I read Don Winslow’s The Cartel a couple years back based on the recommendations of some trusted friends, even though crime fiction isn’t my #1 jam. Holy hell that was an amazing book. I still think about it often. And since then, I’ve been meaning to read some of the author’s back catalogue. But as chance would have it, Winslow’s newest book visited my desk first, and so The Force became my second Winslow novel. And though more rooted in familiar genre territory than The Cartel, it’s still just as incredible.
Denny Malone only ever wanted to be a good cop. And he started out that way; helping people, making himself useful, standing up for people who others stood atop of. A white cop in a predominantly black district of New York is not often seen as a hero but Malone made it his mission to appeal himself to the people. But then, like a single match that starts a wildfire, one little misstep of corruption sets Malone on a path to becoming one of the dirtiest cops in the city. Now he’s a King of his streets and has allowed himself to be convinced that he is untouchable. But then he gets himself in a squeeze. The Feds have proof that he’s dirty, they want him to make a deal. And on the other side of the law, he’s dealing with drug lords who want his head after he stole their heroin in an effort to make a big payday.
There have been dirty cop stories and snitch thrillers before. They’re common trends to revisit partly because they’re based on some truth and partly because they can be tense or thrilling in some way. The Force has notes of familiarity to it, but that doesn’t make it any less fantastic. This is a cop epic on the order of Serpico, The Departed, Cop Land, and Prince of the City. If you enjoyed any of those then you should find a new favorite in Winslow’s The Force.
The Force feels so very much in the moment. It is a cop epic for a time when cops are viewed more cynically by more people than perhaps ever before. Police brutality and videos of cops killing unarmed black men are major subplots that make up a background (and eventually the foreground) of American justice on the edge of a knife. It is an angry piece of work, one that points an accusatory finger at police but also takes time to see the world from their point of view. It also points out the corruption and the hypocritical attitude found in the courts and D.A. offices. No one gets out looking super clean in The Force and the story is all the better for it.
I’m coming to learn that there are few real heroes in the works of Don Winslow and many bastards. Denny Malone is a complex antihero, a man who is hated, loved, feared, and honored. It’s impossible to approve of everything the man does, but one can’t help but end up rooting for him as the world closes in around him. Supporting characters on both sides of the law, of which there are many, are also well drawn. And the action is written in a blunt force manner which I really enjoyed.
The Force is a brilliant crime epic and I give it my strongest recommendation.
The book is now available in paperback with new interviews and insights from the author.
The Secret History of Twin Peaks was one of the wildest, most out there media tie-in novels I have ever read. Compiling notes, conspiracy theories, and mythology relating (on some level or another) to the show, it sought to tell the story of Twin Peaks between the mysterious travels of Lewis & Clark in the region all the way up to the death of Laura Palmer. Some of the book is redacted, some of it is written as if it’s newly discovered notes from 100+ years ago, and a sizable portion of the book links Twin Peaks to UFO sightings (something that’s not exactly at the forefront of the show’s focus). Hell, Dick Nixon shows up. It’s amazing. And it’s bewildering. Like the best of the show which inspired it, The Secret History offers half-answers while posing brand new questions.
The Final Dossier, by comparison, is more interested in the answers.
This new novel, published after the finale of Twin Peaks: The Return’s revival season (oh I hope we get more episodes eventually), takes a look at what happened between seasons 2 and 3. The book is written in the voice of season 3’s Tammy Preston as a direct report to Gordon Cole. As some fans noted (and occasionally complained), the revival season didn’t give us a whole lot in the way of details about what our favorite Peaks residents have been up to in the two decade gap between seasons. The Final Dossier addresses all of that, from bastard Leo Johnson’s predicament at the end of season 2 to hey, where did Donna go? It also dives into some of the less explored elements of the new season, like the penthouse apartment with the box doorway to another world (?).
Perhaps most interesting to fans are the moments that take place after the season 3 finale – an ending that left many viewers, myself included, scratching their heads a bit. I won’t go into spoilers about the finale for those who haven't seen it or the book’s assessment of that finale, but you will get some answers here. (One hint: David Bowie is the key to understanding everything.)
Maybe we get too many answers? The Final Dossier reads as though it is trying to make sense of the Twin Peaks universe. And, to be fair, even as I love the mystery of the show, I do want to know some of the answers eventually. But too much of the book feels like it’s holding my hand, explaining what the hell was up with that one part of that one episode. Like, did we really need a deeper look at the infamous Episode 8 of the new season? I liked it more as this bizarre standalone horror story where I could make my own connections. But now I know more and that’s… I’m not sure how I feel about it, to be honest. Some of the wonder is diluted.
I enjoyed The Final Dossier however I took nothing from it but knowledge and understanding. That’s fine, I guess, but it didn’t deepen the mystery for me any. I'll say this, though: it may be worth reading for the Log Lady's chapter alone, which features beautiful, inspiring prose in the voice of one of television's most lovable weirdos.
You can buy Twin Peaks: The Final Dossier and The Secret History of Twin Peaks on hardcover. I must advise against the ebook versions, as I doubt they duplicate some of the beautiful touches that you get on the printed page. Twin Peaks: The Return is now available on Blu-ray.
My filmmaker friend Zack Long and I are working on the early stages of a new website that aims to assist writers/creatives interested in genre storytelling. We're on the lookout for a few good writers that have some creative lessons they're willing to share.
Our primary interests are in horror, science fiction, and fantasy, but we will also occasionally cover other genres like romance, westerns, and hardboiled noir. We're especially interested in adding women, POC, and members of the LGBT community to the team.
If you're interested, please contact me.
Writer of horror, science fiction, and dark fantasy. Lover of fiction and film. Lifelong Godzilla fan. Reluctant blogger.
Blog notice: mostly this blog is for sharing my thoughts and talking about my books. From time to time I will also comment on books, films, music, sports, and/or videogames. During these times I may use images of the creative works under discussion. I'm posting the images under the "fair use" allowance, for purposes such as criticism, comments, reporting, teaching, and research. If you have any issue with images used on this blog, please contact me and the images will be removed.
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