I have to say, I came to Don Winslow late. The man has been publishing novels since 1991 but it was The Cartel in 2015 (a review of which sent us hunting down its immediate prequel, The Power of the Dog) that firmly placed him on our mental list of authors whose works we make sure to check out. Since 2015, we’ve had The Force (which was a bit too macho for our liking) and The Border (which concluded the trilogy that started out with The Power of the Dog), and we’ve also started to dabble with earlier works like The Winter of Frankie Machine. It’s also worth saying, like an inverted Trump, Winslow has risen in our estimation considerably as a result of the gusto with which he has fought both Donald Trump and the more extreme elements of the Republican party on Twitter over the course of the last few years.
So what about Broken then? What we have here are six longish short stories (at about 60 pages each, not quite the ‘short novels’ that the opening pages of the book describe), each of which serve as both compelling introduction to Winslow and also a satisfying collection for fans who will be busy spotting characters who have appeared in earlier books (not least Neal Carey, a detective from Winslow’s first five books, Frankie Machine from the aforementioned The Winter of… and the Dawn Patrol from the novel of that name). There are fast and furious crime stories here (like the title story), more comedic entries (like ‘The San Diego Zoo’ which opens with the line “No one knows how the chimp got the revolver”) and up to the minute stories, dealing with contemporary issues (‘The Last Ride’ centres on a Trump-voting border patrol agent whose political views are undermined when confronted by a child in a cage whose parents have been deported – “The guy I voted for started a war with no preparation or plan on how to wage it, and here we are”).
Similarly, there are stories here that plough furrows that Winslow first explored as a younger writer, like ‘Paradise’ which is set in Hawaii and concerns a feud between rival dope operations but has at its centre a great love for the surfing lifestyle – such that you find yourself in the kind of territory Kem Nunn made his own. In ‘Crime 101’ (dedicated to the late great Elmore Leonard), Winslow demonstrates his ability to fashion a whip-smart thriller that’ll have you turning the pages hand over fist with a style that (like Leonard) reeks of ease. This, you can almost hear Winslow say? This I could do in my sleep. We’d go as far to say that a story like ‘Crime 101’ clearly marks Winslow out as the obvious person to fill Leonard’s shoes – except that Winslow clearly has more to offer than ‘just’ cranking out hardboiled thrillers in the vein of a master like Leonard. In point of fact, that aforementioned story about the Border Patrol agent (quite possibly the best thing here) possibly marks out where Winslow goes next: into the dark heart of the gulf that exists between progressive and retrograde politics in America. Undoubtedly we all need to find a way to talk to one another and if Winslow can make me feel sympathetic towards a Trump voter, he might be able to usefully contribute to bridging that divide somehow.
Wheresoever he goes from here, know that Broken is a compelling and entertaining collection of longish short stories that certainly distracted me from the immediate horrors of the world (I was reading this book whilst the so-called patriots were storming the Capitol in the US).
Any Cop?: I continue to be heartily glad that The Cartel introduced me to a new writer, that his tweets continue to keep me entertained and educated and that, in the midst of funding important short films designed to eradicate disinformation, he’s found the time to produce Broken.