The Force

Don Winslow’s latest, THE FORCE, again demonstrates Winslow’s masterful ability to present unsettling, contemporary issues through the eyes of complex and remarkable characters. Here, however, our sympathy for the protagonist is challenged like never before. Yet our understanding is never disputed. And it is this clash of emotions – among the many other striking elements — that makes THE FORCE one of the most compelling and memorable crime novels you are ever likely to read.

Denny Malone heads the NYPD’s Manhattan North Special Task Force, an elite unit renown for its ability to wage war on gangs, drugs, and guns. On the street they are known as “Da Force” and not above using the popular “Star Wars” reference. And recently Malone’s Task Force scored the biggest heroin bust in the city’s history.

But Malone and his crew are also among the most corrupt police officers imaginable; taking and paying bribes on both sides of the law almost every waking hour. It’s simply their way of getting the work done. And after 18 years Malone knows his methods are secretly acknowledged but ultimately invisible.

Suddenly a small team of federal agents apprehends Malone. The Feds have indisputable evidence they could use to end Malone’s career. That is, unless Malone agrees to become the one thing he and his fellow officers hate more than anything else in the entire world: a rat.

Winslow’s narrative structure is unorthodox. It begins with two prologues. The first introduces us to Malone in a holding cell following his arrest. The second is a flashback that reveals two related events – one a shocking and strikingly unusual tragedy — that haunt Malone. So before the main narrative begins we see Malone at the most challenging personal and professional crossroads of his life; and get a sense of the danger he and his crew face on any given day.

The bulk of the narrative that follows are flashbacks where we follow Malone and his team on their various tasks and experience the corruption that, after all these years, comes so easily to them. The last quarter of the novel has Malone struggling under the thumb of the Feds.

Winslow’s third-person prose voice is astonishing. It frequently yet subtly switches form a wide view to Malone’s cynical perspective, and amazingly conveys every nuance of the characters. Esoteric slang is in abundance and ranges from the obvious (being a policeman is always “The Job”) to the most cryptic (years of duty wearing the police uniform is “time in the bag”). Most are defined early and used throughout the story.

Then there is the portrayal of New York City as seen through Malone’s eyes. Winslow’s detailing of the streets of Manhattan, Staten Island, and other section of the city are minute, exact, and lovingly unsparing. Malone has lived here all his life, and has seen how his neighborhood and the rest of New York have changed over his years on the Job. “City blocks are memories,” he observes. “They have lives and have deaths.”

Police corruption is by no means a new topic, but it has never been exposed with the depth and extensiveness of this novel. Perhaps most shocking is how commonplace and downright justified this dishonesty has become. Criminals make millions of dollars through the sale of drugs and guns. So why not the good guys too? – the Task Force argues. How else can a cop expect to support his wife and family? Yet even in the midst of all the payoffs and crooked deals Malone sees himself as nothing other than what he has always dreamt of being – a good cop.

The many and varied definitions of noir fiction all agree that the protagonist is a doomed character at the start and becomes more doomed as the story unfolds. From this it is easy to conclude that THE FORCE is one of the finest contemporary noir novels ever written – all the more so since it is based upon the realities of our increasingly dangerous urban existence. Winslow readers, additionally, will marvel at how THE FORCE combines the intensity of past works like THE POWER OF THE DOG and THE CARTEL with the dark humor of novels like THE DAWN PATROL and SAVAGES.

THE FORCE is essential reading for everyone. Winslow again proves himself one of the finest authors working today with this standout triumph to his already impressive list of works. —Alan Cranis

Get it at Amazon.

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