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Monday, November 21, 2005

Don Winslow on : The Power of the Dog

The impetus for "The Power of the Dog" came from a brutal, drug-related massacre of 18 people, including women and children, in Ensenada, Baja California, Mexico, in 1998.

He wondered: "How do you get to that point? How does anybody get to that point?"

Winslow initially set the story, which took six years to research and write, in 1998. He quickly backtracked to 1993 and then 1985 before settling on 1975 to begin the book. That year marked the creation of the Drug Enforcement Agency, which undertook defoliation operations of Mexican poppy fields with the goal of putting drug dealers in the Mexican state of Sinaloa out of business.

Instead, a beast was created.

"It was the reinvention of the Mexican drug industry from a group of local, rural drug growers into a cartel that was centralized," Winslow says, "and then realized it could make a lot more money importing cocaine from Columbia and moving it than it could by growing the poppy.

"It was a very pivotal year. It was the law of unintended consequences. We thought we were destroying the home ground of heroin importation in the country. The real consequences were just metastasizing it, just spreading that cancer and forcing it, in a way, to become better organized and more efficient, which it did."

While the background information in the novel is derived from Winslow's research; the interaction of the characters is a work of his imagination.

There's Arthur Keller, a DEA agent who risks losing his credibility and family when he becomes embroiled in a personal vendetta against Adan Barrera, an intelligent and ruthless drug dealer whose life is changed when his daughter is born with a terminal disease. There's Nora Hayden, a young girl who becomes a high-priced escort and then a confidante of Father Juan Parada, a Catholic priest, reformer and champion of the poor who is at odds with the hierarchy of his church.

No one in "The Power of the Dog" is without sin; nor is anyone without some measure of redemption.

"It can be too easy to create silhouette villains," Winslow says, "and just have these black cardboard figures. And the same with heroes, I suppose. What I wanted to show was some of the moral and emotional complexity of the war on drugs.


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