Thursday, May 20, 2010

Audio Book Thursday - THE POWER OF THE DOG

FIRST LINE: "The baby is dead in his mother's arms."

THE POWER OF THE DOG is an epic novel. The lives of Art Keller, Nora Hayden, The Barrera family, and Sean Callan intertwine as Don Winslow tells an over-reaching story about the Mexican-American drug trade.

Art Keller is a DEA agent set on making a difference in the trafficking of drugs to the United States. When his friend and colleague is kidnapped, tortured and murdered because of Art's actions, Art moves from "set on a making a difference" to "hell bent on gaining revenge."

The Barrera family is Art Keller's target. They are one of the controlling drug families in Mexico. But before the Barrera brothers took control of the family business and the dominance in Mexico, they were friends with Art Keller. Their history makes the desire for vengeance that much stronger.

Sean Callan is an Irish boy from Hell's Kitchen who winds up as a button man for the mob. When some contingents from the mob start talking business with the Mexican drug lords, Callen finds himself mixed up in the drug trade as well.

And Nora Hayden is a escort, a high-priced prostitute. The hands of fate move Nora into the Barrera circle and soon all four elements are interconnected. But these are volatile elements and they can't all co-exist in harmony. Ultimately a reaction is going to occur.

I don't believe anyone could have done this tale as much justice as Don Winslow. As I mentioned in the summary, this is an epic tale. It spans families, geography, cultures and time.

Winslow's dialogue is always masterful, but what I found even more astounding in this novel was the prose. Told in the third person limited point of view, the prose alters depending on which character is the chapter focus. So when he writes of Art in the first chapter, the reader is introduced to the educated, experienced federal agent:

"He's half-surprised, glancing at the sleeve of his own shirt, to see blue denim instead of army green. Reminds himself that this isn't Operation Phoenix but Operation Condor, and these aren't the bamboo-thick mountains of I Corps, but the poppy-rich mountain valleys of Sinaloa."

Then in the second chapter, the reader meets Sean Callan, a young teen without strong family ties, not a lot of education and living in Hell's Kitchen:

"He's seventeen years old and he's slamming beers in the Liffey Pub on Forty-seventh and Twelfth with his buddy O'Bop.

Only other guy in the bar besides Billy Shields the bartender is Little Mickey Haggerty. Little Mickey's sitting at the far end of the bar doing some serious drinking behind an upcoming date with a judge who's a lock to put him eight-to-twelve from his next Bushmills. Little Mickey came in with a roll of quarters, all of which he fed into the jukebox while pressing the same button. E-5. So Andy Williams has been crooning 'Moon River' for the past hour, but the boys don't say nothing because they all know about Little Mickey's hijacking beef."

The tone, the pace, the atmosphere of each section is completely different. The excerpts reflect the setting but more importantly the focus character. All while maintaining the third person point of view.

If ever a person deserved the title of "wordsmith" it's Don Winslow. In POWER OF THE DOG as with his other works, he massages the language to form his fictional world, whether he's developing a character, creating setting or delivering action. He manages to throw the comic lines in at the precise time that they are most effective. Most times they are subtle and situational, but they catch the reader off guard making the humor a little funnier.

Each of the characters comes alive on the page and there is no black and white, save the print of the font on the white sheets of paper. Life's circumstances blur the lines of "good guys" and "bad guys", "winners" and "losers." And yet, the reader will be able to identify with elements of EVERY character because Winslow brings out each one's humanity.

THE POWER OF THE DOG is not for the feint of heart. It's not for the reader that has a stanch objection to language or violence. But the reader who wants a realistic, intense look at a world that doesn't have easy answers, heroes or "happily ever afters," THE POWER OF THE DOG will move you in ways you didn't know a book could move you. It will likely make you question beliefs you've held as truth. THE POWER OF THE DOG will challenge you to be an active participant, not a passive onlooker.

It's Audio Book Thursday, so I listened to POWER OF THE DOG on audio. Ray Porter is the narrator on this unabridged version from Blackstone and he did a superb job. Porter is an outstanding narrator who has an excellent script to work with. Porter seems to have a strong grasp of Winslow's voice - or voices in this case. He nails the sarcasm, which is essential to the humor in many cases. He's able to move seamlessly between shifts in tone or pace. This audio book is an effective representation of Winslow's work. I highly recommend it.

THE POWER OF THE DOG was originally published by Knopf in 2005 (ISBN: 978-0-3754-0538-9). Vintage published the trade paper version (ISBN: 978-1-4000-9693-0) in 2006. And the Blackstone audio (ISBN: 978-1-4332-4546-6) was published in 2008.

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le0pard13 May 20, 2010 at 9:09 AM  

It's a ferocious epic, isn't it Jen? As you mention, it is not for the feint of heart. But, it is the one Don Winslow work that I believe has to be experienced. And narrator Ray Porter did it justice as few could of. Thanks for this, Jen.

Jen Forbus May 20, 2010 at 10:52 AM  

It definitely is ferocious. I was in constant awe the entire book. Just loved it. One for the ages, I think!

Beth F May 20, 2010 at 1:44 PM  

Nice review. Both the novel and the narrator are new to me. I did a quick search on Ray Porter and see that he has narrated some heavy-duty books and a couple that I've read in print. Thanks for widening my horizons.

Jen Forbus May 21, 2010 at 9:02 AM  

BF - So far I've heard Porter's work on this book and also on Don Winslow's THE DAWN PATROL. He did a consistently nice job on both books.

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