Magazine article The Spectator

'Zero Zero Zero', by Roberto Saviano - Review

Magazine article The Spectator

'Zero Zero Zero', by Roberto Saviano - Review

Article excerpt

Zero Zero Zero Roberto Saviano

Allen Lane, pp.448, £20, ISBN: 9781846147692

Dreamland: The True Tale of America's Opiate Epidemic Sam Quinones

Bloomsbury, pp.380, £18.99, ISBN: 9781620402504

Rosalio Reta was 13 years old when recruited by a Mexican drug cartel. He was given a loyalty test -- shoot dead a man tied to a chair -- then moved into a nice house in Texas. Soon he was earning $500 a week for stakeouts and odd jobs, but the big money came from slitting the throats of the gang's enemies, which paid a $50,000 bonus. Four years later he was arrested after 20 murders; his only remorse was over accidentally sparking a massacre that left him fearing his bosses might exact revenge on him.

Such bloodstained stories of obscene violence in pursuit of obscene wealth fill the pages of the Italian journalist Roberto Saviano's investigation into the cocaine trade. Children are chucked into wells, decapitated heads roll across dancefloors and faces are stitched on to footballs. The biggest problem for the murderous gangs seems to be how to get rid of so many corpses; one drug baron ended up buying two incinerators to dispose of 20 bodies a week. Meanwhile their use of new media to publicise cruelty and promote fear predates Islamic State's adoption of similar tactics.

This river of cocaine flows from South America to its most lucrative markets in Europe and North America on aircraft, boats and submarines. Prevention is almost futile, such are the profits when a kilo of a drug costing £1,000 in Colombia can fetch 50 times that in Britain -- where it is typically cut down to 20 per cent strength. The Medellín cartel spent £1,500 a month on elastic bands to bundle up all its cash; its boss Pablo Escobar had to employ ten accountants. And cocaine corrupts whatever stands in its way, from politicians in Africa and Latin America to global banks in London and New York that clean up the dirty money.

Saviano has done his research and delivers astonishing anecdotes, as expected from the author of Gomorrah, a brave investigation into the Mafia that sold ten million copies and led to lifelong police protection. But for all the flashy prose, this is a shapeless and rather disappointing work. It does, however, underline the absurdity of handing control of the drug trade to the world's most ruthless crooks, rather than legalising and regulating it. 'No business in the world is so dynamic, so relentlessly innovative, so loyal to the pure free market spirit as the global cocaine business,' he writes correctly.

Far more interesting is Dreamland, a powerful investigation into the explosion of heroin abuse in suburban America that combines skilful reporting and strong research with a superb narrative. …

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