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Don Winslow’s BROKEN is a gift, one bequeathed at just the right time. What we have here is six original novels, each of which reads like a short story yet contains the stimulating heft of a full-length book. This collection is aimed boldly and squarely at two groups of readers: folks who have been with Winslow from the very beginning of his fiction-writing career (or have come to him at a later point and hastened to fill in the gaps) and those who are unfamiliar with or only marginally aware of his work. There is plenty here for both, with stories that introduce new characters and others that revisit old friends --- and enemies.

Those who regularly read my humble opinions here are aware that I try to keep this space a “no-spoiler” zone. I will do my best to adhere to this rule while discussing BROKEN, even though I am tempted to do so. Let me get it out of my system by first talking about “Paradise,” which bears the subtitle “Being the Intermediate Adventures of Ben, Chon, and O.”

"What we have here is six original novels, each of which reads like a short story yet contains the stimulating heft of a full-length book.... BROKEN elevates and transcends the crime fiction genre from which it springs."

The trio of the piece --- the sexually fluid O and the Eskimo brothers Ben and Chon --- were introduced in SAVAGES, with their backstory provided in THE KINGS OF COOL. “Paradise” is set in Hanalei, Hawaii in 2008, where Ben, Chon and O have traveled for a combined business and pleasure stay, and find that by their mere presence they have inadvertently upset the delicate ecology of the local drug trade. So they feel duty-bound to save their erstwhile partners in the proposed business venture, with markedly mixed results. I give away their identities only because of the subtitle reveal. As it happens, a couple of other folks previously introduced by Winslow wander into the flora as well, each of whom packs a surprise or two.

A walk-on of sorts also occurs in “The San Diego Zoo.” It’s a fairly innocuous title that begins when a San Diego patrolman named Chris Shea responds to a report of an armed chimpanzee at the zoo. What results earns Shea lots of YouTube notoriety, as well an excruciatingly slow-budding romance. There’s a mystery here as well, consisting of how a chimp got hold of a handgun. Shea solves this one, too, with the encouragement of another character who plays a larger role in “Crime 101” and appears yet again in “Sunset.”

“Crime 101” involves a very patient and smart jewel thief who does painstaking research before each heist and is as careful in his execution as he is in his planning, spacing out each one so that as a group they appear to be unrelated, except to a cuckolded San Diego police detective. Then there is “Sunset,” which brings protagonists from two of Winslow’s early series together in an unforgettable tale about a wild hunt through San Diego for a fugitive from justice. It’s a terrific story whether or not you’re familiar with the principals, and it will make you want to stop what you’re doing and leave for San Diego just to walk in the footsteps of these characters. There is also a gem of a West Coast jazz playlist Easter-egged into the narrative that supplies a perfect soundtrack for your reading not only of BROKEN but of anything else.

The four stories mentioned above are bookended by the title piece and “The Last Ride.” “Broken” is a violent tale of revenge times two carried out on the streets and in the buildings of New Orleans with an over-the-shoulder view of its neighborhoods, as a police officer carrying an understandable grudge attempts to get his own back from an up-and-coming drug dealer. “The Last Ride,” which closes the collection, is the very definition of a contemporary western in all the best ways. A somewhat jaded Border Patrol agent who feels that he has nothing left to lose finds himself haunted by a detained little girl and becomes determined to unite her with her mother, despite opposition on both sides of the border. It is hard to pick a winner among these stories, but this one stayed with me, reminding me --- for reasons that I can’t quite describe --- of one of John Steinbeck’s best-known works.

BROKEN elevates and transcends the crime fiction genre from which it springs. Those waiting for the television adaptation of Winslow’s Cartel Trilogy will find his latest masterpiece to be the perfect companion in the meantime.

Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on April 10, 2020

by Don Winslow

  • Publication Date: August 10, 2021
  • Genres: Fiction, Suspense, Thriller
  • Paperback: 368 pages
  • Publisher: William Morrow Paperbacks
  • ISBN-10: 0062988891
  • ISBN-13: 9780062988898