The Force
Don Winslow
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The Force
Don Winslow
William Morrow
496 pages
June 2017
rated 5 of 5 possible stars

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A master of urban dramas, Winslow tackles The Force with the same unbridled energy as in The Power of the Dog (2006)--people, places, situations, dense chapters turning Technicolor as the plot unfolds. Winslow’s protagonist tends toward the fearless, pushing back against the corrupt and the criminal. Not yet forty, Denny Malone, the “King” of Manhattan North’s elite task force, freely admits his imperfections, the moral compromises that facilitate temporary truces, collateral damage when dealing with drugs and dealers, guns and graft, the human detritus, the disenfranchised left along the way.

Malone has become inured to the subtle demands of his bosses at One Police Plaza, light years away from Malone’s world of small-time crooks and snitches, serious dealers with their cadres of bodyguards, the warring gangs jockeying for dominance, the desperate eyes and trembling limbs of junkies needing a fix. The streets are awash with drugs and guns; racial tension thrums, a pool of gasoline waiting for a match. The Task Force has one mission: take back the streets. Malone and his crew walk boldly, sporting badges and reputations, flush with their latest score, the largest heroin bust the city has ever seen: “They’re kings. Their kingdoms aren’t fields or castles, but city blocks and project towers.”

This is where Malone lives, where he keeps an apartment and spends most nights with his girlfriend. His wife and children are safely tucked away at home. His visits are infrequent, though he never scrimps on money for his family. Malone and his men keep the drug lords in check; everybody knows the rules, and no one escapes unscathed. The task force navigates this dangerous terrain, a well-oiled machine still high on that recent score--and a temptation none of them can resist. As wily as the gangs doing the drug lords’ bidding, Malone and his gang thrive on the danger, the casual violence the streets demand, careful now to shield their own culpability, a small reward for all the years of keeping crime in check.

The Force is weighted with compromises, decisions made behind closed doors, good cops who face a morass of greed and crime every day, beat down by the ugliness, hopelessness and brutality. With the city teetering on the brink of a racial explosion, Malone is caught in a trap, facing a terrible decision, the glory days tarnished. He is caught between the betrayal of his crew, his love for the job, the woman he loves or survival. It’s a classic tale of crime and punishment, loyalty and betrayal, a city mired in insoluble problems with inadequate solutions. “Guns and dope are the soup and sandwich of American crime.” At the top of his game, the “King” Denny Malone has been given free rein to do an impossible job, plunging into that dark world where only the brave survive.

Winslow inhabits this tale through his protagonist as in The Power of the Dog, breathing life into a flawed detective and a state at war with itself, the clash between law enforcement and lawlessness, the shady deals that hold the chaos at bay: “Our beginnings can’t know our ends, our purity can’t imagine its corruption.” Written with heart, grit, humor and compassion, The Force is a classic cop story. These are real people, Denny Malone a dedicated cop, a hero, a fool and a man who wanted to make a difference but loses his soul instead.

Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at © Luan Gaines, 2017

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