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Manhunters by Steve Murphy and Javier F. Peña

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Article by Swirl and Thread ©.
Posted in | .

The explosive memoir of legendary DEA agents and the subject of the hit Netflix series Narcos, Steve Murphy and Javier F. Peña.

Manhunters:How We Took Down Pablo Escobar by Steve Murphy and Javier F. Peña is published with St. Martin’s Press/Headline.

Having watched the Netflix Narcos series, I was really delighted with the opportunity to read this new memoir from the individuals whose lives became part of mine as I sat completely engrossed in the series. Although the series was partially fictionalised, the underlying story remained the same

Murphy and Peña were lead DEA agents in bringing down the powerful Columbian drug kingpin Pablo Escobar. A man both feared and revered in Columbia, Escobar became almost a Robin Hood type figure for many, especially in his own community of Medellín. His method of business, the horrors he inflicted on so many made him a very dangerous and frightening individual.

While the US authorities kept up their battle for extradition, the DEA worked hard on both the American and South American borders to bring down these vast drug empires but their network and power stretched so wide, making it an almost impossible challenge. As evidence was being gathered, the fatalities increased. Escobar was everywhere. His word infiltrated from the highest levels down, making it virtually impossible to track him down. Columbia witnessed devastating deaths, unnecessary lives lost and numerous assassinations of top officials. There was a risk to any, no matter their position in society, who stood up to the many cartels, in particular to the renowned Medellín cartel headed by Pablo Escobar.

Murphy and Peña started their careers in the States with the local police, dealing with local crime at a local level, but both had a hunger, an ambition to do more. The book introduces us to their backstory and how they found themselves chasing down drug lords on the streets of Columbia. It’s a fascinating look at their career. Both are quite different, yet their strive for justice and truth and their fight against a pervading evil created a very successful working dynamic and a close friendship.

The lives of Murphy and Peña were very much at risk as they hunted down Escobar, but in 1991 Columbia had a reprieve when Escobar handed himself over to the authorities…but with conditions. These same conditions allowed him to live a relatively comfortable life secluded in a prison of his own design. He continued to reign terror under the noses of the authorities frustrating those who wanted to take him down completely. The following year, Escobar escaped his ‘prison’ and the search continued again for this seemingly all-powerful and influential man.

Murphy and Peña, working closely with a select group of Columbian special forces, continued their relentless search and in 1993, the reign of terror inflicted over a country was ceased when the Columbian police gunned down Pablo Escobar. Neither DEA agent was present but their hard-work and persistence over the previous months and years greatly contributed to the downfall of this man, Pablo Escobar.

Manhunters is written by Steve Murphy and Javier F. Peña in alternating chapters, giving the reader an insight into their lives over the years. It is a book heavy on facts but it also recounts the personal stories and the sacrifices made by these two very brave individuals. My only gripe with the book is that, at times, I found myself skimming a few sections as I felt the writing could have benefited from a stronger pen. The story of Steve Murphy and Javier F. Peña is a fascinating and hair-raising tale, but did the book do their story justice? Have I been influenced by the action I saw on screen? Probably a mix of both I would think.

Manhunters is most definitely a read for any with an interest in the war on drugs, a campaign started by Nixon in 1971 which was followed in 1973 with the creation of the DEA. It is a challenging and disturbing read but it is also the truth as witnessed by two very courageous and heroic men, Steve Murphy and Javier F. Peña.

(c) Swirl and Thread

Order your copy online here.