Count me a great big fan of Don Winslow’s novels. Cartel blew me away with its horrific storyline on the present-day Mexican cartels, their uncontrolled, unimaginable violence, and their corruption of all levels of government.
Winslow’s book dedication, listing 131 journalists murdered by the cartels, sent its own message before I started page one.
Right now, I’m in the middle of his recent novel, The Force, about the NYPD, and the high profile Manhattan North Special Task Force. The author set the tone again, before page one, this time listing three pages—small type—of all the police personnel killed in the line of duty, during the time he was writing the book.
So, thanks to Winslow’s compelling writing style I’m already in Detective Dennis Malone’s corner, the book’s protagonist. He wants to protect his fellow cops, his family, his city. Maybe I have some wanna-be cop since I’m carrying Irish Catholic DNA like Denny. He madly loves his kids, too.
Sure, Denny and his police crew cut corners to put bad guys away, real bad dudes. And if you’re a perp and you run, they’ll beat on you.
You don’t shoot at cops, ‘cause they’re the good guys and you may get shot and the ambulance is late, like “wait-till-I-finish-this-cigarette-slow.”
Maybe Denny and his crew confiscate illicit greenbacks and dope and don’t turn it all into the evidence room. They need their personal resources—in hidden accounts the feds can’t find— enough put away for an emergency attorney or to make a run.
Here’s a taste of Winslow:
All he’s seen, Malone isn’t a big fan of God and figures the feeling is mutual. He has a lot of questions he’d like to ask him, but if he ever got him in the room, God’d probably shut his mouth, lawyer up, let his own kid take the jolt.
. . .This was the fourth girl this animal had done, and every cop in the Three-Two was looking for him.
The Haitians got there before the cops did, found the perp still on the rooftop and tossed him off into the alley.
Malone and his then partner caught the call and walked into the alley where Rocky the Non-Flying Squirrel was lying in a spreading pool of his own blood, with most of the bones in his body broken because nine floors is a long way to fall . . .
The cops feel for the Vics and hate the perps, but they can’t feel too much or they can’t do their jobs and they can’t hate too much or they’ll become the perps. So they develop a shell, a “we hate everybody” attitude force field around themselves that everyone can feel from ten feet away.
You gotta have it, Malone knows, or this job kills you, physically or psychologically. Or both.
The feds come after our hero, Detective Sergeant Denny Malone. They want him to flip. He refuses. He’s totally not a rat. Then, he agrees to give up several corrupt Assistant District Attorneys. Denny’s troubled, but he never liked the legal beagles anyhow. He knows, no matter how he spins it—he is a rat. But no way, no how, will he give up cops.
And now the federal task force wants dirty cops and Denny needs to deliver.
Winslow has done such a superb job at this point in capturing the reader, I mean, we understand the mean streets Denny has to own and without his thin blue line, rules be damned, we’re all at risk, aren’t we?
Screw “probable cause.”
Planting a gun on a really bad hombre? No biggie.
Except that Winslow’s expert writing ensnares us again. Our protagonist runs out of self-rationalizing room. And we realize that Denny, truly a hero cop, is corrupt. The sheepdog has turned wolf too many times. We like Denny and think we understand Denny, but . . .
So, at this point, at 1:30 a.m. PCT, I wasn’t feeling good about my man, Denny, and his options—couldn’t see any way out, and neither could Denny, so I had to turn the lights out, half-way through the book, and hope for sleep.
It’s been two days. I guess I’m ready to go back in and see how Denny is doing. I’m nervous and I’m concerned because I never get the feeling that Winslow specializes in happy endings. He’s too busy writing what’s really going on.
By the way, Winslow’s writing in The Cartel, so horrifically accurate, triggered word on the street that Winslow better start looking over his shoulder. I love the guy.