A tour de force of investigative journalism-this is the story of the violent rise and fall of Pablo Escobar, the head of the Colombian Medellin cocaine cartel. Escobar's criminal empire held a nation of thirty million hostage in a reign of terror that would only end with his death. In an intense, up-close account, award-winning journalist Mark Bowden exposes details never before revealed about the U.S.-led covert sixteen-month manhunt. With unprecedented access to important players—including Colombian president Cisar Gaviria and the incorruptible head of the special police unit that pursued Escobar, Colonel Hugo Martinez-as well as top-secret documents and transcripts of Escobar's intercepted phone conversations, Bowden has produced a gripping narrative that is a stark portrayal of rough justice in the real world.
Readers of Black Hawk Down
know Mark Bowden can tell an exciting story about as well as any writer at work today. Killing Pablo
is further proof. It describes the rise and fall of Pablo Escobar, a notorious Colombian drug lord who became one of the narcotic trade's first billionaires. Pablo--Bowden refers to him by his first name throughout the book--started out as a petty thief and wound up running a massive smuggling empire. At his height in the 1980s, he owned fleets of boats and planes, plus 19 separate residences in Medellin, each with its own helipad. Violence marked everything he did: "He wasn't an entrepreneur, and he wasn't even an especially talented businessman. He was just ruthless." He bought off police, politicians, and judges throughout his country, and killed many others who wouldn't cooperate. The Colombian government tried to capture him, but without much luck; he evaded them time after time. "Now and then the police achieved enough surprise to catch him, literally, with his pants down. In , about one thousand national police raided one of his mansions," writes Bowden. "Pablo fled in his underwear, avoiding the police cordon on foot." He got away, again, but his days were numbered. He was making powerful enemies in both Colombia and the United States. The final straw probably came when Pablo's men murdered a popular politician and, three months later, planted a bomb on a plane, killing 110 people, including two Americans.
The bulk of Killing Pablo describes what happened when the U.S. government put its resources behind the hunt for Pablo. Bowden describes the search in gripping detail, from the massive electronic-surveillance effort to bureaucratic infighting between rival U.S. agencies. This is an outstanding work of reportorial journalism, too: in the epilogue, Bowden drops tantalizing hints that it was an American--not a Colombian--who delivered the killing shot to Pablo in 1993. Readers looking for a real-life thriller--or any kind of thriller, for that matter--won't do much better than Killing Pablo.