They have not yet invented a sufficient number of superlatives to describe how much I loved this book. It's an absolute masterpiece and a very worthy conclusion to the trilogy that Winslow began with The Power of the Dog in 2005. It's a sweeping epic with a huge cast that clocks in at 720 pages, and there's not a single wasted word in the entire book.
At the center of the story again is Art Keller who, in one capacity or another, has been fighting the war on drugs for forty years. It's taken a very heavy toll on Keller--physically, psychologically, mentally, emotionally and morally. It's also clearly been a losing battle, and for all the money and effort expended, the scourge of drugs plaguing the United States and its southern neighbors has only gotten worse instead of better. By now, though, too many players from the cartels, to the dealers, to the politicians, to the people owning and running the corrections system, et al., have too big a stake in the "war" and are making far too much money and other capital from it, to give it up.
Art Keller has seen this war up close and personal from literally every angle, and as the book opens, he realizes that it's time to fight it on another front. As long as there's a huge demand for illegal drugs in the U.S., and as long as there's so much money to be made from trafficking those drugs, the flow will never stop. And a border wall is certainly no answer, given that ninety percent of the drugs entering the U.S. from Mexico come through legal ports of entry.
Keller gets his chance when he's appointed Director of the DEA, and he determines that, instead of going after the drugs, he will go after the money, assuming that if the profit disappears, so will the drugs. Keller now mounts his own war, with a few trusted confederates and mostly in secret, to take down those who profit most from the profits of illegal drug sales. It's a new front in the war that poses grave dangers to those who would wage it, Art Keller perhaps most of all.
Keller's efforts play out against a huge increase in the violence associated with the drug trade and at a time when a new scourge--heroin--is exploding into the marketplace. The Sinaloa Cartel, which had imposed at least a rough order on the drug trade with the tacit cooperation of both the Mexican and American governments, is breaking up. Several factions are now struggling to dominate all or at least a part of the trade, and the violence associated with the trade has increased significantly, which will make Keller's task all that much more difficult.
While Keller is the main protagonist, Winslow tells this story through the eyes of drug lords, undercover cops, crooked politicians, drug users, financiers, money-launderers and reporters, as well as the immigrants who are struggling to make their way from Central America to a better life in the United States and who often become collateral damage in the drug war.
The story is beautifully written and the cast of characters, though large, contains many individuals who will remain with the reader for a long time to come. It also has a great deal to say about the country we've become in the first quarter of the Twenty-First Century, and Americans from across the political spectrum could learn a great deal from it. This is a book, along with its two predecessors, that I will be returning to, at least occasionally, for as long as I'm still able to read books--one of the best I've read in a very long time.