Whoo man, this one…wow.
I’ve always had mixed feelings on Don Winslow. Some of his books are full-of-themselves to the point of making me actively disdain the writing (The Death and Life of Bobby Z, Savages). Others are too broad in scope to get their full point across (The Power of the Dog). The Winter of Frankie Machine almost falls into the latter category but I really liked the voice of the lead character so it won out for me.
Much like Frankie Machine, I picked this up because it might be made into a movie, this one staring Matt Damon. I guess Damon has some experience playing a crooked cop (The Departed). But I don’t know if this is the role for him or a competent director like James Mangold.
This feels like it needs a modern day McQueen, the Safdie brothers, and a boatload of speed. Because this book rips. It’s incredible.
Well…it’s incredible for the most part of it’s first 3/4ths. Much like The Shield of which it is no doubt at least somewhat derived from, it jerks you from scene-to-scene with a high voltage energy as Denny Malone seeks to protect his kingdom. And yet, this isn’t a typical corrupt cop tale. Winslow layers the story with persons, events, things. Stakes are high and consistently raised. Pages burn as they turn. The reader lives with Denny in his every moment while desperately waiting to learn of his fate.
It’s not an exaggeration to say I got lost in this one. I’ve always known Winslow has this kind of talent but he usually blows it on an overdose of style or substance. Here, he perfects the balancing act…again, through the first 75%.
I’ll mention what didn’t work for me before we get to the last quarter…
- Claudette’s character. White people writing black women usually turns out bad and this is no exception. Claudette is a recovering drug addict who is basically around to sleep with Malone and lay a heaping of white guilt when the story calls for it. Her addiction comes to the forefront too when the plot conveniently needs to give Malone a hurdle. On top of it, and this is just random but it bugs me, she’s a black woman in her 30s (I think?) but prefers jazz to rap, hip-hop and r&b. This might just be my mind messing with me but I feel like I’ve read multiple instances in which white writers will write black characters who like jazz instead of rap, hip-hop and r&b. Claudette’s blackness is convenient when it contrasts with Malone’s whiteness and her femininity is solely rooted in her sexuality. This character definitely needed to be redesigned.
- It’s minor but the cop talk does get too cliched and repetitious. This is to be expected in a novel like that but how many times do we need to hear, “They’ll take my gun, my badge, my pension”? I’m not a police officer but I know a few and they just don’t go around talking like that, even to each other.
And now we get to the end, which really nosedived the book for me and made me take away a star, even though on the whole I liked it a lot. A plot point that is small but important comes back to roar at the end and screw with the whole finale. And it’s taking an issue, a very real, sensitive issue, and playing it off for the sake of plot convenience. Because in every Winslow book I’ve read, the ones I liked and didn’t like: the man just can’t let his main characters go. He needs to drag out endings to their implausible lengths and this is no exception.
It disappointed me but overall, I greatly enjoyed this one. I hope the movie is half as good (and I really hope they re-write Claudette’s character).