Book Review: Killing Pablo

PabloescobookWarring cartels, corrupt politicians, violent fugitives, and rugged commandos. Chases, shootouts, bombings, intrigue, and intrigue within intrigue. Lots of killing, lots of dying – all of it set in an exotic foreign locale. This isn’t something out of a Tom Clancy novel. It’s history.

And it happened when some very dangerous people decided that Killing Pablo was the only option they had left.

This is the inside story of the rise and fall of Pablo Escobar: wayward son, devoted husband, loving father, and head of the Colombian Medellin cocaine cartel. The kind of guy who could be unflinchingly polite in one breath, then use his next to order someone hung upside down and burned.

“He wasn’t an entrepreneur,” Mark Bowden observes, “and he wasn’t even an especially talented businessman. He was just ruthless.” His criminal empire would hold the nation of Columbia hostage until U.S. operatives joined the local police on a sixteen month track-and-kill mission that would finally bring him down.

I’d call it a testament to Bowden’s prowess as a writer and a journalist that there were moments during my reading of this book when I had to remind myself that it was not a piece of fiction, but a record of fact. Scenes and conversations are reconstructed here with scrupulous accuracy and attention to detail: the very technique which made Black Hawk Down so fabulously compelling. With access to the soldiers, field agents, and government officials involved in the pursuit – not to mention top-secret documents and transcripts of Escobar’s intercepted phone conversations – Bowden resurrects the past, dusts it off, and dandies it up. His book supplies a rush that puts most of modern thrillerdom to cringing, cone-wearing shame.

Can you hear the whimpering?

That, my friends, is how narrative journalism is done.

And Mr. Bowden? I think you’re some kind of wizard. You’ve got to be. More power to you.

Postscript: As you may have gathered, this is a book about a very bad man who lived a very bad life and did some very bad things. There’s language, drug content, and other adult material. And lots of people die. Don’t hand it to your five-year-old. Or your fifteen-year-old, for that matter.

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