1. WINTER'S BONE
The grandaddy of meth tales. Daniel Woodrell's Ozark-set chiller shows a less-glamorous but just as compelling side of the trade -- and (we'd argue) helped pave the way for all the cultural attention deservedly lavished on Vince Gilligan's TV magnum opus.
2. AT THE DEVIL'S TABLE
Jorge Salcedo served as the head of security for Miguel Rodríguez Orejuela, who ran Colombia's feared and very deadly Cali cartel. This is the story of how Salcedo got out with some deep-cover aid from the U.S. feds, as told by L.A.Times reporter William Rempel. A Mike-Ehrmantraut's-eye view of the biz.
3. THE SAVAGE DETECTIVES
The book that made Roberto Bolaño's bones in America (though true fans knew he was the goods for years). Yes, the weed trade plays only a marginal role, but no worries: this novel's got sad young literary men, corrupt cops, randy strippers, a mysterious poet and a journey into the desert. What else could you ask for? We think Jesse would be a fan, if he ever picks up a goddam book.
4. HARD RAIN FALLING
Don Carpenter's brutal, haunting 1966 novel charts the territory where David Goodis meets Richard Yates. A boy is born, lives a life of petty crime, tries and fails to redeem himself and loses everything (except, maybe, hope). Pure, unadulterated Americana.
Donald Goine's classic novel of the small-time urban heroin trade. The book's psycho protagonist, Porky, is one of the grimmest and most memorable characters in postwar American fiction.