Novelist Don Winslow offers insight into the drug trade

Photo courtesy VA Festival of the Book Photo courtesy VA Festival of the Book

Crime author Don Winslow has spent nearly the past 20 of his career writing about the Mexican-American drug trade. “My number-one job and my first priority is to tell a good story, and a good crime story,” says Winslow.

Winslow first became interested in the Mexican-American drug business in 1998, after hearing of a massacre near the U.S.-Mexico border that left 19 men, women, and children dead. “I just couldn’t figure out why that had happened and how it could get to the point where that was possible, so I started to research it.” After six years of research, he found himself writing a novel, The Power of the Dog (2005), the first of three books in his critically acclaimed Cartel series.

Never sanitizing the reality of the drug trade, the series highlights the brutality and violence at the center of the transnational drug business, and its effect on the personal lives of its characters. “Sometimes I think journalists can get the facts, and novelists can get the truth,” he says.

The final installment in his Cartel trilogy, The Border, saw publication this past February. “I wanted a title that would allow me to explore a little deeper and check out the borders that were political and ethical and moral,” says Winslow. The conclusion to the series  expands the narrative scope of the story told in the previous two books—touching on everything from immigration to Wall Street to the opioid crisis.

While embracing the label of crime author, Winslow notes that his fiction sits in close relation to reality. “I am a novelist. That’s what I do. I am a crime novelist,” Winslow says. “At the same time, I am writing about our world—the real world. It’s definitely fiction, but pretty close to the bone. I hope a reader coming into that world will come away with an understanding of what it’s really like.”—Benjamen Noble

Don Winslow appears at the Crime Wave Brunch at the Omni Hotel on Saturday, March 23. John Grisham will moderate the discussion, with a book signing to follow.