by Barbara Nevins Taylor
I was so wrung out when the narrator Dion Graham ended The Force, I found my husband and said, “Now, I’m ready for a fairy tale.”
The Don Winslow novel takes you on a dark and harrowing cop ride-along through the streets of the Upper West Side and the territory cops call Manhattan North. Denny Malone, a wildcat, corrupt NYPD sergeant and his band of brothers operate a task force with few rules and even fewer restraints. If you think you can imagine how bad things can get, just keep listening.
Winslow fills the twists and turns in the plot with racism, guns, drugs and the dangers for cops and real people caught in the cross-hairs of drug dealers and what they peddle. Winslow even throws in a ripped-from-the-headlines corruption investigation against his fictional mayor. The real investigation against New York’s current mayor was ultimately dropped by local and federal prosecutors.
Narrator Graham makes Malone, his wife Sheila, girlfriend Claudette and Malone’s team and their wives so believable that you wince at every misstep and hope for redemption somewhere along the line.
As a reporter who has covered the federal courts, prosecutors, the NYPD, the FBI and the drug scene, I can tell you that it all feels and sounds real including the Staten Island backyard barbecue. I had to keep telling myself: Sure, some prosecutors serve themselves first. Sure, some cops take every opportunity to go rogue. But most I’ve known stay clean and straight.
Don Winslow writes fiction that reads and sounds pitch-perfect. A criminal comes out of a housing development with his hands held high, “What you want?” he asks Malone. “My lawyer’s on the way.” Malone looks around at the gathering crowd and thinks, “It has to be 20 people holding their cell phones up. It looks like a rock concert.”
Every chapter keeps you spinning with some crazy New York street thing and (no spoiler alert) Malone’s steady descent into hell. Some things do pull him back, and while you may hate him, you feel for him.
Characters up and down the chain of command, the prosecutor and the mayor all live in netherworlds of deals and easy rule breaking. It’s hard to separate them from the drug dealers and that feels like Winslow’s point.
The author of the best-selling and prophetic The Cartel, in which a drug lord escapes from prison, took out a full-page ad in the New York Times recently to criticize President Donald Trump and Attorney General Jeff Session for their call for harsher penalties for drug crimes. He called them “woefully ignorant.”
If you like your fiction hard-boiled and like reading and listening to stories about cop life, make a date with the audiobook version of The Force.