There is a moment during The Power of the Dog, the first part in Don Winslow’s outstanding Cartel Trilogy, where one cartel demonstrates their commitment to a very lucrative deal by kidnapping the young children of their nearest rival, a significant figure in the Mexican drug trade, driving them to the site of said deal, which happens to be located on a bridge overlooking a rocky fast moving river, and promptly throwing the screaming children off the bridge to their deaths. It’s harrowing, upsetting, and reminds the reader that no one is safe.
This is Don Winslow’s world of crime.
You would be forgiven for not having discovered Winslow. Despite the like of Ian Rankin, Lee Child and James Ellroy singing his praises, he only hit blockbuster status in 2015 with the release of The Cartel, the immediate sequel to The Power of the Dog. Which is a shame considering his writing career has spanned nearly thirsty years.
His debut novel, A Cool Breeze on the Underground, would be the first of five novels feature investigator Neal Carey but it wouldn’t be until the release and success of The Death and Life of Bobby Z six years later that Winslow would be able to quit his day job and be a full time writer.
Between 1999 and 2005, however, Winslow would dedicate his time fully to researching and writing what would eventually be the manuscript for The Power of the Dog. While he did not intend for the process to take so long, the scope of the novel, which takes place between 1975 and 2005, became enormous. What was eventually release was a 600-page behemoth, that spanned decades and featured hundreds of characters.
Much like James Ellroy, whose style Winslow emulates, his later work since The Power of the Dog has been larger in scope and more confident. He’s still undeniably a crime writer, for sure, yet petty criminals have been left behind in favour of far grander narratives. Between The Cartel and The Border, he released The Force, a novel told from the POV of a deeply corrupt New York police detective that rings a little too true to real life. He also wrote the screenplay for the film adaptation of his 2010 novel Savages, that was directed by Oliver Stone.
If you haven’t read anything by Don Winslow, you’re definitely missing out. While his novels are often graphic and pull no punches, you can’t deny the earnestness of his work.
His latest book, Broken, is out now in hardback and on kindle.