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Review: Dirty Combat – Secret Wars and Serious Misadventures – by David Tomkins

dirty combat

David Tomkins has led an interesting life, to say the least. Our swashbuckling protagonist begins his autobiography as a tough safe-cracker, self-trained in explosives. His early adventures lead him to prison life where he swaps tales and picks up skills, leading to further crimes. Moving away from his gangster life, Tomkins utilises his explosive skills to full effect by becoming a mercenary. His military adventures take him across Africa, from Angola to Togo and into Rhodesia. Constantly under suspicion at airports from Special Branch and security services, Tomkins becomes a darling of the Press, a true life mercenary who engages in politics at the highest level. Merging his mercenary work with business interests he becomes an arms dealer, strutting around the world, negotiating some stranger-than-fiction deals with some rather salubrious characters. Eventually his mercenary work comes back tot he fore when he is recruited to fight out in Colombia, first arranging an international special forces brigade to attack the FARC and then later, employed by the Calí drug cartel he is delivered a project to assassinate the head of the rival Medellín cartel, Pablo Escobar. Ultimately both the Colombian adventures do not achieve their mission goals and later end our hero up in US custody where he returns to the prison system, detailing the flaws of the US Justice system and ending the tale whiling out his time in jail before luckily being returned to his wife and family in the UK. The book is well written and is truly compelling. David Tomkins’ life is surely a worthy tale to be told and I can’t think of many more varied real life adventure stories out there.

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Review: At The Devil’s Table – Inside the Fall of the Cali Cartel – the World’s Biggest Crime Syndicate – by William C. Rempel

at the devils table

Jorge Salcedo signed up to the Cali cartel in order to lead a mission to assassinate Pablo Escobar, head of the rival Medellín cartel and, in Jorge’s eyes, a clear and present danger to the people of Colombia. This ex Colombian army professional was a security expert and although the initial mission, with the aid of British mercenaries, was to fail, Jorge embarked on a flourishing career with his Cali cartel bosses, one that would end in betrayal and the fall of the biggest crime syndicate on the planet. Miguel and Gilberto Rodríguez Orejuela were the brothers at the head of the Cali cartel and Jorge would become part of their inner circle, as a trusted almost family member, in charge of Miguel’s day-to-day security and all the cartel business that that entailed. He would witness the trafficking operation that flooded the US market with Cocaine and would bear party to the intense violence that accompanied his boss’ position, gradually becoming an integral part of all operations. From learning how the sicarios operated, to engaging overseas in Nicaragua and the USA, to witnessing assassinations, Jorge would build up an essential insider’s knowledge of the cartel’s overall business. However, as time wore on, and it became clear that there would be no easy exit for him from the cartel, Jorge became disillusioned and ultimately sought to betray his boss. Miguel Rodríguez Orejuela became the most wanted criminal on the planet and when Jorge fell into the arms of the DEA, his knowledge of daily operations assisted the US and Colombian authorities in tracking down and successfully capturing the head of the syndicate. Jorge and his family fled into protective custody and the Cali cartel was permanently weakened by the ‘chopping off of the head’. This book, well researched clandestinely for over a decade, tells a bloodthirsty true tale of top level narco-trafficking, political corruption, and gang warfare. It is a true page-turner that will engage and grip you from start to finish.

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Review: Cocaine Nation – How The White Trade Took Over The World – by Tom Feiling

cocaine nation

This is an enthralling, well-researched book, that reveals many unknown new facts about the global cocaine industry. The book opens with a chapter focussing on the USA, the biggest market for the Cocaine industry, where 66% of Cocaine users exist. We then enter into the producing and transit phase of the drug and examine Colombia, Mexico and the Caribbean in detail. Colombia has the infamous Medellín and Cali cartels, much responsible for the initial production of Cocaine. The role of the FARC, AUC and the Colombian Civil War is documented and the political difficulties with America’s Plan Colombia and the extreme bribery involved in Colombian political life. In Mexico, we see how the various cartels such as Sinaloa, Juárez, Gulf and Tijuana have gone to war, recruiting the services of such paramilitaries as Los Zetas. The Caribbean covers Jamaica in detail and also Cuba, Haiti and the various tax haven islands. In Jamaica we see how politics have heavily influenced the gang culture and the rise of the Shower Posse is documented. In all of the Western producer country sphere, the USA and its policies is never far from the forefront. The ‘War on Drugs’ in force from many successive administrations at the White House, often focuses on producer and transit countries and is totally supported by draconian United Nations international legislation. The European market, in particular the United Kingdom is the second largest market for Cocaine and some countries here have introduced decriminalisation. In places such as Holland and Portugal, drug use is not penalised. The author explores how users are affected by the drug and explores addiction, in particular the problems of crack cocaine. In the final part of the book we look at possible legalisation solutions although, despite Feiling’s enthusiasm for this to happen, I fear it will be many generations before this becomes politically possible. Perhaps with potential cannabis decriminalisation and legalisation on the agenda, it will open up the doors for other narcotics to follow suit? I enjoyed the book and it really does go into detail on what is an interesting subject and a truly global industry.

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Review: Gangland – The Rise of the Mexican Drug Cartels from El Paso to Vancouver – by Jerry Langton

gangland

This fascinating subject is explored by the author, Jerry Langton, in a fresh and vibrant manner. He makes the often bloody stories flow nicely into each other. What is for sure is that the Mexican drug war is a nasty business and page after page of horrifying bloodthirstiness attends to this. We read of the different cartels from Sinaloa across Mexico. Ciudad Juarez, the murder capital of the world is a common area for discussion. The author always has his mind on the export role of the cartels and how their actions are affecting populations further North in the USA and Canada. If anything, it is difficult to weave together a fabric of the tale due to the sheer mass of brutalities that have occurred. More people are killed each year in Mexico due to the cartel warfare than in foreign war zones such as Iraq and Afghanistan. The book is not the first I have studied on this topic in Mexico and I found it very well-researched and full of details, some of which were unknown to me previously. It is certainly worth a read if the topic of Mexican cartels interests you.

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Review: Hotel K – The Shocking Inside Story of Bali’s Most Notorious Jail – by Kathryn Bonella

hotel k

This is a true account of life in Hotel Kerobokan, Bali’s notorious prison. The story is told through a series of interviews with current prisoners and former prisoners who have been released. The inmates are a myriad of internationals and local Indonesians. Most of the Westerners inside are there for drugs offences, ranging from severe penalties for possession of four grams of hashish, to major international smugglers such as the Bali 9, 3 Australians from it being on death row. Inside the prison life is harsh and we see extremes of violence, drug-taking and dealing and much corruption, especially from the guards. Inside Hotel K, money can buy you anything, from a comfortable cell upgrade, to days out on the beach. Indeed many clients come and go as they please which seems quite shocking. Women are also held at Hotel K which introduces the potential for some wild orgies which often take place. The powerful gang Laskar Bali have the run of the joint and even the guards will not stand up to them. The book is full of compelling narratives and as a reader you get drawn to the colourful characters who are so well-depicted by the author.

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Review: Cartels At War – by Paul Rexton Can

cartels at war

  The author is a military expert and the phrase he coins to determine Mexico’s narcotics problem is a ‘mosaic cartel war’. This book analyses in detail the various cartels that are present in Mexico that operate in a highly competitive, highly profitable, highly illegal, immensely violent global industry. The Mexican cartels mainly provide a distribution service for the drug-producing areas of South America, and provide the market pathway into the riches of the United States. Thus, the problem in Mexico is very much in tandem a US problem and therefore a valid area of study for the US Military. The cartels are vast and all very different: Sinaloa, Tijuana, Gulf, Beltrán-Leyva,Juarez, La Familia Michoacana & Los Zetas – these are the main cartels although subdivisions exist and other splinter groups may assist various different bodies in the distribution and enforcement of the criminal activity. There are alliances among the cartels in addition to disputes and the intra-cartel warfare can be particularly brutal. The Mexican State utilise many strategies from military to political to law enforcement policing, and they are often backed up from the USA with it Merida initiative. Solutions to the conflicts and problem are provided in detail and range from legalisation of drugs, in particular in the USA and also improved military and law enforcement tactics. This study is comprehensive and provides much detail on a very complex subject. I don’t think that any immediate solution is on the horizon for Mexico and for if it is not to exist as a failed state the cartels and their power are an issue which must not be allowed to further escalate out of control.

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Review: The Last Narco: Hunting El Chapo, The World’s Most Wanted Drug Lord

The Last Narco: Hunting El Chapo, The World’s Most Wanted Drug Lord by Malcolm Beith My rating: 4 of 5 stars This is a fast-moving story of the rise of Mexico’s most feared and influential drug lord, El Chapo. The Sinaloa cartel occupies the number one position in terms of prestige of drug organisations and Guzman Loera has hit the Forbes list of the wealthiest and most powerful men in the world. After a daring prison break he hides out from Mexican and US authorities as well as rival gangs in the hills of his native Mexico. Beith is a journalist who attempts to piece together the myths surrounding this elusive character and he weaves a very readable and exciting story together which combines romance, bloodthirsty homicide, big business administration, corruption and the life of the modern day Mexican Robin Hood and his associates. The situation in Mexico is extreme and unbelievable in may ways. It has certainly transcended all the boundaries first witnessed during the rise of the Colombian cartels decades ago. This book is perhaps lacking in truth in some ways as the evidence is so difficult to establish, yet it is well-written and gives the reader a good insight into one of the greatest plagues of the modern world. View all my reviews

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Review: Moksha: Writings on Psychedelics & the Visionary Experience

Moksha: Writings on Psychedelics & the Visionary Experience by Aldous Huxley My rating: 4 of 5 stars I am a big fan of Aldous Huxley’s work from what I know of this author. A friend in the music business recommended that I try Moksha and I thoroughly appreciated reading it. It is perhaps the logical follow-on read to the infamous ‘Doors of Perception’ as the book covers the period during which Huxley’s great mind was subjected to hallucinogenic drugs. His groundbreaking work with (and indeed coining of the phrase) the hallucinogens, was important for science as a whole. So often drug use can be tainted in today’s society. Huxley demonstrates that he was acting in a responsible fashion and he was exceptionally keen on expanding his consciousness. He saw in the substances he used a visionary future for mankind and Moksha gives us an insight into that world. I found the most enthralling part of this book to be the interspersed personal correspondence between chapters. These letters showed Huxley’s devotion to his cause and gave valuable insight into his personal manners. I felt Moksha to be an intimate portrait of a man with immense brainpower, a true literary shaman and a genius. Huxley’s work should long be remembered and his life celebrated more so than it actually is. I plan to go on to read his novel ‘Island’ next as that has so far eluded me. View all my reviews

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Review: The Cosmic Serpent: DNA and the Origins of Knowledge

The Cosmic Serpent: DNA and the Origins of Knowledge by Jeremy Narby My rating: 4 of 5 stars I eagerly anticipated this book as I had heard it mentioned as a classic on Ayahuasca and as a good reference point in a number of other books and Ayahuasca and shamanism. The author begins in typical Ayahuasca tourist fashion, and undertakes you on his Amazonian journey with a shaman, partaking in the sacred Yage ceremony. If anything I was a little disappointed with the author’s own experiences and felt that he had perhaps misunderstood his visions a little. I read on, however, and the novel turned into a page-turning thriller. The research done on the twins / dual serpent cosmology myths was fantastic and a revelation to me. It was clear that Narby had done a great deal of research on his hypothesis. I think to anybody studying shamanism, the middle chapters of Narby’s book are essential. As the book moved towards the DNA link with Ayahuasca I was at first sceptical but the author wrote in a convincing manner and I felt that the extremely distant link was well-pointed out and certainly a possibility though I can see the scientists more easily dismissing ‘The Cosmic Serpent’ than perhaps the ancient medicine men who I would imagine would be more open-minded. As an apprentice ayahuasquero myself, who has studied exclusively on my own in the West, I think that there is a lot more to the DNA link than meets the eye. Ayahuasca is a substance which does alter the mind in a tremendous way and I See true possibilities that it is what we call DNA triggering some of the visions. I think the book highlights, not how much we know of science, but how little we know of ancient shamanism. A true understanding of Ayahuasca and the power it harnesses, if well understood could drastically improve our world, if nothing less than to bind Western man back to his natural roots. View all my reviews

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Review: Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said

Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said by Philip K. Dick My rating: 5 of 5 stars I’d read some Philip K Dick before and this was certainly in a fast-flowing writing style. It only took me half a day to read the book from start to finish. It was totally gripping. The story is about the strange happenings to celebrity Jeremy Taverner, a genetically engineered TV host, He is catapulted into anonymity and left to face the police state brutalities that occupy the lower, less-known classes. There is a tide of colourful characters, mainly women, to whom this good-looking ‘6’ has lots of charm. The power and corruption of the police with their futuristic technologies is a scary concept and Dick tackles some concepts which are still current and in the process of being introduced such as ID cards. The way in which Taverner’s life is glued back together is cleverly done and is very mysterious. He has somehow warped through a portal in time, entered an alternate reality. The book touches on some really provocative themes. There are drugs, sex and rock & roll as well as racism, incest, violence. I love the way the story winds furiously and progresses. You get attached to the characters and really feel Taverner’s emotions. Do we feel sorry for the policeman? there are touches of humanity still there but he is also devoid of his integral humanity. I love the way the book neatly concludes, if it is a little sharp. An excellent read and I cannot wait to tackle my next Dick title. View all my reviews

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Ayahuasca In My Blood: 25 Years Of Medicine Dreaming – by Peter Gorman

This autobiographic tale of one man’s relationship with the most sacred vine, shows Peter Gorman as a true pioneer. Ayahuasca is still very much an unknown quantity in the West and Gorman’s 25 years of experience make him a critical read for anyone considering experimenting with Ayahuasca, as the ‘Vine Of The Soul’ becomes more fashionable in mainstream society. I’ve had a few Ayahuasca sessions myself and I can relate to the rather bizarre and powerful nature of the sessions he describes. It really does put you in a different frame of mind and in a way is something that cannot very easily be put into words. Gorman does really well in painting a vivid picture of the alternate realities that Ayahuasca drinkers experience. It does become a life changing experience and the way Gorman seems to struggle between his life and family in the ‘real’ world and his mystic Amazonian adventures forms a key element to his story. Ayahuasca becomes a belief system to him, a religion, and he uses the vine ever more so to seek out answers to all aspects of his own life, and once he begins to master its application to himself, like a real shaman, he begins to turn his attention during the rituals upon the lives of friends and families and how he can help them for the better.  The descriptions of his jungle adventures and the detailed depictions of the shamen that guide him and the traditional ceremonies themselves gave a true insight into how the vine should be most appropriately used. I’ve never journeyed into the Amazon (though I would very much love to go there) and experienced a genuine ritual, but from what Gorman has revealed, I shall be applying some of his techniques in my next Ayahuasca encounter. I think that for every individual and every experience, the vine is truly unique. Its power is unfurling and almost omnipotent and to a non-initiate, maybe Gorman’s experiences would seem a little far-fetched and fictional. I believe every aspect of his tale and I think that the Ayahuasca has given him the insight and courage to have presented many of his deeper emotional thoughts about his family and genuine struggles in life in an open and honest fashion. It has made him realise his own imperfections and has guided him into being a better and stronger person. I’ve read quite a…

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The Teachings of Don Juan: A Yaqui Way of Knowledge by Carlos Casteneda

For anyone who has the vaguest interest in shamanism, this is an essential text. It is Carlos Casteneda’s seminal work and in my opinion is a work of art. He has a very direct personal way of revealing his story, about an encounter with an ageing Native-American man of knowledge, who takes Carlos under his wing and reveals to him some of the secrets of shamanism. The range of psychedelics encountered are followed up in the book, after consumption, with vivid detail of the accompanying experiences. For me, the most rememberable tale in the book is Casteneda’s transformation into a crow. It seems really strange and bizarre and perhaps fiction but for anyone who has actually had a shamanic experience, the story has a real truth to it and is a perfect example of the mystic powers that true shamen can harness. As the author weaves his tale through the years of his tuition, we get more and more familiar with th very likeable character of Don Juan. This book was written many years ago, perhaps when psychedleic drugs were only truly starting to be explored properly in the West. The eradication of shamen and ancient belief systems by the rapidly advancing modern society, perhaps makes the mere existence of such wise teachers, an absolute rarity today. Carlos Casteneda found himself a genuine opportunity in learning from a great man who had not abandonned the ancient teachings to the modern world. the insights gathered in this book, give the layman a fundamental grasp of exactly what shamanism entails. It is a literary masterpiece and should not be missed out upon.

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