The Force by Don Winslow

Oh fer cryin’ out loud, after I finished writing this, I noticed that the publisher’s description starts with the same quotation I started my post with. I swear I didn’t steal the idea.

The ForceThe Force

by Don Winslow

Hardcover, 479 pg.
William Morrow, 2017

Read: June 26 – 29, 2017

Our ends know our beginnings but the reverse isn’t true.

If Denny Malone’s beginning knew his ending, would it have prevented anything? Or would Malone have convinced himself he could find a work-around? Probably the latter.

Denny Malone is a one of NYPD’s Finest — a detective sergeant, and the head of a task force (known as “Da Force”) on the front line of the War on Drugs. He and his team — who’ve been together for years — rule Manhattan. Sadly — and perhaps naturally — they’re corrupt. They take (and are given) money, drugs, weapons and more from criminals (of all levels), lawyers and others. They pass on some of these to lawyers, city officials and other cops — and keep a whole lot for themselves. Through their methods, they do keep some sort of peace on their streets — sure, they pass on some of the violence and poison on to other parts of the city, but that’s not their concern.

After doing this for years, the wheels start to come off — it’s tough to say what the first domino (to mix metaphors) was to fall, but once it does, there’s nothing stopping the rest — as much as Malone may try. The result is one of the most powerful crime novels I’ve read in years.

The characters are rich, fully developed and they seem like they could step out of the book onto the streets of NYC with no trouble. You are sickened by them, want to see them stopped — yet start to understand them, like them as people, and — despite yourself — hope at least some of them get away with it all. At one point, I was laughing at their banter like we were all old friends hanging out, and it bothered me how much I enjoyed them as people (that faded somewhat in a few pages).

This book feels like the love child of Tom Wolfe’s The Bonfire of the Vanities and Nicholas Pileggi’s Wiseguy. You really feel like you understand how the city of New York is run — at least parts of it: the police, elements of the criminal world, and parts of the criminal justice system. Not how they’re supposed to run, but the way it really is. He achieves this through a series of set pieces and didactic periscopes. Three quick examples: you get Malone musing on how the way that cops have to learn how not to care about citizens and criminals, because otherwise, they’ll end up hating them. A great section showing how The Force goes out on the town to celebrate. The following quotation about the attitude of a prosecutor and Malone about his creative use/understanding of the truth while testifying:

Because the real truth that they both know is that without cops “testilying,” the DA’s office would hardly get any convictions at all.

This doesn’t bother Malone.

If the world played fair, he’d play fair. But the cards are stacked against the prosecutors and police. Miranda, Mapp, all the other Supreme Court decisions, give the advantage to the skels. It’s like the NFL these days–the league wants touchdown passes, so a defensive back can’t even touch a receiver. We’re the poor defensive backs, Malone thinks, trying to keep the bad guys from scoring.

Truth, justice and the American way.

The American way is, truth and justice maybe say hello in the hallway, send each other a Christmas card, but that’s about the extent of their relationship.

You throw that kind of stuff in with a compelling plot, believable characters, striking details and Winslow’s voice? You’ve got yourself a dynamite book.

If someone had told me this was non-fiction, I’d believe it (maybe I’d balk at some of the details of his personal life being told in a Non-fiction book, but otherwise…). It rings true — and I spent most of the book just hoping that Winslow was exaggerating and fearing that he was holding back. The whole thing feels real, it seems ripped from the headlines, and is beyond engaging — it’s engrossing, it’ll take over your mind, make you see deception and corruption everywhere.

Winslow nailed it. It’s just mindbogglingly good. I’m going to over-hype it if I keep going — so I’ll leave it at that. Get this book and then strap in for one of the best reads you’ll have this year.

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5 Stars

Opening Lines – The Force

Head & Shoulders used to tell us that, “You never get a second chance to make a first impression.” That’s true for wearing dark shirts, and it’s especially true for books. Sometimes the characters will hook the reader, sometimes the premise, sometimes it’s just knowing the author — but nothing beats a great opening for getting a reader to commit. This is one of the better openings I’ve read recently. Would it make you commit?

The last guy on earth anyone ever expected to end up in the Metropolitan Correctional Center on Park Row was Denny Malone.

You said the mayor, the president of the United States. the pope–people in New York would have laid odds they’d see them behind bars before they saw Detective First Grade Dennis John Malone.

A hero cop.

The son of a hero cop.

A veteran sergeant in the NYPD’s most elite unit.

The Manhattan North Special Task Force.

And, most of all, a guy who knows where all the skeletons are hidden, because he put half of them there himself.

Malone and Russo and Billy O and Big Monty and the rest made these streets their own, and they ruled them like kings. They made them safe and kept them safe for the decent people trying to make lives there, and that was their job and their passion and their love, and if that meant they worked the corners of the plate and put a little something extra on the ball now and then, that’s what they did

The people, they don’t know what it takes sometimes to keep them safe and it’s better that they don’t.

They may think they want to know, they may say they want to know, but they don’t.

from The Force by Don Winslow

I wanted to keep going, but had to force myself to stop there so I didn’t get sued by the publisher.

Dusted Off: Savages by Don Winslow

Savages (Savages, #1)Savages

by Don Winslow

Hardcover, 302 pg.
Simon & Schuster, 2010
Read: September 2, 2012
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

At this point, I just need to be honest with myself and just buy everything this guy has written/will write. I was nervous about starting this, as it wasn’t in The Dawn Patrol-verse. Would it be as good? Would it be better, making me like Boone, et al. less? Stupid, yeah.

Winslow’s books are the kind of cool I thought Tarantino was after Pulp Fiction (not saying QT isn’t great, I just don’t think he’s the kind of great I did then)–an insane mix of hip, crime, violence, honor, love and fun.

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5 Stars