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Savannah Book Festival: Dan Slater’s ‘Wolf Boys’ shines new light on war on drugs

  • Dan Slater

Savannah Book Festival: Dan Slater’s ‘Wolf Boys’ shines new light on war on drugs

15 Feb 2017

A story seemingly etched out for Hollywood, Dan Slater’s “Wolf Boys” is the extraordinarily true story of two American teenagers’ work as assassins for a deadly Mexican drug cartel, as well as the law enforcement agent who hunts them.

Gabriel Cardona was born in Laredo, Texas, with dual Mexican citizenship. At 15 years old, he was a star quarterback. But the allure of wealth found in the drug cartels operating in his poverty-stricken border town provided an escape. Along with his childhood friend Bart and others, he was recruited by the deadly Zetas, an assassin group for the Gulf Cartel.

In “Wolf Boys,” Slater has pushed past the big headlines and delved into the dirty underbelly of the boys’ violent world. Slater was captured by the story of these young Americans in 2009 after being laid off and beginning a career as a freelance writer.

“These were American boys who had gone to work for this Mexican drug cartel that was known to be particularly militant and violent,” Slater said. “It was one of those stories that you read and don’t forget. It scared me to death. Really seeing that this is a war that is fought a lot of the time by these boys, these teenagers.

“We think of it as the cartel as the boss that gets his face on the New York Times, and the glamorous rise to power. The actual violence behind those stories often gets sublimated into the glamorous movie-ready news about the guy escaping from the prison. The saying that really catalyzed my energy toward this project came when I started to see it has the everyman story that hadn’t really been told about the war on drugs.”

Relying on his background as a former journalist for the Wall Street Journal and other publications, Slater approached this story by focusing on the brutal truth that had not been told in the headlines, not only from the perspective of the boys, but also from the view of Detective Robert Garcia, the law enforcement agent charged with capturing the wolf boys.

“The book is built as this thriller that bounces back and forth between the chapters from the perspective of these boys as they fall very, very fast through the cracks into all kinds of hellish things,” Slater said. “On the other hand, you’re with this guy Robert Garcia who becomes a homicide detective in Laredo and starts to pursue the boys.”

Slater spent a lot of time in Laredo speaking with family members, police and anyone connected with the boys. He compares the approach to this book with Henry Hill’s infamous autobiography of the Italian mob, “Wise Guy,” which later hit theaters as Martin Scorsese’s film, “Goodfellas.” Slater took a narrow view into the world, tunneling in on a single story that had yet to be told, avoiding the politicized and sensational headlines drug cartels typically draw.

“I think immersing readers in the lives of actual people who are going to have lived a life that’s so much different than anything they know,” Slater said. “That, to me, was the real appeal of the book and hopefully for people reading the book.”

Reaction to the book has been an unexpected mix for Slater. He’s heard from older women in book clubs who connected to the mothers in the book, as well as younger males who rarely read a book, but were enamored by this story.

Cardona is now serving a life sentence in a Texas state prison. Slater said Cardona has read the book, but the Texas Prison System banned the book and not everyone involved has been able to get a copy.

“The Texas Prison System banned it on pretense,” Slater said. “They didn’t like that an inmate had a book about him. Officially, they pointed to a couple of sentences in the middle of the book that talked about smuggling. They said I was basically describing how to commit a crime. That was the pretext for banning it. The whole thing was BS. It’s unfortunate. But that’s the way it goes.”

Early last year, TriStar Pictures, a Sony Entertainment subsidiary, optioned the book for film and hired Antoine Fuqua (“Training Day,” “The Equalizer”) to direct and produce the movie. A screenwriter was hired in September, pushing the movie’s release, probably, to late 2018 or early 2019.

“I think he’s (Fuqua) a really great choice for the material,” Slater said. “I think he’s going to do a great job.”


Book: “Wolf Boys”

When: 2:50 p.m. Feb. 18

Where: Trinity United Methodist Church, Telfair Square