It was a night like any other night—and by that, I mean it was another night of lockdown and everything felt exactly the same. My husband and I endlessly scrolled Netflix desperate to find a new show to binge. Something mind-blowing. Something addictive. And that's when we stumbled upon Narcos.
Maybe it was my latest obsession with learning Spanish (I did say it was lockdown, who didn’t start 28 new hobbies? Also, as a Mexican who cannot speak Spanish this is one of my insecurities—okay, I’m going off topic) or maybe it was because my dad looks quite like Pablo Escobar, but either way, we were hooked.
The original series titled Narcos is three seasons long and takes us on the evolution of Pablo Escobar’s criminal career and the Medellin cartel. Then there is the spinoff series Narcos: Mexico. Again, another three seasons and equally as thrilling. This time we get to deep dive into the Mexican drug cartels. So, yeah—plenty of content if you’re looking for something new to watch.
If the ending of Narcos left a gaping hole in your chest, I’m here to fill that void. Here are seven true crime books about drug cartels for you to further your education in regards to the global drug trade.
This is the first book I’d recommend after watching the show as most of the information is probably still fresh in your mind. It’s shocking and disturbing and even more brutal than the show would have you believe. Killing Pablo reads like a fast-paced thriller and at times, you’ll have to stop to remind yourself that this is NOT fiction. Sadly, these events actually took place. It’s upsetting how much violence is weaved into daily life, especially for innocent bystanders who are just trying to live their lives.
I’m going to keep recommending this book because I need more people to read it so we can discuss it. Toby Muse is an incredible journalist. You would not believe the dangerous and precarious situations he places himself in. All in the name of JOURNALISM. From the streets of Colombia to the jungles where farmers are actually picking the coca leaves, it’s just incredible. At one point he actually tags along with a current member of a drug cartel, it was seriously one of the scariest and most tense chapters I’ve ever read.
Related: Not Your Average True Crime Books
Pablo Escobar: My Father
Okay, let’s be honest. Hollywood always adds a bit of glitz and glamor to TV shows based on real events. I mean, they have to sell it, right? Well, what I love about this book is that Juan Pablo Escobar puts the kibosh on the glamorous part of cartel life. He sets the record straight and explains what it was really like to live with Pablo Escobar. Spoiler alert: It wasn’t glamorous. They lived in fear. There was constant violence. His father was a terrible person who did terrible things. A lot of the truly atrocious parts were either glossed over or not mentioned in the show.
This book won’t be for everyone. It isn’t a fast-paced read but it is fascinating and intricate. There is a lot of information and there are a ton of names to keep straight (made even more difficult because many names are the same or very similar). I recommend having a keen interest in the subject or some background information on the Mexican drug cartels before diving into this one.
Dopeworld first caught my eye as I was browsing the true crime shelves at the bookstore. First, the title and then the cover. Niko Vorobyov is a former drug dealer turned scholar, so his insight is unparalleled. He has access to people up and down the drug dealing ladder: from street dealers to government officials. Dopeworld is unique because it doesn’t focus on one country, but brings us around the world and how the drug trade works in many countries.
The Daughters of Juarez
The drug trade isn’t only about drugs. It’s also about the countless victims of violence. One aspect we cannot ignore is the number of missing and murdered women in Juarez, Mexico. The victims are mostly young, poor women so it appears that these murders are targeted. This is ONGOING. The Daughters of Juarez is an important and heartbreaking book. The serial murders remain unsolved and while there have been many arrests throughout the years, the murders continue.
Hunting el Chapo
I feel like a book solely about El Chapo is necessary. After escaping Mexican prisons (TWICE!), El Chapo is probably the most well-known drug lord in the world. Leader of the Sinaloa cartel, Chapo was well protected and well connected. He had contacts and intel coming from all areas (including the Mexican government and law enforcement) which provided him to be two steps ahead of DEA agents at all times.