Review

Don Winslow's cop corruption novel The Force is packed with cinematic depictions

Don Winslow (above), author of The Force, was born in New York and pounded its streets as a private investigator.
Don Winslow (above), author of The Force, was born in New York and pounded its streets as a private investigator.PHOTO: A. ANDERSON

FICTION

THE FORCE

By Don Winslow

Harpercollins Publishers/Paperback/ 482 pages/$28.89/Books Kinokuniya/3.5/5 stars

"Good and evil both increase at compound interest. That's why the little decisions you and I make every day are of such infinite importance," wrote Christian writer C. S. Lewis.

This would have been sound advice for Dennis John Malone, the conflicted cop hero of The Force, a police novel set in New York City.

Don Winslow, author of The Force (above), was born in New York and pounded its streets as a private investigator.
Don Winslow, author of The Force (above), was born in New York and pounded its streets as a private investigator.

The Irish gunslinger from Staten Island is a hero cop, the son of a hero cop, a cop's cop and top dog of a New York police taskforce that is "the 1 per cent of the 1 per cent of the 1 per cent".

Just 38, he fancies himself a king of kings who rules over Manhattan North, keeping gangs, guns and drugs in check.

But when the novel opens, Malone is in handcuffs, a fallen hero who has lost his faith. How do you cross the line? "Step by motherf**king step," he ponders in one of his numerous inner monologues.

Winslow, who has about 20 books under his belt, including The Cartel, a bestseller about Mexican drug gangs, delivers a good read here.

The story of man's corruption is as old as time and he tells it in simple prose. As Malone muses: "City blocks are memories. They have lives and they have deaths."

It may be a novel about bad cops, but Winslow portrays the men and the odd woman in blue with empathy, noting that corruption runs through the entire law enforcement establishment in New York.

He also deftly weaves in news topics, such as the heroin epidemic in the United States and the Black Lives Matter movement.

At times, it feels almost as if the California-based author, who was born in New York and pounded its streets as a private investigator, is writing a screenplay, plunging readers right into cinematic depictions of shootings unfolding inside stairwells in the housing projects.

The macho dialogue ("Quit jerking me off") also sounds as if it can be transferred to the big screen directly. In fact, the book's movie rights have been sold.

But there is no great suspense as Winslow traces his hero's road to eventual perdition. Nor is Malone that interesting a character.

The Force is like a meal of steak and potatoes - substantial, solid and real - but do not expect any subtle or delicate flavours.

If you like this, read: The Godfather by Mario Puzo (Arrow Books, $19.94, Books Kinokuniya). This 1969 classic about Don Corleone, head of a New York Italian mafia family mired in a blood war, is a masterpiece that grabs the reader from the start, with its grand cast of complex characters, rich details and searing plot.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 15, 2017, with the headline 'Cop corruption novel packed with cinematic depictions'. Print Edition | Subscribe