The Border by Don Winslow (Narrated by Ray Porter)
Publisher: Blackstone Audio | Release Date: February 26, 2019 | Runtime: 29 hours and 8 minutes
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Thanks to political connections made during the Guatemala raid at the climax of The Cartel, Art Keller is named head of the Drug Enforcement Agency to combat America’s burgeoning heroin epidemic. His efforts at combating the flow of opioids opens an investigation that takes Keller, his agents, and a host of author Don Winslow’s secondary and tertiary characters from the poppy fields of Mexico to the financial barons of Wall Street, and into the heart of the darkest corridors of power in Washington, D.C. As the 2016 presidential election campaign heats up, Keller soon learns that despite now being nearly two thousand miles away from Mexico, the border — and the influence of notorious drug cartels — is closer than ever.
As with the prior two novels, this final book in Winslow’s Power of the Dog series is a labyrinthine crime epic, one that approaches its subject in a mosaic style, offering a large number of subplots, points of view, and characters that weave in and out of the narrative and intersect in surprising ways. The Border closes out Winslow’s examination of the last forty years of America’s War on Drugs, fictionalizing plenty of dramatic real-world occurrences and high profile figures as he tackles a broad view of the illegal drug trade and its various players. Winslow takes us from Keller’s office as director of the DEA to the junkies on the street, exploring the connections between federal and local police forces as an undercover investigation is launched to connect local drug traffickers to their Mexican cartel suppliers, and the money laundering that occurs on either end. With an investigation focused on following the money, Keller eventually finds himself mired in an unholy level of corruption that could not only destroy him, but the country as well.
Casting a large shadow over Keller’s investigation is in-coming president, John Dennison. Dennison is transparently the Donald Trump figure of The Border, to the point that Winslow had to do very little creative juggling to develop this character and simply transcribed Trump speeches and tweets. In short, then, Dennison is every bit the amoral, loudmouthed, obstructive, and corruptive influence as his real-life counterpart, only with Mexican drug cartels swapped out with the Russians as the primary colluding figures. As Keller’s investigation heats up, Dennison takes to Twitter to call him weak and decry the DEA’s work as a witch hunt, in between demands to Build The Wall.
The November 2016 election results propels Keller to stand against not just the Mexican cartels but against his country as well, turning him into a patriotic pariah. Winslow absolutely nails the feelings of depression and despair that washed over the majority of American voters in immediate wake of Trump’s election as we helplessly watched as our country was handed over to a repugnant, immoral racist, sexist, bigot and con artist who rode into the highest office in our land on a wave of hatred and fascist rhetoric. Keller wakes up November 9, 2016 to the disheartening realization that his country is far different than the one he thought he knew.
Winslow is on record as having thought he was finished with his story on the War on Drugs with The Cartel, and in so many ways that book felt like a definite conclusion. Of course, the story dictated otherwise, and the result is The Border, the definitive conclusion to a story that began with The Power of the Dog in 2005. Winslow has been writing about the American War on Drug and all the various facets such an operation has entailed for more than decade, fictionalizing so much of reality, the good, the bad, and the ugly of it all. The resulting books are absolute must-reads, and Winslow has created a powerful and necessary trilogy about one of the US’s longest, bloodiest, and most morally compromised wars in its relatively short history as a nation. The Border is an epic of its time, and it just so happens that its time is so heavily influenced by the orange, idiotic, 800-pound tweeting gorilla in the room, Donald Trump. It’s impossible to avoid a figure like Trump in a contemporary American crime novel about US drug policy, drug trafficking, and the porous nature of the Mexican border and US ports, particularly a figure that routinely shoots his mouth off about building a wall, dehumanizing Mexican immigrants, and belittling Mexicans as nothing more than rapists and murderers. Winslow, and Art Keller, are left with little choice but to face all this head-on.
It would be unfair to characterize Winslow’s depiction of Keller’s investigation as little more than wish-fulfillment, because let’s face it — if it were actually wish-fulfillment, the manchild Trump/Dennison would have never been made president in the first place. Instead, any wish-fulfillment is left to the readers hoping for a lone American patriot to win against a corrupt government and a twisted, morally bankrupt leader. Those who have read Winslow’s prior two Power of the Dog novels know full well that any such victories are not easily won. They come at a cost, and never without deeply personal loss. And Winslow, master that he is, makes you feel each and every inch of this grueling, challenging, hard-fought war.