“I’ve long and often said that the ‘Mexican Drug Problem’ is really the American drug problem,” says Don Winslow who recently completed "The Border," the third book in his Cartel Trilogy.
Though Winslow writes fiction, his New York Times bestselling books are all too real.
“We’re the consumers and the ones funding the cartels and fueling this violence because of our demand for drugs,” Winslow says.
“And then we have the nerve to point to Mexico and talk about Mexico corruption. What about our corruption? If there’s anyone who should be building a wall, it’s Mexico to protect themselves from our demand.”
Winslow’s action-paced books, written in a style he describes as “close third-person,” are good reads on several levels, including the enjoyment of a well-researched thriller about Drug Enforcement Agency undercover operative, Art Keller. Keller struggles in a harrowing world amid Mexican cartel power struggles, traffickers, drug mules, teenage hitmen, families seeking asylum to escape the drug wars, narcos, cops and political corruption on both sides of the border, as well as attorneys and journalists.
The other level is the indictment of what he views as a failed policy by the U.S. to stem the tide of drugs.
“We’ve had a War on Drugs for almost 50 years and last year, more people died of drug overdoses than ever before,” Winslow says.
“We’ve already had this lab experiment, and it was called Prohibition. As long as you have people wanting drugs, you’ll have people selling drugs. The way to end the violence and crime that goes along with drug use is to legalize drugs and treat them as the social health problem they are.”
Whether you agree with Winslow, whose books have been acquired by FX Networks for television, his writing is compelling as he takes us into a world he has inhabited since his first book, "The Power of the Dog," was published. He intended to end the series with "The Cartel," his second book about Keller, which he sold to Fox for a seven-figure amount.
“I swore that was my last book — I was done,” he says.
“But the difficulty was that the story wasn’t. The violence in Mexico is increasing, the heroin epidemic in the U.S. is killing more people, and the immigration issue — there was more to discuss. Like in my first two books, I had more to say through the medium of crime fiction.”
Winslow says the escalating violence in Mexico is amazing. In 1998, the big news was the murder of 19 people in a Mexican village that was drug-related.
“By the time I was working on 'The Cartel,' that kind of incident wouldn’t even be in the papers, it’s such a low body count,” says Winslow, noting that the difficulties in writing his earlier books was finding people involved in the drug trade who were willing to talk.
“By the time I got done writing 'The Cartel,' people who had been hiding their crimes were celebrating them.”
But Winslow says he’s seeing a definite groundswell of change.
“Cities are doing some really interesting and forward thinking about it,” he says.
“We have a 2.2 million prison population behind bars — and 20 percent of that is drugs; we have 181,000 in federal prison and around 90,000 of those are drug-related. We are the market for drugs. We’re 5 percent of the world’s population, and we use 80 percent of the opioids. We need to be doing something different.”
Though he says he’s done with the Cartel Trilogy, Winslow acknowledges it was weird when he sent off his final manuscript.
“That was 20 years of my life, a total of one-third of my life,” he says.