Thursday, November 27, 2014

Narco Land, by Anabel Hernández

This is an outstanding, albeit rather depressing look at the state of criminal narcotic trafficking in Mexico and the extraordinary degree of government complicity and corruption that allows it to flourish.

To give a sense of the book, let me just quote from Publishers' Weekly:
"First published in Mexico as Los señores del narco in 2010, this dry translation brings Mexican investigative journalist Hernández's exposé about drug trafficking in Mexico to an English-speaking audience. Five years in the making, it's an in-depth, unforgiving look at the deep-rooted corruption that has allowed the cartels to flourish; they now influence and control vast swaths of the country. Numerous anecdotes and interviews flesh out a decades-long narrative, touching on everything from CIA and DEA involvement, to how the drug lords run their empires from prison, to the way these powerful men live and die. 
It's a scathing, sobering report, as Hernández lays the blame not just on the drug cartels, but on all those who exercise everyday power from behind a false halo of legality to make their law of 'silver or lead'  a reality. While appendices containing glossaries of acronyms and short bios do much to reduce reader confusion, there's still an immense and exhausting amount of information to absorb. Those willing to slog through the dense bits will find a thought-provoking portrait of the crime and corruption that dominates our southerly neighbor." [1]
This is not an easy book to follow. At times I felt as though I should draw a mind map to show the relationships between both the criminals profiled and their government cronies. So it does take some dedication to work through.
A few key takeaways:

  1. Former Mexican President Felipe Calderón (who left office in December 2012) was clearly on the take and helped the drug gangs.  
  2. The heads of the major Mexican federal police agencies were also benefitting from their corrupt alliances with the drug gangs even as they went through the motions of taking action against them.  
  3. There is no question that the US government and particularly the DEA were aware of this; there is some potential that political concerns via the CIA and State Department hampered DEA activity against some of the more powerful political figures in Mexico's government.  
  4. Even today, Calderón lectures at Harvard, presumably not about how to be a corrupt leader.  

Does any of this change under Mexico's current president, Enrique Peña Nieto?  That remains to be seen.

In any case, a must-read. And one which leads to a number of questions, such as:
  1. Why would anyone (unless they really needed to, e.g., to visit a terribly ill relative) travel to Mexico given not only the state of lawlessness but also the complicity of authorities, from local mayors and policemen all the way up to the highest levels of government?  
  2. Why has the US domestic effort to reduce drug use failed so badly, in spite of imprisoning over 500,000 [2] Americans (as of 2011)? 
  3. And, what should we do about this?


Narcoland: The Mexican Drug Lords And Their Godfathers

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Days of Rage, by Brad Taylor

Mr. Taylor has a series going that features the hero of this book, Pike Logan.  It is the first of the series that I've read, and probably will be the only one.

This is a pretty generic military special forces operator novel.   The plot was interesting enough:  Russian bad guys gunning for the USA with collateral damage to and involvement of the Israelis.  The hero, pained by past losses. The girlfriend who fixes him.  The bad guy hidden in government.

For some reason it is in vogue for the hero to be slightly undisciplined when it comes to following orders.   That's not overly annoying in itself, but I found myself in this novel being jolted out of the story line a few times, thinking, "gosh that was pretty unprofessional."

So this is probably a good series to pick up on Kindle or in paperback at an airport book store before a long flight, but not worth otherwise seeking out.

Days of Rage: A Pike Logan Thriller

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Seven Kinds of Hell, by Dana Cameron

Wow: an airplane book that I enjoyed -- enough to want to read the sequel.  You'd not think it so at first glance:  our hero, Zoe, is an archaeologist who moves, with her mother, from town to town so as to avoid being found by her estranged father's family.   It turns out that Zoe has some strange habits, like attacking bad guys at random intervals, and not entirely of her free will.   She thinks herself nuts and keeps this a secret.

Have you figured it out yet?  How's the word, "werewolf" work for you?  In this novel, they call themselves "fangborn," by which they mean all manor of vampire, oracle, etc., who pop up in amazing numbers once Zoe gets clued in on things.

Oh, and her mission.  There must be a mission.  Her's is to save the world from the unknown outcome of the collection of four old statuettes and their placement on -- wait for it -- Pandora's Box. And I mustn't leave out this timely gem (after all, election day in the USA was yesterday) -- there's a nefarious US Senator involved in the action.

And in spite of all this, I really liked the novel and plan to read the next in the series .   Go figure.

Seven Kinds of Hell (The Fangborn Series Book 1)

Pentecost, by JF Penn

As an airplane book, this was great.  Who cares about plot gaps or minor typos when you're shuttling through the air trying to avoid noticing the strange behavior of the person across the aisle from you?  In crisp light and a comfortable chair, this wouldn't necessarily have made my list, even for free on Kindle.

Twelve special stones, with mystical powers, were long ago disbursed across the earth.  Now someone is collecting them with nefarious aims. Our hero is Oxford professor Morgan Sierra who gets involved in a complex way.  Conveniently, she's an Israeli with military experience and thus quicker to violent action than say the prototypical Oxford professor type.

She's helped by Jake Timber who works for a British government agency that deals with paranormal situations.  But, (spoiler alert), it isn't clear to me at the end if Jake or his agency are good or bad guys.

In any case, action ensues, lots of travel, plot holes the size of the Bay of Bengal, but hey, if you're on an airplane, who cares?

There are more episodes to this story (at least four books), but I think I'll pass -- at least until my next trip.

Pentecost. An ARKANE Thriller (Book 1)