Don Winslow’s The Border is an attention gripping crime thriller and, at once, a historical fiction. The novel, a sequel to The Cartel and The Power of the Dog, is based on Drug Enforcement Administration’s ‘war on drugs.’
A thorough researcher and an artful writer, Winslow takes readers on an emotional roller-coaster—The Border is an eloquent narrative of happy and sad denouements, of love and loss, of at times triumphant and at times defeated characters, of hope and despair, of audacity and caution, and of luck, opportunities and dilemmas.
The voluminous text follows Art Keller, a former DEA agent who is offered a job as head of the federal agency. Ben O’Brien, the US senator who extends the offer, wraps his ulterior motives with a “you are the most suited for the job” mantle. Keller, however, is determined to make a meaningful difference and works with NYPD and a number of other police departments to mount a major operation with the intention of bringing to justice not mere junkies or lowly drug dealers but drug and related money laundering kingpins both from the US and Mexico.
Alternating between simple present tense and past tense, Winslow weaves together several stories, all revolving around illegal drug trafficking: Drug cartels violently clamoring for power supremacy in Mexico leaving multitudes of innocent people injured, scores dead, and everyone in danger; Junkies struggling with their expensive habits in American city streets, some trying to reform and others losing their lives to overdoses; Criminal gangs terrorizing poor neighborhoods in Guatemala and businesses in Mexico; Immigrants braving an impossible journey to the US in search for safety only to be greeted by more dangers in the “free world.”
A master storyteller, Winslow brings these stories together, employing the third person omniscient narrator to be in the minds and hearts of his numerous characters and in the multiple locations where the stories are set.
The novel concludes almost tragically. Keller’s investigation culminates with massive evidence against major drug kingpins and money launderers. Unfortunately, the newly elected president of the US is directly linked to these illegal activities and is hell bent on obstructing justice. While two major drug lords have been arrested and are waiting to be charged, the powers that be threaten to bring Keller’s lifelong, hard, and costly work to an inefficacious close. Even worse, Keller himself has not always played by the book. Apprehensive colleagues abandon Keller who is adamant to see something come out of his hard-fought battle while adversaries fight to stifle his efforts. Marisol, his most beloved and treasured partner leaves him when she finds out that he had previously lied to her. Broken, Keller testifies before a senate committee incriminating senator O’Brien, the new presidents’ son-in-law and other highly ranking members of government and DEA. In his incredible testimony, he also owns up to a plethora of illegalities and states that he is ready to carry his cross.
Don Winslow’s ability to portray the reality of life, with characters having to choose between something bad and something even worse, makes him one of the most thrilling and realistic authors of our time. In The Border, Winslow demonstrates the often hard to see grey areas of life, complicating what many view as a straight-forward relationship between right and wrong, good and evil. This way, he lays bare the complex relationship between people and between nations, particularly the US and Mexico, and consequently critiques simplistic approaches to these relationships.