the physical training, kept quiet in class, punted a few questions on the tests. He did enough to do well, to pass, but not enough to shine. It was a little harder to be cool in the field training. Surveillance practice? Old hat. Hidden cameras, mikes, bugs? He could install them in his sleep. Clandestine meetings, dead drops, live drops, cultivating a source, interrogating a suspect, gathering intelligence, analyzing data? He could have taught the course.
He kept his mouth shut, graduated, and was declared a Special Agent of the DEA. They gave him a two-week vacation and sent him straight to Mexico.
Right to Culiacán.
The capital of the Western Hemisphere drug trade.
Opium’s market town.
The belly of the beast.
His new boss gave him a friendly greeting. Tim Taylor, the Culiacán RAC (Resident Agent in Charge) had already perused Art’s shield and seen through the transparent screen. He didn’t even look up from the file. Art was sitting across from his desk and the guy said, “Vietnam?”
“ ‘Accelerated Pacification Program’ . . .”
“Yup.” Accelerated Pacification Program, aka Operation Phoenix. The old joke being that a lot of guys got peaceful in a hurry.
“CIA,” Taylor said, and it wasn’t a question, it was a statement.
Question or statement, Art didn’t answer it. He knew the book on Taylor—he was an old BNDD guy who’d lived through the low-budget bad days. Now that drugs were a fat priority, he didn’t intend to lose his hard-earned gains to a bunch of new kids on the block.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I am now 6 books in on my "read Don Winslow" project,and The Power of the Dog easily rates up at the top along with Savages. This is such a talented writer, and this book such a wonderful depiction of drugs, money, power, the church, the state, and the feableness of the human that I cannot imagine I will not read it again. It's also a sad story in that the War on Drugs is such a failure, with so much money and so many lives wasted. Our country has been turned into a criminal enterprise, and it is a shame.
Winslow blends enormous amounts of historical material in a gripping saga of several decades of the US war on drugs. The interplay between the various governments and their militaries, the narcotrafficantes, the church, and the individials is powerful, disturbing and at times unimaginable. A great read
Don Winslow is a talented writer. Believable characters and "insight" about the War on Drugs.
This is a fictional history of the early years of the war on drugs in Mexico and it will have to serve until a real history can be written. There are a few innocents, but no heroes and the narco "bad guys" strike me as less evil than the sociopathic self-righteous DEA and other US government "good guys". I can understand the popularity of the narcos among some elements of Mexican (and other Latin American) society.
i read his first book before buying his latest to see what kind of author he was. Plus, the library had this copy and not the latest. It was a little difficult getting into the story and following the characters but once i did it was a good read. I would not go out right away and buy the second. but get it later on when the library has it in stock.
Another good book from this author
The only reason I picked up this novel was a suggestion by a Mark Greaney, he of the Gray Man novel and soon to be released on Target (Sept. 28th,2010, sorry I had to get that in there; I am looking forward to it). I think highly of Mark and his opinions, so I tried to get The Power of the Dog a.s.a.p., figuring that this is going to be a hot read. I got it, I looked at the back cover for the synopsis of the novel, and I was totally intrigued. Here is what is on the back cover: "Art Keller is an obsessive DEA agent. The Barrera brothers 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 merciless hit man. And they are all trapped in the world of the Mexican drug Federacion. 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." I am going to be honest and admit to not knowing of this author and his incredible work. The skill he possesses in his narratives is amazing. He switches from locale to locale throughout the novel and it doesn't feel disjointed, yet it is like a violent fabric being woven. He ties all the stories and characters together in a nice tight bundle that left me totally dumbfounded. This is creative storytelling being done by someone not only with some chops, but near mastery. I have every desire to read the rest of his work; he has really caught my interest and desire for more. I feel the title should be changed in future reprints to "The Power Of The Winslow". Boiled down to its basic ingredients, Don Winslow took a very tired plotline of the drug world, and transformed it using an OCD ex-CIA operative, greedy druggies, a ho, a crazy priest, a group of bungling Mafioso's, and a couple of Irish kids. If you haven't had the pleasure of reading Winslow's work, please do. You are opening the door to engaging humor, the human condition, and one heck of a roller coaster ride. Grab hold and feel "The Power of the Dog"; it will take a bite out of you. What are you reading today? Check us out and become our friend on Facebook and Shelfari. Go to Goodreads and become our friend there and suggest books for us to read and post on. You can also follow us on Twitter, Book Blogs, and the Gelati's Scoop Facebook Fan Page, also look for our posts on Amazon, Barnes and Nobles, and the Bucks County Library System. Did you know you can shop directly on Amazon by clicking the Gelati's Store Tab on our blog? Thanks for stopping by today; we will see you tomorrow. Have a great day. http://www.gelatisscoop.blogspot.com
This book is a scathing portrayal of the war on drugs written in a gripping fashion that takes you right to the action. Ready for Hollywood!
Very well written.
Death and Life of Bobby Z was entertaining, and California Fire and Life was a huge amount of fun, but with Power of the Dog, Don Winslow really grows up as a master storyteller. With this work he has achieved the epic, bringing you through entire families and generations intertwined with the drug trade/war on drugs. There are no clear cut good guys and bad guys, and his characters all come with definitive histories that prove this fact over and over again. Winslow's previous books have been clever, but this one crosses over into the realm of being smart.
I have been waiting for a book like this for years. The biggest disappointment was seeing the it was coming to an end. A book that makes you wish you had found it just before vacation so you could enjoy it on the beach! I'm looking for other books by Winslow so I can get my fix again.
President Nixon declares war on drug trafficking so in Culiacan, Mexico, United States DEA Agent Art Keller is assigned to destroy the evil empire of drug kingpin Don Pedro Aviles. In his endeavor, Art meets and befriends Adan and Raul Barrera; not realizing that the two siblings are nephews of rising drug lord Miguel Barrera. . Meanwhile in San Diego Nora Hayden decides to get paid for what men want from her at about the same time that Manhattan¿s Sean Callan becomes a mob hit man. --- Over the next three decades the paths of these six people intersect several times until 1999 when a no longer idealistic Art sees his side losing the war on drugs with peers coming home in body bags. He no longer worries about the line between the law and crime as justice is what he demands. He plans to begin with his former friends the Barrera brothers. As for Nora as Adan¿s mistress if she becomes collateral damage so be it even if that means Sean will come after him. --- Don Winslow provides a deep look at the war on drugs that seem a failure after three decades, which will lead readers to ponder the chances of winning the war on terrorism by military means. The story line is action ¿packed though it occurs over three decades and is clearly driven by the key cast members especially the Barrera brothers and Keller. THE POWER OF THE DOG is that rare thriller that has the audience on the edge of their seats yet analyzing the outcome in terms of the potential of a slow win of the war on terror.--- Harriet Klausner
Awesome rollicking and addictive read about the Mexican and Colombian drug cartels trafficking coke to the US and the US' 'War on Drugs'. Once you start reading, it's hard to stop.
This is a cracker of a novel, ambitious in its scope and multi-layered in plot and characterisation. It's quite retro in it's subject matter, recalling the days of Nicaragua, the Sandinistas, the Cold War communists, the American Mafia and then throws the Irish, the Neo-cons, the Mexican banditos and even Opus Dei into the mix. The plot thunders along and the violence levels are acute, recalling the worst excesses of James Ellroy or James Lee Burke and sometimes verging toward horror as opposed to crime fiction. But it's well-written stuff and the author is able to carry it off, managing to shock and disturb the reader into considering what really did go on with the Right Wing Death Squads in Central America, never mind drugs and the Columbians. The only weak part of the novel was found in the female characters who I found to be a bit one-dimensional in the uber-macho world created. Apart from that, this is a great read and I too will be reading more of this author's output in future.
This is hands down one of the most depressing books I've ever read. Yet it easily makes my top ten best. It is the story of the American Drug War, specifically as it relates to Mexico. It's fictional but Winslow captures it all and creates characters that will resonate with you long after you finish. Even better he'll have you scrambling to Google to see just how true certain events are. Great writer and great book.
My feeling was that this book, dated 2006, was brilliant but a bit far-fetched.As I was reading the last few pages in 2010 the news came of the capture of a drug hit-man in Mexico who decapitated his victims and left others hanging under a bridge near the fenced off American border. He is 14 years of age.
543 pages. And I still don't know "Power of the Dog" means. Epic (30 year) story of the drug war, specifically in Mexico, but it includes everything - Mafia in NY, bribery on an incredible scale, militias in Colombia, prostitution, an earthquake, kidnappings, communism in Latin America, Chinese AK-47's bought in Hong Kong, and murders everywhere. Incredible violence, and each scene is on a huge scale. So it seems that every time there is a killing, there are at least half a dozen victims, often twice as many. Or the law arrive after the fact and see the remains of torture, beheadings, rapes, burnings, castrations etc etc. Not realistic ? - a week ago at the same time 1/8/11 as the Tucson shootings, 10 bodies were found in a parking lot of a mall in Acapulco, nine of which were beheaded (the Washington Post gave the story about 150 words). Everyone is guilty, everyone has a secret agenda,there are no white knights, especially in Mexican government. But is this real, or just fantasy. Some exaggerated version of history? I was intrigued by several of the scenes because many rang a bell, and so I researched several of the more spectacular killings, and found similarities with many incidents reported in the news over the last 30 years. This is a scary book, especially for those of us who are so remote from the drug scene, from the Mexican border. But it's a book well worth reading and it's a very well written book.
A great tale of the movement of drugs through geography and time and the intertwining of the forces of law and disorder. Almost beating Ellroy as a master weaver of fact and fiction in crime.
Dark, gripping and morally conflicted novel. Epic sweep through thirty years of fighting the drug trade flowing North from Mexico. There are few good guys, and no one comes away unscathed. Wee bit political when dealing with CIA forays into Central America, but otherwise a straight up heart thumping page turner. Highly recommended for all who like dark crime thrillers and can stomach the violence.
Don Winslow's third book, after The Death & Life of Bobby Z and California Fire & Life, moves him resoundingly into the realm of writers like Raymond Chandler, James Ellroy, George Pelecanos, writers who practice their craft within the strictures of a certain genre but who through their artistry soar above the genre. Don't get me wrong--I'm no snob; I love genre fiction, go for weeks at a time reading it exclusively. I revel in it, I appreciate it for what it is, and sometimes I mainline it, like a drug. All of this makes me appreciate it even more when someone like Winslow takes it to the next level. The Power of the Dog is a novel about the rise of the Mexican drug trade, from the seventies up to the present day. It is as much driven by character as it is driven by action--but believe me, there's no shortage of action. We watch as the American DEA in its early years unwittingly lays the groundwork for a thriving Mexican drug underworld. Mexico is divided up into three main areas, each run by its own crime boss, all of whom are ruled by an American-style entrepreneur, schooled in the ways of American big business, running his crime world like a corporation. It's a chilling world in which the logical conclusion of any given business or personal transaction is the one which yields the most money or power, even if that road runs red with the blood of family and friends, as well as the blood of enemies. The Power of the Dog is a book that will haunt you for days afterward, both by the power of the story told and the beauty of the words used to tell it.
The war on (please insert horrible thing to be fought against here) the U.S. are fighting is - big surprise - a war that won't work, a war that won't be won, a useless war because it tackles symptoms rather than root causes and allies itself with evil to try to win.See - well see all sorts of things if you watch the news.This book is about the useless and at times hilarious war on drugs. Three lives are followed over a time period of 30 years. There's a DEA agent who yet has to find out how futile it all is, there's a high-class prostitute with more moral fibre and courage (not to mention intelligence) than 90% of our politicians world wide, there's a killer caught in the organized crime scene as a teenager and now there's no way out, no way back to 'normal'.Good, gripping read.
‘The Power of the Dog’ is an amazing tale which weaves together four or five story lines into one larger one. With all of the weaving and characters sometimes it’s hard to keep them all straight and with all of the various side plots it also makes for a very long book and unfortunately it felt a bit long reading it. The characters are a bit one dimensional but the writing is good and the plot while a bit long winded and full of violence was very interesting.
For all intents and purposes this book can be considered a true story and not a fictional account of the Mexican drug wars. And they are not over by a longshot. This is compelling must read journalism. Author Winslow has written as good a novel as if it were a journalistic news in depth expose. And it is an extremely disturbing story. And it is all about a WAR. J. M. Lydon