The 261 pages that comprise The Last Narco are nowhere near enough to encompass the intrigue and sheer violence of Mexico’s cartels; and the forced brevity can be immensely frustrating
In the 2001 film, Blow, legendary drug trafficker George Jung (played by Johnny Depp) says, “Throughout my lifetime I’ve left pieces of my heart here and there. And now, there’s almost barely enough to stay alive. But I force a smile, knowing that my ambition far exceeded my talent.” And in the global drug trade, ambition abounds…talent, not so much. Cue violence on an apocalyptic scale.
Pablo Escobar once allegedly said, “There are two hundred million idiots, manipulated by a million intelligent men.” The problem arises when those million intelligent men forget that it’s time to cut and run. That was what happened to Escobar, and Jung, and as many thought, would be exactly what happened to Joaquín Archivaldo Guzmán Loera, aka El Chapo, head of the Sinaloa drug cartel in Mexico, and America’s second most wanted man, after Osama bin Laden (pre-assassination). So far, it hasn’t.
If you’ve read Bruce Porter’s brilliant Blow: How a Small Town Boy Made $100 Million with the Medellin Cocaine Cartel and Lost It All, then The Last Narco will underwhelm you. Although Malcolm Beith has spent years writing on the Mexican drug wars for publications ranging from Time to Soldier of Fortune, he misses the stunning narrative possibilities of his subject, El Chapo.
He unfortunately writes like a journalist, which is OK if you’re using this as an academic text, but falls rather flat if you want a ripping piece of non-fiction. The 261 pages that comprise The Last Narco are nowhere near enough to encompass the intrigue and sheer violence of Mexico’s cartels; and the forced brevity can be immensely frustrating.
We gain little insight into the various cartels and their inner workings, nor is El Chapo fully fleshed out as evil incarnate or, as he is to many, the hero of Narco Corridos. His life is a blur, as are those of his chief adversaries the Beltran Leyva brothers, and his nemeses, the DEA.
Beith, however, rivettingly takes us into the corruption-ridden world of Mexican politics and its bureaucracy, and some of the human stories shed light on the common man’s plight in the crossfire of the cartels, the Mexican army, and the federal police. The Last Narco is an interesting book, but it serves only to whet the appetite for more, which it doesn’t serve up.
Name: The Last Narco
Author: Malcolm Beith