Of course, we’ve long been accustomed to characters like Dirty Harry, Martin Riggs and John Luther, fictional cops who broke the rules, but did so in the interest of justice. Now, however, we are seeing more characters like Hank Voight, ably played by Jason Beghe on NBC’s “Chicago PD.”
Beghe is on the pad to the mob. He also savagely beats suspects and occasionally even executes them. Yet we find ourselves rooting for him, and characters like him, because they get dirty in the name of keeping the streets safe for “citizens.”
Denny Malone, the self-styled King of Manhattan North in Don Winslow’s The Force, is a different kind of cop. Like Beghe, he takes protection money from mobsters and brutalizes suspects while occasionally protecting the innocent. But Malone also rips off drug dealers, steals their money for himself, and puts their drugs back on the streets.
Because Malone narrates his own story, the reader is apt to root with him at first, too, especially when the walls start to close in on him and his pals.. But Winslow is too fine a writer to succumb to that cliché. As he fills in Malone’s back story, demonstrating how a young man who once longed only to be a good cop descended, step by step, into hell, he asks us only to understand.
The Force is Winslow’s first New York City novel, his previous books set on the west coast or along the Mexican border. But he perfectly captures both the city and the lingo of its cops, mobsters, and street dealers. As he weaves his complex saga of political corruption, race relations, a failing justice system, and what it’s like to be a cop in The Big Apple, he laces it with so many twists and betrayals that it is impossible to stop reading.
The Force — along with a body of work that includes The Cartel, Savages, and The Winter of Frankie Machine — secures Winslow’s place beside the likes of Richard Price, Dennis Lehane, Daniel Woodrell, George Pelecanos, Thomas H. Cook, and James Ellroy – writers who have turned the American crime novel into true works of literature.
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