The Power of the Dog by Don Winslow

I’ve been enjoying Don Winslow’s books for several years. Most of them are traditional crime or detective novels and many with a California setting.  I read The Cartel in 2015 and loved it – it also had great reviews and sold well.  Then I realized that The Power of the Dog, published about 10 years prior,  was actually the prequel to The Cartel.  Hmmmm…. I didn’t want to bother for the most part but then … voila … it was on sale.
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The Power of the Dog
by Don Winslow
2005/ 560 pages
read by Ray Porter – 20h 13m
rating:  A 
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This is good – it just doesn’t have the impact for me that The Cartel did.  These are the earlier years of Art Keller and his hunt for Adán Barrera who is loosely modeled after “El Chapo,”  Juan Guzman.   I really wish I’d read them in order because I feel like I already know how the story ends (although El Chapo might escape again any day – he’s due for deportation/extradition to the US for trial).

Opening with an especially gruesome scene, The Power of the Dog continues with almost steadily increasing graphic sex and brutal violence, as well as love and betrayal,  which includes the drug dealers,  the cops of all levels,  government officials,  prostitutes, wives, mothers,  children, priests and all manner of people.  It’s about money, sex, drugs,  violence and the truth about the war on drugs. So beware Gentle Reader,  because this is the Godfather on crank.

In some ways it’s a true story – based on a true story anyway.  And it’s based on the  long true story of the drug lord territorial wars between the 1970s to 2005 and taking place all over Central America with a few scenes in New York and California.   From what I understand,  Winslow did an incredible amount of research for the two books,  The Power of the Dog and Cartel.  And he’s fed up with the incredibly expensive war on drugs so this book has a fair amount of polemic – not too much though.

The characters involved become obsessed with “the business,”  the money, the women, the power so their place in it,  whether they are cops or dealers,  major players or part of the entourage is paramount.   Super aggressive competition and the lowest forms of corruption are rampant.  Money buys whatever or whomever it wants and they don’t much use for disloyalty – or perceived disloyalty.  Some of the characters spend their whole lives in this business, making money,  their names,  becoming as powerful as they can, and dying.  But loving people sometimes makes them vulnerable.

The are many characters because there were lots of drug lords and wanna-be drug lords and viscous wars for dominance. There was also lots of US involvement from various agencies, DEA, FBI, CIA.   Even the upper echelons of the Catholic Church is involved. (!)  At first it’s a bit  hard to tell who is who and on which side they play (if not both),   but after awhile that straighten itself out as the main characters continue to grow their businesses or go after their targets.

The major theme is how the “war” on drugs was a wasted effort and the drug lords, with all their money and corruption and violence,  won while the US efforts became seriously corrupt.  And it gets more political than that,  according to the novel,  NAFTA sunk the Mexican middle class (because big money bought the land where they could now grow lots of stuff and ship to the US very cheaply).   US enforcement is a corrupt joke,  etc.  Drug lords have families,  law enforcement folks have families, there’s too much money and sex and everyone is scared.  So too many people have been killed while too many addicts have died.  But this is the reality of our world,  so it’s nonfiction in part,  because more “product” flows into the US daily from a poor country just over a basically unprotected border where the worst of thugs fight it out for control.

Bottom line if you think you’ll appreciate, or at least get past, the level of violence I strongly recommend you read this book first and then get on with The Cartel.  (And I loved The Cartel – it seemed like Winslow hit his stride with that one.)

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Power_of_the_Dog

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Home by Harlan Coben

I’ve read three  of Coben’s more  recent stand-alones,  but this is the first of a series – so I choose #16 right?  –  oh well … I was a little lost by a couple of the characters but for the most part the story gelled and was quite satisfying.   I might try some earlier books in the series.

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Home
by Harlan Coben
2016 / 400 pages
read by Steven Weber
rating:  A / crime series
(11th of the Myron Bolitar series)
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Ten years ago two 6-year old boys were kidnapped from their upper class homes and although every attempt was made to find them,  they’d disappeared.  Win Lockwood, Myron’s informal partner,   thinks he spots one of the boys in a London slum.   He alerts Myron Bolitar,  his good friend in New York who joins him  and together they work on the case first there and then back in the US – often Win is in London and Bolitar in New York.   Bolitar’s  secretary Esperanza helps with many details.

Anyway,   they get one of the boys back in the early chapters – or think they do – and the chase is on for the other one although that’s problematical.

There are elements of  deduction, scenes of violence and chase and even some moments of tenderness in this one.  Coben’s pretty good and I enjoyed Steven Weber’s narration. I,  like so many other fans apparently,  love the characters of Myron and Win and will likely try a few of the earlier novels.

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Breakfast with Buddha by Roland Merullo

I got six Audible books at the last sale and am reading (listening) through them now.  I got a variety of genres including spiritual fiction (Buddhist), crime, and a general fiction.  A couple of the books had been on my wish list (Harlan Coben and Don Winslow) but the others were all new to me.

Anyway,  first up – Breakfast with Buddha by Roland Merullo,  a spiritual book with emphasis on Buddhism or something similar.  I liked it much more than I expected.

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Breakfast with Buddha: A Novel
by Roland Merullo
2007 / 336 pages
read by Sean Runnette  9h 34m
rating  –  8 / spiritual (Buddhist)
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Otto Ringling is a normal guy,  lives in New Jersey with his wife and two teenage children and commutes to New York where he works at a publishing house which specializes in food books.   When his parents back in western North Dakota both die in a car collision he has to go back and settle the estate.  His nutty sister was going to go with him but she cancels and sends her friend, Volya Rinpoche –   a Rinpoche is a Russo-Tibetan spiritual teacher.   It seems Cecelia is giving her share of the farm to this guru so he can build a school there.

In some way this is a travelogue,  but with a very spiritual twist – so it’s a “quest” book.

We know at the outset that Otto is nominally Christian and that he will return to New Jersey, but that he will have been changed somehow.  He’s not pleased with the prospect of RInpoche as his traveling companion,  but he’s a nice guy so he does it – grudgingly.

He decides to show this Rinpochet America and I was able to follow the their progress on the Google maps.  The trip is full of disillusion at what has happened in America but also Rinpoche’s  alternative attitude and there are twists and turns about all sorts of things,  including Christianity – which Otto does not entirely buy into – he’s nominal.  But they sometimes listen to talk radio and the religious programs and talk shows – this leads to conversations.

An odd thing is that this fits so neatly with Hillbilly Elegy (J.D. Vance) and White Trash(Nancy Isenberg) which I just read.  It was written in 2007 so it’s not about the recent elections at all but there’s a difference between what Otto lives in New York and the peopel who come to Rinpoche’s lectures in Youngstown Ohio where the plants were closed.

The food in the heartland is also different but that’s how some people are met and others are avoided.  (Otto’s parents order hamburgers in Chinese cafes.)  Food is a huge part of the novel because the eating choices are limited but they find the unlikely ones – a Hungarian place,  a Thai place,  as well as the tried and true greasy spoons of the midwest. And in addition to this,   Ottis has a problem with over-eating.

They see Americana from the bowling alley to a baseball game to miniature golf and other things.

The questions addressed in this spiritual novel include   “Why are we good?”  and  “How pure can or should we be?”  “Coincidence.”   And of course there’s death and reincarnation and meditation and so on.

As it turns out this is the first of a series of three books –  Lunch with Buddha (2012)  is second and Dinner with Buddha (2015)  is third.  I don’t know  – I’ll put them on my wish list but just to remind myself they exist – maybe in 6 months.

Christian Science Monitor: 

Wikipedia –

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