Will Byrnes's Reviews > The Force

The Force by Don Winslow
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it was amazing
bookshelves: books-of-the-year-2017, nyc, fiction

…he started out with his eyes firmly on the guiding star, his feet planted on the path, but that’s the thing about the life you walk—you start out pointed true North, but you vary one degree off, it doesn’t matter for maybe one year, five years, but as the years stack up you’re just walking farther and farther away from where you started out to go, you don’t even know you’re lost until you’re so far from your original destination you can’t even see it anymore - Don Winslow
Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown - Henry IV Part 2 – W. Shakespeare
After eighteen years in the NYPD, Detective Sergeant Denny Malone has good cause for unease. The de facto king of Manhattan North has seen considerable upheaval in his kingdom. He may be, effectively, the head of this select unit, charged with going after gangs, drugs, and guns. “Da Force” may have unusually free rein to do as they see fit to accomplish their goals. But a turf war between competing providers of recreational pharmaceuticals is growing increasingly kinetic, with one of the combatants looking to purchase a considerable supply of death-dealing hardware. Not OK. The captain is pressing for a high-publicity bust. There is also the perennial political dance one must perform to keep the brass at One Police Plaza and the political suits from interfering with business as usual. Of course, what passes for business as usual might not look all that good splashed across the front pages of the local tabloids.

Don Winslow - image from Milanonera.com

Bribery may be the grease that keeps the wheels of civilization turning, but it leaves a lot of cops with very dirty hands. Denny is no saint, and no Serpico. He may mean well for the community he is charged with protecting, but his methods often lack the soft gleam of legality. We first meet him as he arrives in federal lockup. The novel then goes back to show how he got there. Slippery slope stuff. See the greased wheels above.
The street stays with you.
It sinks into your pores and then your blood.
And into your soul? Malone asks himself. You gonna blame that on the street too?
Some of it, yeah.
You’ve been breathing corruption since you put on the shield, Malone thinks. Like you breathed in death that day in September. Corruption isn’t just in the city’s air, it’s in its DNA, yours too.
Yeah, blame it on the city, blame it on New York.
Blame it on the Job,
It’s too easy, it stops you from asking yourself the hard question.
How did you get here?
Like anyplace else.
A step at a time.
Lines are crossed here with the frequency of runners reaching the end of the NYC marathon. Early on, Denny and his crew take out a major distributor, whack the principal, and skim off a significant portion of the captured product, a bit of an extra retirement fund. Some people are a tad upset by this. It’s not exactly much of a secret, though, and there are those who would like to see Denny being saluted by the entire force in Dress Blues and white gloves while someone plays Taps.

One of the great powers of this novel is the perspective offered on diverse forms of human behavior. Is Denny a brute for roughing up a guy who beat up a kid? Definitely outside the law, but are his actions effective? Denny really does care about the people in his kingdom. He cuts slack when possible, and brutalizes when it is called for. But the law seems a lot more of a recommendation than an absolute.

Winslow offers a close up look at a dark element of police culture. How does being on the take work? Who gets what? How is money distributed? Who is it ok to accept bribes from? What is allowed that would otherwise be justiceable? And why do the cops here consider it ok? He offers as well a moving look at the human relationships that make up police life, the code of honor, the power of partnership, the requirement that all members of the team partake of the ill-gotten, if only as a means of self-protection, the wives who turn a blind eye to where that extra cash may have originated, and what their breadwinner may be up to when the crew parties hard, up to a point anyway. The interaction between the police and people in their area is rich with real affection, as well as the expected cynicism. Some of these scenes are stunningly moving, tissue worthy.

How about the relationship between cops and the local criminal element? You might be reminded of those cartoons in which Bugs Bunny and Wile E. Coyote punch a time clock, go at it, then clock out at the end of the day, friends. The cops and criminals often seem cut from the same cloth, although the baddest of the bad guys are certainly much worse than the worst of the cops. And the bullets really kill. Winslow does not spare the one-percent, either, in his look at layers of amorality.

Don Winslow is a seasoned writer at the pinnacle of his craft.
Malone drives past the Wahi diner and the mural of a raven on 155th. Past the church of the Intercession, but it’s too late for Intercession, past Trinity Cemetery and the Apollo Pharmacy, the Big Brother Barber shop, Hamilton Fruits and Vegetables and all the small gods of place, the personal shrines, the markers of his life on these streets that he loves like a husband loves a cheating wife, a father loves a wayward son.
There are wonderful nuggets of law enforcement intel in here. Like the notion of testilying. Or what is considered proper attire for a day on the stand. How about special celebratory nights for a crew? The upside of EMTs not taking a Hippocratic oath. Rules for note-taking on the job. How 9/11 saved the mob. Planning your crimes so they cross as many precinct boundaries as possible, increasing the likelihood that a paperwork snafu will botch a prosecution. On tribes within the force.

Winslow has a Damon Runyon-esque ear for character names. My favorites were a CI named Nasty Ass, and another the cops call Oh No, Henry, and a linguist’s appreciation for the local patois. Or maybe that would be another well-known teller of tales. (I think Dickens is one of the progenitors of noir fiction, writing as he did about the criminal underclass.) He peppers the novel with delicious small side-stories. Tales told in a bar by guys who have been spinning yarns for a lifetime. They give us occasional breathers from the breakneck pace.

He takes on topics that will resonate, from Blue on Black violence, and the resulting reactions, to how the jails are functioning as de facto mental hospitals and detox centers. From a consideration of God and the Church (Denny is not a fan) to the impact of the job on people’s lives. Denny recalls his father. He was a cop on these streets, coming home in the morning after a graveyard shift with murder in his eyes, death in his nose and an icicle in his heart that never melted and eventually killed him. From how cops cope with the daily horrors to how the crime numbers are cooked to support whatever preconceived outcome was desired. On the Iron Pipeline, the route on which legal guns from Texas, Arizona, Alabama and the Carolinas become illegal guns in NYC. The politics of police tactics and voting. The hatred and respect the cops have for the best defense lawyers. Their relationship with reporters. You trust a reporter like you trust a dog. You got a bone in your hand, you’re feeding him, you’re good. Your hand’s empty, don’t turn your back. You either feed the media or it eats you.

Denny may be dirty, but you will be dashing along with him and hoping for the best. Maybe this whole situation can be fixed. He is a rich, multi-faceted character, and you will most definitely care what happens to him. Think Popeye (Gene Hackman) of The French Connection, or Lieutenant Matt Wozniak (Ray Liotta) on the wonderful TV show Shades of Blue.

You might want to secure your seat belt and make sure that your Kevlar is all where it is supposed to be. This is a non-stop, rock’em, sock’em high-speed chase of a novel, a dizzying dash through an underworld of cops, criminals, and those caught in the middle, screeching stops, and doubling backs, hard lefts, harder rights, and Saturn V level acceleration. Once you catch your breath after finishing the final pages I expect you’ll find yourself realizing just what a treat it has been. The Force is not just a great cop book, it is a great book, period, a Shakespearean tragedy of high ideals brought low, with one of the great cop characters of all time. The Force is an instant classic.

Review posted – February 24, 2017

Publication dates
-----June 20, 2017 - hardcover
-----March 13, 2018 - Trade paper

=============================EXTRA STUFF

Don Winslow has written many books. Some have been made into films. I have read none of them, so can offer no real insight into what carried forward from his prior work, or where new notions or techniques may have come into play. I read this totally as a stand-alone.

Links to the author’s personal, Twitter and FB pages

This page has many links to related interviews and materials


----- Litsack
-----Hi. My name is Don Winslow, and I'm a writing addict - by John Wilkins for the San Diego Union Tribune
-----June 29, 2017 - NY Times - Don Winslow: By the Book
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Reading Progress

February 22, 2017 – Started Reading
February 22, 2017 – Shelved
February 22, 2017 – Finished Reading
February 24, 2017 – Shelved as: books-of-the-year-2017
February 24, 2017 – Shelved as: nyc
June 9, 2018 – Shelved as: fiction

Comments Showing 1-50 of 67 (67 new)

message 1: by Zach (new)

Zach You really need to read his other stuff. Start with The Power of the Dog and move to The Cartel. I honestly believe that those two books, together, will go down as classics, like we saw with American Tabloid or The Godfather books.

Chris Berko I agree with Zach's comment. Those two books are amazing. Fast and intense, like a literary panic attack.

Will Byrnes I will definitely be putting Winslow's earlier work on my long list

message 4: by HBalikov (new)

HBalikov I recently went to a meeting between a major metropolitan police force and the community. At one of the breaks, one of the senior officers and I got into a discussion. At one point he said that community relations training has to take early in a police officer's career. You have a good chance of making headway with those who have less than five years of service; some chance with those under ten years of service; and, none with those further along. A major reason: PTSD has a cumulative effect.

message 5: by William (new) - added it

William Wow, great review, Thank you.

message 6: by Carolyn (new) - added it

Carolyn Love your in-depth reviews Will. I can't imagine why all police officers don't get PTSD after all the tough stuff they see.

message 7: by Lara (new) - added it

Lara Yes great review Will! I was just today telling a friend over lunch how much I enjoy Goodreads.. because some of the reviews are so interesting and well written with choice quotes and links and fun to read

message 8: by Supratim (new) - added it

Supratim Brilliant review, Will! I have to read it now. :)

message 9: by Malia (last edited Feb 26, 2017 07:04AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Malia Great review, Will! Can't wait to get a copy. I was a big fan of "The Cartel" and "Power of the Dog", which I would recommend if you want to read more by this author:-)

message 10: by Elyse (new) - added it

Elyse  Walters Wow ... exciting review.... and on Oscar day!!! I've been thinking of you - I know I know -( not the same for you this year.. I'm holding the fort down for ya)...
The first quote you wrote got me all stirred up... Paul and I are in Peet's with our next stop to the hiking trails - first day back since all these floods...
hope life is great and nobody writes a review like you Will!
This book sounds GOOD!

message 11: by Mel (new) - rated it 4 stars

Mel Will wrote: "I will definitely be putting Winslow's earlier work on my long list"
Hi Will--definitely Power of the Dog then Cartel; some of the best books on the subject. Worth reading are any of his interviews regarding writing those books. Nice review; I intend to add this to the front of my TBRL.

message 12: by Lynne (new)

Lynne King That's an excellent review and also an interesting subject Will.

message 13: by Miriam (new)

Miriam Smith Excellent review!

message 14: by Will (new) - rated it 5 stars

Will Byrnes Thanks, Lynne and Miriam. This book is the real deal.

Brandon Holy shit, I can't wait for this. Excellent review, sir.

message 16: by Will (new) - rated it 5 stars

Will Byrnes Thanks, Brandon, and a movie is in the works. James Mangold is set to direct.

message 17: by Laura (new)

Laura Thanks for the great review (as always) Will! I've read "The Death and Life of Bobby Z" by Don Winslow. I thoroughly enjoyed that offering, and based on your review, I may need to go back and read more of Winslow's work, starting with "The Force".

message 18: by John (new) - rated it 5 stars

John Murphy This has whetted my appetite just nicely. Another shout for The Power of the Dog if you want to read more by the Don, it's one of the best books I've ever read.

message 19: by Will (new) - rated it 5 stars

Will Byrnes Thanks, Laura. This was my first DW. It is unlikely to be my last.

message 20: by HBalikov (new)

HBalikov Seems a bit nastier than the Ed McBain that I have been reading, Will. I wonder if one could construct a tree linking these two authors and the eras between?

message 21: by Will (new) - rated it 5 stars

Will Byrnes As I am not at all familiar with EM, I would not be the person to make those connections.

message 22: by William (new) - added it

William Thank you for the review! I am in 5-star overload now omg!

message 23: by Will (new) - rated it 5 stars

Will Byrnes Thank you, William. This one is a definite must read for 2017, fwiw.

message 24: by Supratim (new) - added it

Supratim Great review, Will!

message 25: by Will (new) - rated it 5 stars

Will Byrnes Thanks, Supratim. This is an outstanding book.

James Thane Going to see Winslow at my local bookstore tomorrow night; really looking forward to hear him talking about this book.

message 27: by Will (new) - rated it 5 stars

Will Byrnes should be interesting

message 28: by Will (new) - rated it 5 stars

Will Byrnes Munki wrote: "This has whetted my appetite just nicely. Another shout for The Power of the Dog if you want to read more by the Don, it's one of the best books I've ever read."
Thanks, Munki. I hope to get to tPotD someday.

message 29: by anshika (new)

anshika nice author

message 30: by Will (new) - rated it 5 stars

Will Byrnes Sorry. Mine are all in English only.

message 31: by Will (new) - rated it 5 stars

Will Byrnes James wrote: "Going to see Winslow at my local bookstore tomorrow night; really looking forward to hear him talking about this book."
How was the talk. Anything interesting to report?

message 32: by Brooklyn (new) - added it

Brooklyn This book is plastered all over my subway stop - and I thought wow - they're actually advertising the hell out of a book! I wonder what it's like - well thanks to your review - I know now!

James Thane Will wrote: "James wrote: "Going to see Winslow at my local bookstore tomorrow night; really looking forward to hear him talking about this book."
How was the talk. Anything interesting to report?"

The talk was very good; Winslow is always a very interesting guy with great stories to tell at these events. Mostly he talked about the new book, of course.

message 34: by Will (new) - rated it 5 stars

Will Byrnes Joe wrote: "This book is plastered all over my subway stop - and I thought wow - they're actually advertising the hell out of a book! I wonder what it's like - well thanks to your review - I know now!"
Winslow is new to Harper. I expect that, in addition to knowing this is a terrific book and should do well, the folks there want to make him happy.

message 35: by Mel (new) - rated it 4 stars

Mel Hi Will, I just finished and have to agree with you completely. Winslow is a favorite anyway, but he is at the top of his game and this book is itself a force. It mirrored the Michael Dowd case of corruption, but without the connecting the emotional side. HBO just aired a special that was taped in 2014, about the corruption case but the focus was more procedural. Winslow connected readers the the human side, the thought process that turns those wheels. This was just fantastic--the review and the book.

message 36: by Will (new) - rated it 5 stars

Will Byrnes Thanks, Mel. This is an outstanding book.

message 37: by William (new) - added it

William Dirty Cop as protagonist? No, thank you.

message 38: by Will (new) - rated it 5 stars

Will Byrnes It is not that black and white, but a very nuanced and engaging portrayal, offering insight into how corruption begins and is sustained, at various levels and in diverse ways.

message 39: by Mike (new)

Mike A superb review, Will. Winslow was recently recommended to me by a friend and now I can clearly see why.

message 40: by Will (new) - rated it 5 stars

Will Byrnes Thanks, Mike

message 41: by Paula (new) - added it

Paula I loved Gene Hackman in the French Connection. What a wonderful review you have written, Will. I haven't read Don Winslow in a while, but plan on picking this book up right away!

message 42: by Will (new) - rated it 5 stars

Will Byrnes Thanks, Paula

message 43: by Will (new) - rated it 5 stars

Will Byrnes Eileen E Patterson wrote: "hello every one"
Hi Eileen. Do you have anything to say about the book, or the review?

message 44: by Zak (new) - rated it 5 stars

Zak Sounds like the French TV series "Braquo"... I'll have to check out "Shades of Blue". Great review, Will

message 45: by Will (new) - rated it 5 stars

Will Byrnes Thanks, Zak. Will have to check out Braquo. Another French series you might enjoy is Engrenages (Spira)l

Matthew Quann Killer review Will!

message 47: by Will (last edited Sep 17, 2017 09:13PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Will Byrnes Thanks, Matthew. hope I don't get arrested.

message 48: by Zak (new) - rated it 5 stars

Zak Will wrote: "Thanks, Zak. Will have to check out Braquo. Another French series you might enjoy is Engrenages (Spira)l"

Ooh yes, I've watched all seasons of 'Engrenages' ... fantastic series.

message 49: by Will (last edited Oct 04, 2017 09:12PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Will Byrnes Really is

Patrick  (Paddy) Moore excellent review. Thanks

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