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The Power of the Dog is a 2005 crime/thriller novel by Don Winslow, based on the DEA's involvement with the War on Drugs. The book was published after six years of writing and research by the author.

Art Keller, through tenacity, skilled experience, and what he once thought of as luck, positions himself as a strategic piece in the DEA's war on drugs. His career really begins in a boxing ring, where he is pummeled a great deal, forced to use every skill he has, engage his tactical mind in order to survive, and still loses the three-round bout. But from the blood, pain and street-wise cunning, it appears that he has won the real match, but he's still one step behind in the greater game.

The next 29 years his life is a repeat of that sparring match. In a high powered story of political forces, and brutal mentalities, Art Keller attempts to do his job, while not becoming a victim of his obsessions. Following Keller and the other characters of this novel, Don Winslow positions us as witnesses to tremendous crimes, and horrific destruction, while listening to members of both sides of this 'war' declare victory and prosperity from the engagements that leave towns destroyed and families murdered.

While The Power of the Dog is a novel, the tremendous effort in historic and cultural research by the author is very evident. A documentary was created and shown on HBO going over the aspects and historic areas covered by Don Winslow's novel.

Plot summary

The novel begins in 1975 with the main character Art Keller watching the opium poppy fields of the Mexican state of Sinaloamarker burn. The burning is done in preference to the use of Agent Orange. Keller has just begun his career as a DEA agent, coming over from operative work with the CIA, and a veteran of Viet Nam's Phoenix Program.

Keller tells us that though there are similarities, this isn't Operation Phoenix but Operation Condor.

Keller's career looks like it might end before it begins, until he works his way into the friendship of the Barrera brothers and Miguel Angel Barrera, referred to us as Tío (meaning Uncle/Valued Elder Patron). Tío sets it up so that Don Pedro Aviles, the main drug lord of Sinaloamarker, is assassinated, while giving Art Keller the credit for the drug lord's death during an arrest. Tio' then leads the Sinaloa heroin traffickers into the modern age as the cartel's new leader.

Characters in "The Power of the Dog"

  • Art Keller
  • Father Parada
  • Nora Hayden
  • Sean Callan
  • Sal Scachi
  • Adan Barrera
  • Raul Barrera
  • Miguel Angel Barrera
  • O-Bop
  • Peaches
  • Little Peaches
  • Paulie


Allusions/references to actual history, geography and current science

The Power of the Dog starts in 1975 and follows the DEA's War on Drugs and various aspects of Operation Condor.

Adan Barrera appears to be a composite character. He is referred to as the "Lord of the Skies" a title given to Amado Carrillo Fuentes, while his character is also portrayed as part of the brother team which was responsible for the shooting death of Father Parada, which the Arellano brothers were part of with the death of Cardinal Posadas.

Other characters appear to be composites of the main drug cartel leaders of the Sinoloa area. These include: Ernesto "Don Neto" Fonseca, Miguel Ángel Félix Gallardo, Rafael Caro Quintero, El Güero Palma, Amado Carrillo Fuentes, Ismael "El Mayo" Zambada, Joaquín "Chapo" Guzmán, Luis Gerardo Vazquez , Manuel Salcido Auzeta (a.k.a. Cochi Loco) and the Arellano Félix brothers Bruno Alvarado.

Father Parada: based on the life and the death of Juan Jesús Cardinal Posadas Ocampo

Mickey Featherstone and other prominent members of the Westies of Hell's Kitchen also lend several composite aspects to fictional characters of the book, such as Callan, Michey, and O-Bop.

Colonel Scott Craig, a Vietnam-era acquaintance of Keller's who is seen off-loading cocaine at Ilopongo airport and later becomes an "American folk hero, a media darling" during the Senate Iran-Contra hearings, is apparently intended to suggest Oliver North.

Portrayal of the Mexican presidential candidate Luis Donaldo Colosio's murder in Tijuana on March 23, 1994.

Aspects and some of the resolutions of the Cristero War are mentioned.

Big Paulie Calabrese and his murder is to suggest that asassination of Paul Castellano, outside of the Sparks Steak House in New York City

Drug cartels

The best known recent drug cartels have been the Cali, Medellín and Norte del Valle cartels in Colombiamarker, and the Juarez, Tijuana, Sonoramarker and Tamaulipas cartels in Mexicomarker.

The Mexican cartels are primarily drug trafficking organizations that transport cocaine for the larger, more powerful Colombian and Peruvian Cartels. The United States invaded Panamamarker in 1989 to remove from power strongman General Manuel Noriega who was allegedly involved with Colombian and Mexican drug cartels, most actively involved with the Medellín Cartel, the most infamous and notorious drug cartel in history. The Medellín Cartel was headed by the infamous drug lord Pablo Escobar.

The main organized drug cartels deal primarily with the most compact (thus easy to smuggle) and profitable substances cocaine, heroin, MDMA (ecstasy), and methamphetamine, and it is these that are the primary focus of the United States Drug Enforcement Administration. Large-scale manufactured illegal drugs also induce the foundation of satellite organizations that supply some of the most important needed chemical precursors.

Social References

Several times the novel mentions the type of music known as Corrido, a style which Chalino Sánchez is famous for.

The book mentions Sinaloa's Saint as well. According to legend Jesús Malverde was a thief who robbed the rich to give to the poor. He was hung in 1909 by Sinaloa's governor. But the legend of this bandit's defiance and style of justice was passed along through corridos which helped turn him into a people's saint.

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