Here’s another gem from Don Winslow. The kind of book that had me relishing the prospect of returning to the pages to find out how the hell things were going to play out. It’s a long, deep, fast, tense, gripping, entertaining and slightly flawed noir to my mind and one I can highly recommend.
This one’s an in-depth study of the Manhattan North task force (da Force) run by the king of the area Detective Sergeant Denny Malone and his team. They rule their patch with a mixture of power and fear and the more subtle art of building relationships and finding balances. There are snitches, murderers, victims, bosses, addicts, pushers, family and politicians to juggle, so ruling the land isn’t an easy business. Throw in the rivalries between gangs and their drug-lords and the racial tensions of the city and it’s one hell of a melting pot.
The dynamics of the team are altered dramatically following the death of the darling of the bunch, Billy O. Not only does it leave the band of brothers devastated, it leads them into a new level of corruption that they may never have imagined.
The disintegration, or rather the re-defining, of the moral code in the task force is a slow process. It’s been happening from the early days of their careers and has build up one tiny step after another, toe-by-toe movements to begin with, giant strides as time has gone on.
It’s not long before internal affairs and the Federal Bureau get involved and Malone is forced to cross a line he never imagined he could be forced over. He’s on a slippery slope and even with his strong and determined fingers, he slowly loses control of the information he is expected to provide.
As the world closes in, it’s impossible to imagine an ending the story that will satisfy every need. As much as I was desperate to find out how things played out, I also wanted to see how a master could close out the game. Truth be told, it’s a master stroke and the satisfaction as I read the final page was immense.
The Force (US) is a great read and an epic one. It has all the ingredients of a thriller that you could possible want. The emotional engagement is total and the intensity of the involvement is high.
Not that this is my favourite Winslow read. There were a couple of issues, some of them personal, that I’ve been trying to work out since finishing.
Mr Winslow often has a rather poetic style that builds into rhythms and paces which are beautiful to behold. I didn’t feel them here, which is perhaps because of the nature of this beast. I missed that aspect to the read.
There are also sections where the momentum changes significantly. This is inevitable. After running at a sprint for long sections, there has to be space to take a breather. A couple of times this switch was jarring. This sometimes comes in the form of the nostalgic tales of police work. They're wonderful in their own right and add the background I love, but they are by nature reflective and therefore can stand in the way of the movement of the story. It’s a small thing, but I’m mentioning it anyway.
And the big one for me lies in the whole perspective of watching the corrupt world of systems designed to protect. There’s a quote from Stephen King on the cover of my copy, ‘Think The Godfather, only with cops’, which is actually nicely put. When we’re dealing with gangsters and criminals, the fact that they can are butchers capable of the lowest acts of depravity can be romanticised by the sense of loyalty, order and regulation. When respect and honour are brought into play, the darkest villain can be viewed sympathetically. Turning this on its head isn’t so easy. Where you start with a code that’s pure in its intention and corrupt the hell out of it, those codes and bonds may be strong, but it’s far more difficult to sympathise with dirty cops than honourable scum. The guys of the force are absolute bastards in the way they rule their streets, vent their prejudices and treat their loved ones. Even when the point is made that the work and the success of keeping peace and order requires a certain level of toughness and demands that the cops see and experience things none of the rest of us would want to even think about, it’s an uneasy shift. Winslow did manage to drag me in to root for these guys and that is a testament to his level of skill. Every so often, though, the levels of behaviour gave me a swift kick to remind me that there was thinking to be done. The opening of the book lists the names (three pages worth) of law enforcement personnel who were murdered in the line of duty during the period of writing. It’s a brilliant mark of respect and a frighteningly long list, so what follows in terms of the corruption is magnified in intensity and is even harder to swallow.
Now the dust has settled for me, a week on from my read, as well as the strength of the story the unpicking of the tiers of the justice and the political system stick hard and fast. It seems like the further one rises up the ladder, the bigger the payouts become. Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely and I know that it’s only a work of fiction but the levels of are stomach churning. I was left feeling angry about so many things and wonder if I can channel that anger into ways of making changes in some way. Having just witnessed the arrival of Boris Johnson at Number 10, I have to wonder if things can ever really be changed as another product of wealth and the elite private education takes the reins and sets up cabinet to reflect whatever underhand and unethical promises were made during his campaign for leadership.
You should read this one.
And when you do, may da force be with you.