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Book Review: At the Devil’s Table: The Untold Story of the Insider Who Brought Down the Cali Cartel by William C. Rempel

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William C. Rempel’s At the Devil’s Table: The Untold Story of the Insider Who Brought Down the Cali Cartel is a non-fiction narrative of the Cali drug cartel in the 1990s. The book is written in an investigative journalism style.

Jorge Salcedo was an insider of the Cali cartel. He personally saw to the safety of the heads of the family and became their electronic security expert. Mr. Salcedo thinks of himself as noble, he joined the cartel to fight against the notorious and brutal Pablo Escobar, head of the Medellin cartel.

Mr. Salcedo avoided dealing directly with cocaine and violence, keeping his hand clean. However, the lifestyle slowly entrapped him with no way out. As the U.S. administration began to get involved, the widespread corruption which included the high echelons of government, army, police, and judiciary began to break and Mr. Salcedo was able to contact the DEA and help bring down the heads of the cartel.

At the Devil’s Table is a first rate book with a narrow focus on the central character, Jorge Salcedo. Mr. Salcedo’s story and viewpoint make for an amazing insight into the world of the heads of the Cali cartel family.

The book’s author Rempel is a respected reporter for the Los Angeles Times, interviewing Mr. Salcedo over a number of years, mostly by phone due to Mr. Salcedo’s status in the Federal Witness Protection Program. Mr. Rempel did crosscheck the information from court records and testimony from other key figures in this complex story.

At the Devil’s Table has the all the strength of an investigative article without going into too much detail, unless appropriate. It would have been easy for the author to divert from the story to comment on the international drug trade, for example, but he didn’t and so the narrative kept flowing smoothly and without interruptions.

While in some places the book does try to be lyrical, poetic, or whatnot with prose or adjective, it mostly stays focused, easy to read and best of all, backed by solid data. The heart of the story lies in the testimony, honesty, and believability of Mr. Salcedo’s account. The eyewitness testimony is not embellished or dramatized – it is simply told as is.

Rempel found the rare balance of writing an interesting book and yet peppering it with ordinary details such as daily conversations, ground layout, and more. It is a difficult task and I was amazed that the book held my interest throughout.

At the Devil’s Table provides a fascinating insight into the world of drug trading and the cartels. A world where corruption and violence are not only the norms, but the pillars that hold it aloft.

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