It is as multi-stranded as a novel by Victor Hugo, with dozens of characters and storylines, but at the heart of the first two volumes is the relationship between Cassandra-like Drug Enforcement Administration agent Art Keller and his Moriarty, the Mexican drug baron Adán Barrera. In The Border, Barrera is dead, making the cartels even more unstable and dangerous, and Keller switches his focus to an oafish US president named Dennison, whose calls for a border wall are a cover for his own collusion with the cartels.
Winslow’s work is witty and thrilling as well as righteous, and it’s a shame that he’s not better known. This may be because, as TS Eliot put it, humankind cannot bear too much reality; but in an age of President Dennisons, we need writers who bear witness to the truth as unflinchingly as Winslow.
Winslow’s knowledge of all aspects of the drug trade is immense and he shows not only the grand scale of the disaster it has set in motion but also the small individual tragedies it creates... Winslow’s trilogy is a monumental and magnificent achievement. The Border provides all the heart-banging excitement of the best kind of thriller.
With The Cartel peers and critics finally began to recognise the scale and narrative power of Winslow’s project. While The New York Times invoked The Godfather, James Ellroy (his only rival as a series-builder in terms of historical sweep and size of cast) called it “the War and Peace of dope-war books”. Lee Child, Michael Connelly, Stephen King and Ian Rankin have also paid awestruck homage, implicitly inducting Winslow as a fellow-member of crime fiction’s elite.... Towards the end, the fusion of real and fictional elements becomes more problematic, and a denouement involving a long speech by a hero clearly acting as the author’s proxy would usually be regarded as hopelessly old-fashioned and stagy. But the rest of this stirring, stupendous novel, not to mention the entire 1,900-page trilogy covering almost 50 years that it completes, entitles Winslow to any amount of slack.
It is, rather, distinctly Dickensian in its form and purpose. This may seem the oddest of verdicts given that The Border is the completion of a 20-year project on specifically 21st issues, that is, the political and economic fallout of the supply of and demand for illegal drugs.
The Dickensian comparison includes but is not restricted to Winslow’s tendency to sentiment and to the sort of coincidence that strains credulity. These are minor flaws overwhelmed by the sheer vim of a novel that shimmers with brilliance and conviction... It is, then, at the very top end of the genre marked thriller or crime. But Winslow has transcended any narrow barriers, ironically jumping over any wall designed to separate fiction from non-fiction, thriller from social history.
Of all the blows delivered by Don Winslow’s Cartel trilogy, none may be as devastating as the timing of “The Border,” its stunner of a conclusion... Winslow describes sting operations with immersive, heart-grabbing intensity. You don’t read these books; you live in them. You come to learn all about what it means for a good cop to go undercover as a bad one; for a black ex-con to be coaxed into the world of high-stakes New York drug dealing because he can reach a market Mexicans can’t; for a Staten Island addict to fall helpless prey to the drug trade’s latest bright idea (a near-lethal burst of fentanyl added to the usual heroin). Each story is personal. But each has huge ramifications in Winslow’s larger scheme.
No one could ever accuse Don Winslow of writing mimsy-pimsy prose... sometimes it can become bewildering because the scale is so grand. This volume is 720 pages; the trilogy as a whole is nearly 1,900 pages. My advice, though, is to climb Mount Winslow; you can read each novel as a stand-alone, but go back to the start. It is worth the journey. First, he is a pleasure to read: his writing style is direct, intelligent and forceful; he has none of the clunkiness of the run-of-the-mill thriller writer. Second, his research is impeccable... Third, he makes you think.
Don’t be daunted by the imposing length of this epic crime novel — Don Winslow justifies every one of its arm-straining 700-odd pages. Winslow is a writer’s writer, but his work is also a gift to all discerning crime readers. The Cartel and The Force were high water marks in the genre in terms of ambition and reach, and Winslow has excelled again with the final novel in the trilogy, The Border, every inch as pungent and involving as its predecessors.