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An unflinching look at the Mexican cartels.

True Crime Book Review: ‘ Blood + Death: The Secret History of Santa Muerte and the Mexican Drug Cartels’ by John Lee Brock

Speaking of drugs and cartels and religion, my old buddy John Lee Brook has a new book coming out in May. It’s being published by Headpress, which is a popular publisher in the U.K. Headpress bills itself as a “counter-culture” publisher. Translation: they publish really strange stuff that sells really well to really strange people, who like to read really bizarre stuff.

The title of JLB’s latest is Blood + Death: The Secret History of Santa Muerte and the Mexican Drug Cartels. Seth Ferranti over at GorillaConvict.com published an excerpt from the first chapter, in case you’re interested. Seth is one of those really cool dudes who writes really cool shit and is confident enough in his own abilities that he helps other writers.

Anyway, the book starts out with the best history of the Mexican cartels I’ve ever read or even heard of. Then it moves on to some background information about Santa Muerte (Holy Death). From there it segues into some really scary stories about some really scary people: Adolfo de Jesus Constanzo; some dude who went by the nickname of El Mochaorejas (ear chopper); Arturo Beltran Leyva a.k.a. “The Beard;” Los Zetas; Miguel Angel Trevino Morales; Gilberto Garcia Mena a.k.a. “El June;” Maradona; a gang called Los Aztecas; another gang called La Resistencia; and a couple of teenage hit men that send chills up and down one’s spine.

Mr. Brook has certainly done his homework. Impeccable research obviously occurred before he began writing. His writing style has a charm of its own, coming across as slightly amused while at the same time being simple and clear. This simplicity keeps the text moving along, even though the narrative contains a lot of detail. The manner in which Mr. Brook relates the details avoids the trap of too-much-information. What he does is make the details part of the story. In other words, the details enhance the reader’s enjoyment and emotional involvement in the tale.

Santa Muerte is a female version of the Grim Reaper. And a cult has evolved around her in Mexico and parts of South America. The cult even has tentacles that reach into the U.S. Supposedly, when one sacrifices to her, she provides protection from one’s enemies, including the police and other authorities, and enables the one doing the sacrifice to accomplish horrible deeds. For this reason – protection from one’s enemies – many cartels members worship her.

Worship of Santa Muerte is so pervasive that the wildly popular television show Breaking Bad had episodes that featured the maniacal worship of the cult’s members.

The prize of Blood + Death is the chapter entitled The Black Kiss. This chapter relates the story of two teenage sicarios or hit men, who were essentially employed by the cartel as murder-for-hire. The psychology behind such actions is difficult to put down on paper; but Mr. Brook has done an excellent job in this regard.

Blood + Death is an excellent read, a real page turner. Even people who don’t normally enjoy true-crime will find this book worthwhile — primarily because it illuminates the murky world of the Mexican Cartels.

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About Randall Radic

Left Coast author and writer. Author of numerous true crime books written under the pen-name of John Lee Brook. Former music contributor at Huff Post.

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