Killing Pablo – Mark Bowden

Killing Pablo

Rating: 4 Stars

On the day that Pablo Escobar was killed, his mother, Hermilda, came to the place on foot.


Pablo Escobar was the notorious head of the Medellín cartel, shipping thousands of tons of cocaine into the United States and murdering everyone that got in his way. In this book, journalist Mark Bowden recounts the rise of Pablo Escobar and the efforts to bring him to justice made by Colombian law-enforcement and the United States.


I read this book a while back, but after seeing Narcos, I had to read it again.

This book reads a lot like a thriller and it is even more fascinating because you know that everything in there really happened. Particularly the first half of the book was amazing. The language is beautiful and throws you right into the atmosphere.

The violence, already deeply rooted in the culture, continued, deepened, twisted.

Terror became art, a form of psychological warfare with a quasi-religious aesthetic. In Colombia it wasn’t enough to hurt or even kill your enemy; there was a ritual to be observed.

Killing Pablo is a fascinating read not only because Mark Bowden conveys the story in an incredible manner, but also because the subject is intriguing.

Colombia in the 80s and early 90s was a dangerous, cruel place full of violence. And Pablo Escobar was one of the kings of that world.

Pablo was establishing a pattern of dealing with the authorities that would become his trademark. It soon became known simply as plata o plomo. One either accepted Pablo’s plata (silver) or his plomo (lead).

While reading it is sometimes difficult to believe that yes, that is something that happened and people did these things to each other.

As the book starts out and we get a short overview of Pablo’s youth he seems charismatic. In the beginning. But that changes very, very quickly.

Once, when a worker was discovered stealing something from his estate, Pablo had the man bound hand and foot, and in front of horrified guests at Nápoles personally kicked the man into his swimming pool and then watched him drown.

The way Pablo Escobar is described in the book is very intriguing. His crimes and cruelties are laid bare but so are the more charismatic aspects of his personality. Whily I never liked Pablo Escobar while reading, presenting the different facets of his personality and life, including his family, make for a more balanced read.

The rise of Pablo Escobar, his grasp for political power and then the first war that followed are a captivating read.

Sometimes the fate of an entire nation can hinge on the integrity of one man. The bribe came at the lowest point in the colonel’s career. He had been given a suicide mission, one with little chance of success. He had attended funerals almost every day.

Unfortunately, the second part of the book wasn’t as good as the first. The pacing got slower and there were so many new names introduced in rapid succession that it was difficult to keep track. Especially because some were named exactly the same.

Furthermore, there were some chapters were the focus was too much on US politics and inter-agency strife. Those parts just weren’t particularly interesting.

The Joint Chiefs of Staff approved the request, but an under secretary of defense, Keith Hall, refused to concur without approval from the White House. Officers on Hall’s staff were waiting at the White House for a meeting with president Clinton’s staff when a colonel with the joint Chiefs of Staff calld to say they had decided to withdraw the request.

What was incredibly interesting was the part about Los Pepes, a sort of criminal/vigilante group out to get Pablo, killing everyone connected to him.

When Los Pepes surfaced, there was no shortage of likely suspects. Pablo had been warring with other drug exporters and crooks all of his adult life. His years-long campaign of intimidation and murder had left hundreds, if not thousands, of aggrieved family members, some of them from very wealthy and powerful families.

The end, the actual hunt and build-up towards Pablo Escobar’s death dragged on a bit too much. It was always the same: They listen to his calls. They try to track him. They think they know where he is. They launch a raid. Pablo Escobar is not there. So the part that should be the most suspenseful was the part that was the least spectacular. His end was more of a whisper than a bang.

“Bring me the press release for Escobar’s death,” he said.

“Death in an operation or death by natural causes?” she asked.

“By operation!” Pardo announced triumphantly. Then he opened a box on his desk and withrdrew a big Cuban cigar, lit it, leaned back, swung his feet up, and savored a few private moments of victory.


A comprehensive, very well-written and incredibly interesting account of the hunt for the notorious cocaine kingpin Pablo Escobar.


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