The Force by Don Winslow
Detective Denny Malone loves his job. A native of Staten Island, Malone loves nothing more than to immerse himself in his role as an elite cop with the NYPD. Together with his friends, Russo and Monty, he rules northern Manhattan. At least he likes to think he does.
But the criminals of the underworld and the criminals of City hall have other ideas. As respected and decorated as Malone is, he is still just a cop to them, perhaps one with ideas above his station.
When a drug bust goes wrong resulting in the death of Denny’s young colleague, Billy O’Neill, and the subsequent execution of crime kingpin, Diego Pena, Malone and his friends set off a chain of events that have the potential to destroy them all. It is just after the shooting of Pena that the cops make a rash decision. They decide to skim off a large portion of both drugs and cash found at the scene. It seems all to be part and parcel of being a detective in New York.
But unbeknownst to Malone, the FBI are investigating the wider corruption within the department and legal system. Denny, unfortunately, find himself on the hook with the Feds for serious crime and is looking at some hard jail time. He is conflicted with the idea of going to prison and breaking the hearts of his two young children, or becoming the very thing he hates the most, a Rat.
Malone’s decision is made for him when a senior member of the Italian Mafia, with whom he has conducted much illicit business, is turned by the Feds and gives up Denny. The tortured cop has no options. If he wants to save his family from serious grief then he has to work for the FBI and give up every crooked cop and lawyer he knows. The can of worms is even bigger than the Feds realize and is perhaps more than even they can handle. It begins to get very messy for everyone concerned.
In The Force, Don Winslow has opened up the inner workings of the 38,000 strong NYPD. He doesn’t shy away from the ugly, seedy side of the boys-in-blue, as we are shown the myriad ways in which the cops twist, bend, break and ignore the laws that they have sworn to uphold. It’s a fascinating premise set within a magnificent story-line.
The pace, set early in The Force, is frantic and relentless. The action never lets up. Malone has separated from his wife and spends most nights with his black girlfriend who has an intravenous drug habit, yet is a nurse in a local hospital. We see the disapproval that exists when a white, Irish-American cop shacks up with a black woman. Yet one of Malone’s closest and most trusted friends, Monty, is a black cop. Malone struggles to find a moral position for his increasingly erratic lifestyle.
He is without doubt an effective cop who succeeds in removing bad guys from the streets. He is also respected for his noble efforts to protect women and children from domestic abuse. But Malone steals cash and drugs from criminals to better care for his own family. He justifies this to himself by remaining anchored to the fact that it is criminals that he is stealing from. But his conscience is never entirely clear. His colleagues are no different. The reader is left in no doubt that this practice of taking from the evil-doers for personal gain is commonplace in the detective division.
Malone’s position as head of an elite task-force for northern Manhattan gives him tremendous access to all aspects of criminal life in the area. Sometimes he has to sit down and reach agreements with various crime-lords and hope for the lucky break that will allow him to put them away. But he discovers that it’s all too easy to forget that he’s on the opposite side from them. By being so fully immersed in this world, and with his friends and colleagues also in the same boat, the lines between law-breaker and lawman begin to gradually blur for Denny Malone.
Winslow has created a masterpiece with this book. It is hard-hitting, exciting and gripping. It also has great depth. The author has chosen to ignore the stereotypes of customary good and bad guys. Instead, he gives layers and depth to his formidable list of characters. The criminals aren’t entirely bad. The cops certainly aren’t all good. The reader is shown the life, the reasoning, the actions and the consequence, and then left to decide upon whether Denny Malone is or isn’t a good man. Rebel Voice felt that, overall, Malone comes out of this story as a man who meant well but simply lost his way. He’s a good person corrupted by the tense, stressful and brutal world in which he works.
As it becomes known that Malone is an informant, the knives are out for him. His fellow cops want him gone, preferably dead. City Hall wants him silenced before he exposes up too many dirty secrets. The Feds want him locked up and the criminals want his head in a spike. Denny is fast running out of friends as he fights to protect his loved ones whilst punishing everyone who is now coming down on him. It’s a truly enthralling read with a stunning finale.
If you want to get inside the heads of the NYPD, or gaze upon the machinations of the New York political machine, or get a slice of life in a rotten piece of the Big Apple, the The Force is definitely the book for you. It’s a tough, insightful and, at times, crude story excellently told. If you read only one book next month, then Rebel Voice recommends that it be this one.
Sult scale rating: 8.5 out of 10. Highly recommended. Caution is advised though, as the language and imagery is strong at times and may be tough for some to stomach. But then again, if you want to read about the dark underbelly of New York City, that is a price worth paying.