MysteryPeople Pick of the Month: THE FORCE by Don Winslow

  • Post by Crime Fiction Coordinator Scott Montgomery

9780062664419I’ve often said Don Winslow dances with his readers. With both ease and flair he moves us through a story, no matter how complex the plot or dark the subject matter, leaving us back in our world entertained and exhilarated. For his latest, The Force, it feels like a samba with intricate, nuanced moves that he leads us through at a quick tempo.

He places us in the point of view of Denny Malone, leader of an elite New York City police unit, often referred as The Force on the streets, tasked with getting drugs, guns, and gangs off the streets of Manhattan North with few questions asked.

A major bust just put them in the headlines, at the cost of one of their men. What the public doesn’t know about Denny and his unit is the bust wasn’t on the up-and-up, they’re on the take from rival dealers, and the Force has a piece of several different pies. When he’s caught in a shady deal with a lawyer on Christmas day, an ambitious prosecutor and a couple of feds pressure him to act as an informant. Denny agrees, as long as he doesn’t rat on any cops. The book covers roughly half a year, centered around Christmas, Easter, and The Fourth Of July, as gang retribution, city politics, and Denny’s personal life put him in a tighter and tighter corner where his loyalties to his men are tested to the brink.

Captivated by Winslow’s skill as a writer and his understanding of themetics, we follow this challenging protagonist step by questionable step. He gives us a sense of Denny’s virtues (such as organizing turkey giveaways at Thanksgiving) and his love for others moments before we delve into his dark vices. To call Denny complicated is an understatement – from the relationships with his estranged wife and his drug-addicted nurse girlfriend to the contradictions of his job and the hustles he pulls with it, Denny’s morality has more shades of gray than the romance section. The Force and his loyalty to it are the only things that provide anything close to clarity for him.

We stick with Denny through his trials and tribulations, not rooting for him to beat them, but to open his eyes to the life he has created for himself. Winslow uses the deceits and politics of others to hinder and further blind him, instead of simply creating a larger evil he can look innocent in comparison to. Suspense comes from us wanting Denny to understand the evil in himself and rectify.

As always Winslow gives us a layered world of color, detail, and distinction to move through. Jazz and hip hop clubs, gansta’ rap moguls, corruptible activist preachers, and a mafia making a comeback are only part of the sprawling concrete jungle kingdom Denny resides over as a lion king surrounded by other predators. Winslow’s meter captures its rhythm and his to-the-heart prose professes his and the character’s love for their city.

The Force taps into the police culture both in its social and personal elements. We follow The Force on their “Bowling Night”, where they let off steam and they dress to the nines for an evening of drinking, dining, and high-end prostitutes. The contradictions hit a personal level when Big Monty, an African-American cop on The Force, tells Denny and the men how he fears his son being shot by a fellow officer.

The Force is a Seventies-style Sydney-Lumet-directed cop story, dropped into the streets of today, that prove not to be that different, and given an epic sweep. I breezed through the first four hundred pages, turning them to the the story’s quick rhythms, then rationing and savoring the last eighty, not wanting it to end. Thanks for the dance, Don.

The Force comes out June 20th. Pre-order now!

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