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.
Writer of horror, science fiction, and dark fantasy. Lover of fiction and film. Lifelong Godzilla fan. Reluctant blogger.
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