I kinda knew what to expect with this Don Winslow novel going in and yet, I still wound up having a good time.
Winslow is famous for taking historical crime events and melding them into fictional tales. He did it with the history of the West Coast mob in The Winter of Frankie Machine, one of my favorite crime reads of the last few years. Here he draws inspiration from the Boston-Providence mob and their wars of the 90s post-Patriarca.
Oh and he decided to tell the tale as a reinterpretation of The Iliad.
I like this idea a lot and I wish more crime writers would reinterpret the classics for the modern age. The Greek tragedies, Shakespeare, the Bible…all of them lend themselves to the aesthetic of the contemporary crime novel quite well.
Instead of the Trojans and the Greeks, we get the Irish and the Italians, co-existing in an uneasy truce as they cut up Providence’s underworld. Yet once a metaphorical Helen of Troy comes between them, things are never quite the same, eventually leading to a bloody war that bruises all sides.
Winslow’s strengths as a crime writer shine through here. The characters are enjoyable and you find yourself caring for them in spite of their dirty deeds. He also evoked the grittiness of 80s Providence (at least I assume he did as I’ve only visited Providence once and not in the 1980s).
His weaknesses also come through: most of the female characters exist to help the men resolve their plots, the book takes too many twists near the end, and there’s absolutely no reason this needs a sequel, much less a trilogy. These seem to be the problems of many a Winslow novel.
Still, I enjoyed it. Winslow writes some of the best crime fiction you’ll read.