The cartel (novel)

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The Cartel ( English original title: The Cartel ) is a thriller by Don Winslow from 2015 , which deals with the drug war in Mexico . It is a fictional work inspired by authentic events. The novel is the sequel to Winslow's 2005 published novel Days of the Dead , which bears the original title The Power of the Dog . Consequently, the follow-up novel Das Kartell is also known under the title The Power of the Dog II .


The novel is about the brutality of the drug war in Mexico in the period between 2004 and 2014. The outbreak of drug lord Adán Barrera (this fictional character is inspired by El Chapo ) from the maximum security prison Puente Grande is the drug agent of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), Art Basement, reactivated. Keller had arrested Barrera once and then retired to a monastery as a beekeeper. The American Keller has only limited powers in Mexico and is only officially active as an advisor to the Mexican investigative authorities, which are headed by Chief Prosecutor Luis Aguilar and Police Chief Gerardo Vera. They are often hot on the heels of Barrera, but Barrera can always escape arrest at the last moment. Soon, through a tape leaked to him, Keller found out that police chief Vera was on Barrera's payroll and informed him in good time each time before the emergency services could strike.

In addition, the novel describes the various activities and battles between the cartels. The four most important are the Juárez Cartel , the Gulf Cartel , the Tijuana Cartel, and the Sinaloa Cartel . Also significant are La Familia Michoacana and Los Zetas , two of the cartels' paramilitary organizations.

It turns out that the Zetas in particular, founded by the former officer of an elite Mexican air force unit , Heriberto Ochoa, act with a brutality that is sadistically motivated. The figure of Ochoa, who is also known by the nicknames Z1 and El Verdugo (German: the executioner ), is inspired by Heriberto Lazcano . The second man of the Zetas, Miguel Morales alias Z40 and almost consistently referred to as Forty in the novel , is also inspired by Miguel Morales of the same name .

The Zetas initially acted as the armed arm of the Gulf cartel, but soon became self-employed and gave the "war of the cartels" a new dimension. Because they expand their activities to kidnapping and extortion and degenerate into a kind of "horror cabinet". They terrorize Mexico, show no consideration for civilians, butcher women and children and behead their opponents. By intimidating the media and infiltrating the police in many parts of the country, they have already set up a kind of shadow government.

To curb this harmful influence, the highest Mexican government agencies are allied with the less brutal cartels, such as Barrera's Sinaloa cartel. There is even a solidarity between Keller and Barrera.

Meanwhile, the top management of the Zetas withdraws to Guatemala , where neither the Mexican nor the US-American forces are allowed to act.

Therefore, a non-governmental special unit is formed to attack the Zetas' quarters in the Peten department while Barrera is conducting fake contract negotiations with a hundred of his best people. In the village of Dos Erres there is a showdown in which Keller shoots Barrera.


  • Art (uro) Keller: reactivated DEA drug investigator who is supposed to help arrest drug boss Adán Barrera after his outbreak. Keller, who was instrumental in Barrera’s first arrest, is ideal for this task because his Mexican mother makes him look like a Mexican and speaks fluent Spanish.
  • Adán Barrera: the boss of the Sinaloa cartel was once the most powerful drug boss in the world and aims to reunite the Mexican drug cartels under his leadership. In order to strengthen the alliance with Nacho Esparza, he marries his daughter Eva.
  • Pablo Mora: Journalist for the Juaren newspaper El Periódico . His colleague Ana (with whom he is in love), photographer Giorgio Valencia who works for the same newspaper, and editor-in-chief Óscar Herrera are also among the main characters in the novel.
  • Marisol Cisneros: the doctor is in a relationship with Keller at times. She takes over the office of mayor of her hometown Guadalupe . She is life-threateningly injured in an attack, but survives.
  • Magda Beltrán: the former Miss Culiacán was exposed as a money courier for a drug dealer and was sent to prison, where she met Barrera. Despite working on her own after the outbreak, she continues to have a relationship with Barrera and becomes pregnant. She is ambushed and murdered by Barrera's archenemy Heriberto Ochoa, the boss of the Zetas .
  • Luis Aguilar: the prosecutor has the reputation of a tough accuser. When he wants to leave Mexico with explosive evidence against Police Chief Vera, his private jet catches fire and crashes.
  • Gerardo Vera: Police chief who, with former police buddies from the problematic district of the capital, Iztapalapa, set up a new police unit. He's on Barrera's payroll and, after his exposure, is shot by a Barrera's bodyguard.
  • Eddie Ruiz: the Barrera allied killer is also known as Crazy Eddy (which he doesn't like) and Narco Polo (which he likes).
  • Jesús "Chuy" Barajas: because he has been murdering people since he was twelve, he is also known as Jesús the Kid . He works - at different times - both for the Zetas and for the Familia who are enemies with them .
  • Diego Tapia: Barrera's cousin, also known by some people as Jefe de Jefes , is one of the high bosses of the newly formed Sinaloa cartel and made sure that most of the prison staff was on Barrera's payroll. Because he got too much power and became a security risk for Barrera, the cousins ​​broke up. Diego is killed in a large-scale special operation by the Mexican police.
  • Martín Tapia: Diego's brother is considered the chief financial officer and diplomat of the Tapia clan. The young entrepreneur is Diego's link to the Mexican upper class.
  • Yvette Tapia: Martín's wife meets Keller at a film premiere and, after the break between the Tapias and Barrera, plays him a tape recording that reveals that Vera works for Barrera.
  • Roberto Orduña: Vera's successor, who is building a new special unit.


  • The cartel reads almost like a factual report, dense and exciting. I have seldom devoured 800 pages like this! ( Peter Twiehaus , ZDF morning magazine )
  • Disguised as a novel, Don Winslow has written a chronology of the War on Drugs . ( the Friday )
  • The book, although declared as a “fictional work”, is based on authentic events. He must mention it so clearly, otherwise one would be tempted to dismiss the madness described in sober words as a crazy fantasy of violence. ( Rhein-Zeitung )
  • Don Winslow dedicated this book to a hundred of named journalists who were killed in the “real” drug war. For that reason alone, you should read it to the end. ( NRZ )
  • "The Cartel" is ... brilliantly researched and shows us in a very powerful way how complex and dangerous our world really is. ( Michael Connelly )

Social-political criticisms of the author

Winslow emphasizes the aspect that the so-called Mexican drug problem is actually not a Mexican problem. Rather, the reasons for the constant violence are to be found solely in the enormous demand for drugs in the USA and other western countries, which make drug trafficking extremely profitable. All approaches to prohibiting, such as the continuous illegalization of new substitutes, ultimately come to nothing, as one can simply make too much money with drugs. It doesn't matter how many drugs are confiscated or how many cartel bosses are arrested or killed, as gigantic demand and cash flows create unlimited supplies of drugs and people willing to trade them.

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