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The Force


The Force

I have mixed feelings about THE FORCE. It’s an unwieldy account (see below), with almost as much to dislike as to love. In that latter sense, it is much like the character who is the central topic of the book and who is complicated in the best and worst ways. His story, in the hands of Don Winslow, is mesmerizing, even if the author’s method of telling it occasionally (but not fatally) gets in the way of the narrative.

That character would be NYPD Detective Sergeant Denny Malone. We learn almost immediately that Malone is part of the Manhattan North Special Task Force, the gold card of the department’s elite units. We also are informed that Malone is regarded as a hero cop, or at least was, since he is sitting in a holding cell when we first encounter him. THE FORCE begins near (but not with) its linear conclusion before moving forward from the immediate past Christmas of the book’s present with very frequent stops and forays into the distant past along the way to explain who this or that character is, or (in many cases) was, before reaching its ending some six months later. The narrative bounces back and forth in time, waiting until (almost) the very end to present the full revelation of the act that brings Malone down and --- almost but not quite --- out.

"[THE FORCE] contains a spellbinding story with characters you will never forget from first page to last."

It was not always that way. Malone started off wanting to be nothing more or less than a good cop with a wife and two kids. The Force --- known on the street as “Da Force” --- changed all of that. As THE FORCE unfolds, we watch how Malone and his brother officers at first try to strictly follow the rules, which of course don’t work. They begin cutting corners, taking the occasional payoff and covering up their wrongdoing, sometimes going to extreme measures to do so, even as they tread deeper into the concentric rings of hell they have created for themselves, meeting and working with new demons along the way. All of that is bad enough, even if on some occasions it is understandable by all concerned on both sides of the gritty line of acceptable behavior that you can’t take names without kicking ass and busting heads.

It is when the tipping point occurs --- an inexcusable act --- that Malone and the Force become no better than the criminals they pursue. Perhaps it is at this point (you’ll know it when you get to it) that Winslow really shines with some of his best writing to date, as the reader becomes privy to the interior dialogue of Malone and the other Force members, as they attempt to justify their actions in order to differentiate their own criminal acts from those they pursue. What is equally startling and impressive is the manner in which Winslow irrevocably demonstrates that no one’s hands --- from the curb to the halls of power --- are truly clean.

THE FORCE features some of Winslow’s best writing, but this is not his best book. It’s an example of what happens when one substitutes telling for showing. There are several breaks in the narrative --- primarily in the first half --- where it is paused, and a great deal of back and fill occurs. This would be disastrous with most other authors. With Winslow, it’s merely irritating, because he is never, ever boring. The book wants for you (demands, actually) to read it all in one sitting, even as it clocks in at almost 500 pages. Your vision will give out before your patience does, guaranteed. This notwithstanding a narrative that in many places reminds me just a bit of what happens when you ask a group of friends with strong backs and minds of varying strength to move a piano up to a second floor room: the method isn’t always pretty, but it gets the job done and you can play some great songs when they’re finished.

This is what happens in THE FORCE. It is inconsistently written but contains a spellbinding story with characters you will never forget from first page to last. And, in the end, isn’t telling a story what writing should be --- and is --- all about?

Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on June 22, 2017

The Force
by Don Winslow

  • Publication Date: March 13, 2018
  • Genres: Fiction, Suspense, Thriller
  • Paperback: 528 pages
  • Publisher: William Morrow Paperbacks
  • ISBN-10: 0062664433
  • ISBN-13: 9780062664433