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Today’s book came to me, surprisingly enough, via an episode of the HBO comedy Entourage wherein heartthrob Vincent Chase dons a fat-suit to portray the inimitable cartelista in a flop entitled Medellin. If memory serves, one of the scenes in the episode features Chase (played by Adrian Grenier) boning up on Escobar’s life story by reading Bowden’s book.

(A cautionary tale on Amazon’s perfection of the fine art of inducing impulse purchases, perhaps.)

Title: Killing Pablo: The Hunt for the World’s Greatest Outlaw, by Mark Bowden

Completed: February 3, 2012 (#9)

Recommendation: Un buen libro para los que les interesan la intriga internacional y sobre todo la criminalidad. Newt Gingrich está de acuerdo.

Regular readers of A Superfluous Man will have seen my rather tepid review of Mr. Bowden’s latest book on the Conficker computer virus, which struck me as exceedingly dry and anticlimactic.

Mr. Bowden is more in his element when he returns to a subject more steeped in machismo and derring-do, such as the international manhunt (and ultimate assassination) of Pablo Escobar. Now a dimly remembered bogeyman of the drug wars of the 1980s and early 1990s, in his prime, Escobar had every bit the reach–and far greater resources–than the criminals-cum-terrorists of today:

While the other outlaws remained strictly local heroes, meaningful only as symbols, [Escobar's] power would become both international and real. At his peak, he would threaten to usurp the Colombian state. Forbes magazine would list him as the seventh-richest man in the world in 1989. His violent reach would make him the most feared terrorist in the world.

Mr. Bowden is not exaggerating here–while Escobar admittedly exuded a sort of Latin je ne sais quoi no sé que that Islamic militants lack, Escobar was a villain of startling ambition, brutalizing and dominating Colombia’s political class every bit as thoroughly as bin Laden and his mujahideen later would Afghanistan. His criminal virtuosity ranged from casual violence to systematic assassination of anyone in Colombia’s battered establishment who had the temerity to stand in the way of his Wille zur Macht.

He also displayed a rather nuanced understanding of legal procedure…

Pablo tried bribing the judge, who turned the money down flat. So the judge’s background was researched, and it was learned that he had a brother who was a lawyer. The two brothers did not get along, and the lawyer agreed to represent Pablo in the case, knowing that the judge would likely recuse himself as soon as he found out, which is what happened. The new judge was more amenable to bribery, and Pablo, his cousin, and the others were freed.

My reservations about Mr. Bowden’s style remain–he seems to have a knack for desensationalizing naturally sensational topics–but none can fault his balanced and careful reportage. Killing Pablo is no essential work but is certainly worth a look, perhaps as an airplane read on your next vacation to Colombia (which has dramatically cleaned up its act over the past two decades, incidentally).

Spoiler alert:

¡Hasta la vista, mis caros Lectores!