If Dan Slater’s account of cross-border transactions and violence is not entirely new, he gives it an intimately human face ... It is a tribute to Slater that he can make us see Gabriel more like a child soldier caught in a military conflict than as a monstrous killer ... Slater tells a skillful tale drawing Cardona and Garcia’s lives together, while bringing readers deeply into both sides of a borderland shaped by corruption and greed.
Slater’s reporting covers territory that has been well mined by other reporters. This wouldn’t necessarily be a problem, if the book were especially well written or offered an original take on the story. But Slater is an uneven narrator ... Some of the book’s scenes are undeniably gripping ... Yet Slater’s book, landing as it does in the midst of an election season in which immigrants are once again being demonized, seems destined to further muddy the waters ... the best moments are mostly in the epilogue, in which we encounter a much more reflective Cardona.
Slater succeeds in documenting some grievous individual and systemic failures ... Slater makes only passing reference to the larger policy questions that his topic raises. He focuses instead on the human stories of those enmeshed in the criminal underworld that prohibition helps to create. These are sometimes vivid, but it would have strengthened his book to provide more substantive analysis on the politics, history, and economics of the American war on drugs ... Slater also makes painfully strained attempts to inhabit the point of view of his characters ... The largest issue, however, is that Slater seems to share his subjects’ romantic and glamorous view of violence.
...[an] evenhanded, exhaustively reported and frighteningly intimate snapshot of a dark, bloody corner of the drug trade ... Slater isn't interested in making excuses for Cardona. He knows his subject is a murderer. He also knows, as a writer, that Cardona is a rich character, a popular, handsome kid who decided killing people would be a good way to make some money and live a life of plenty. And he knew an anti-drug lecture would make for a pretty boring read.