A few days ago, I read Martin Scorsese’s interview reflecting on The Irishman and his career in general. A small tidbit in the interview was that he and frequent collaborator Robert De Niro had passed on adapting The Winter of Frankie Machine in the aughts. De Niro read it and liked it, almost as much as he did I Heard You Paint Houses, which was adapted into The Irishman.
The Irishman was one of the better movies I saw in 2019. I’m a big Martin Scorsese fan. When I read that they passed on another gangster novel to make this one, I figured I’d pick it up.
I’ve read several Don Winslow books and they’re fine. Just fine. I wanted to like The Power of the Dog more than I did but it was tough to appreciate Winslow’s mashup of the greatest hits in American drug war lore while the characters were underdeveloped. Death and Life of Bobby Z was a half-baked beach noir written by a Tarantino acolyte. The writing style of Savages was too cute for its own good.
But this one hits the spot: just right. It’s similar to other books Winslow has done but I think he has a better feel for the main character, Frank Machianno, aka “Frankie Machine.” He parcels out Frank’s backstory that makes him feel like a real human and not just a studio gangster. I felt invested in his journey as he tried to find out who was killing him.
And if you liked The Irishman as I did, this is a good beach-based compendium. Winslow doesn’t glorify the mob, who were never really that powerful in California anyway. He doesn’t make it seem like Frank had a good life. Like the Frank character De Niro actually played: this is just something he did, for better and for worse. And now, at the end of his days, he has to reckon with it.
Some things work better than others. There’s an FBI angle that served no other purpose than plot advancement. The book’s treatment of women left a lot to be desired. And the ending. Oh, the ending. The less said, the better. But overall, this is a fun gangster novel written in a location that doesn’t often produce gangster tales about a man at the end of his rope staring down his past.