The Force recalls Sidney Lumet’s great New York police films (Serpico, Prince of the City) and makes their agonies almost quaint by comparison. Winslow’s novel takes place in 2017, but he doesn’t frame it as a time of good cops and bad cops, black or white. He paints a realistic tableau of police privilege, pragmatism, racial bluntness, street smarts, love of partners and loyalty to what they call the Job ... The Force has a lot of exposition to get through in its initial pages. Denny’s background is kept deliberately incomplete, because key parts of it are needed for the book’s cinematic denouement. There are many characters and locations and illicit police habits to introduce. But the pace is kept up by the Winslow way with words, which almost entirely defies being quoted here, either because of the slang (Elmore Leonard league) or because of the everyday obscenities that lace every funny line.
It’s rare for a writer to produce two career-defining masterpieces back-to-back, but that’s exactly what Winslow has done by following The Cartel (2015) with The Force. In an era rife with racially motivated police brutality, Winslow has created what will likely become our quintessential cop novel, looking both at what cops do right and wrong with clear-eyed realism and passionate humanity ... Grand in scope and equally grand in execution.
Trust me when I tell you that you gotta read this book not because it's beautiful (it isn't) and not because Winslow is a virtuoso stylist (he isn't) and not because it's one of those Important Books that everyone will be talking about (they will), but because it is just fantastic. Like can't-put-it-down, can't-get-the-voices-out-of-your-head fantastic. An instant classic, an epic, a goddamn Wagner opera with a full cast and buckets of blood and smack and Jameson whiskey ... Winslow is good, no doubt. He's smart enough to be tricky without looking like he's being tricky. He's clever enough to get away with what is essentially a double prologue (in a universe where, most times, one is too many), but his best trick is a buried, pulsing, live-wire second plot that hums just beneath the surface of the first: The Force is basically Game of Thrones without the dragons. The Wars of the Roses played out with New York City cops and robbers...It's a weird thing when you first realize it, brilliant and almost subversive as you watch it play out across the pages. Amid all the drugs and guns and skyscrapers and cop bars, there's this shimmering image of an ancient tale hovering just at the edge of things.
In addition to being the most exciting, suspenseful, Machiavellian book I have read this year, The Force could serve as the set text for an entire course on ethics. In its pages notions of right and wrong, justice and law, integrity and duplicity, professional duty and personal obligation are dissected, extrapolated, and rearranged in every sort of macabre permutation ... Winslow brings the same mastery of the anatomy of corruption to this book that he brought to the Mexican drug trade and our ruinous 'war on drugs' in The Power of the Dog and The Cartel, his brilliant duo of narco-thrillers. Laying bare the intertangled ganglia of criminal enterprise, law enforcement, the justice system, and politics, he displays a deep and unsavory knowledge of how things work in NYC.
This first section is fairly slow as Winslow burnishes the plot with backstory to explain how police work is dangerous business that takes an emotional toll that many cops deal with by self-medicating. If you’ve owned a television since the Carter administration this is not exactly a newsflash. We’ve been down these mean streets before ... Winslow is using his considerable gifts for taking readers into unfamiliar territory and making them feel at home. It’s remarkable to cozy up to a cop this dirty; we’re talking Whitey Bulger level of sleaze and intimidation. For all the lip service Winslow pays to the boys in blue, make no mistake The Force paints the police in a very unflattering light ... His mastery over his material makes the novel compulsively readable in spite of its epic scope. But what makes The Force unique among police procedurals is that it’s not the story of a rogue cop with a code or a bad apple who spoils the barrel, but a sneakily subversive post-Ferguson thriller.
The Force is gripping and, in Mr. Winslow’s magisterial and raw deployment of vernacular, often unquotable. If it occasionally seems clichéd — the Kingdom of Malone can feel overwrought, and several female characters seem sketchy and predictable — it always maintains interest. The plot is a typically Byzantine Winslow affair, this time focusing on who controls the precinct’s heroin trade; yet the author’s ear is flawless, his rhythm catchy ... While The Force isn’t quite as inventive or operatic as The Cartel and Power of the Dog, it’s a hell of a timely read.
The ‘perks’ of the job, like the uppers Malone pops, soothe deeper wounds … Winslow puts Malone through a plot that’s a cats cradle made of barbed wire. Money-stuffed envelopes pass hands, foul-smelling street snitches offer tips on a dealer’s whereabouts, and city officials look the other way until their heads spin. Then, as Malone sits in jail, the feds make Malone an offer he may not refuse: inform on your fellow officers and you and your family get new lives … Winslow seems just to spin a tale. Careful reading, though, reveals the author’s razor-sharp ear for the ways cops and New Yorkers talk and images and details that evoke a dark, gritty, violent New York.
...the result is riveting and scary — in a lot of ways ... The action — a lot of it related in one- or two-sentence paragraphs that rocket you through the tale — is, as you might expect, cinematic. It’s often funny, ironic and tense ... what do you think will happen when a cop like this, working in Harlem, thinks that he’s the good guy? Yeah. This novel? It’s that scary.
[Winslow's] gut punch of a new cop thriller, The Force, gets so deep inside the horror of what Homicide author David Simon called life on the street, it leaves you fearful that its invented outcomes will become reality ... once the author, a former investigator, starts tightening the screws of this by stunning drama, it has you unrelentingly in its grip.
... fascinating story of a lawman whose heart lies in the right place — but whose hand is all too willing to take bribes and whose fists regularly mete out justice on a back-alley basis ... A warning: The Force teems with gore and profanity and detailed bouts of sex. A judgment: It’s the best damned crime book so far this year.
Don Winslow’s intoxicating new crime thriller, The Force, is a riveting ride-along with the Manhattan North Special Task Force ... Malone’s not a murdering racist, he’s a murdering realist. In the end, squeezed by the Feds, this dirty hero cop is disturbing proof, Winslow makes clear, that graft and corruption leak down to the street from the highest levels of a broken justice system. As in The Cartel, a poignant non-fiction baseline threads through this novel, leaving readers to wonder how much of it is tragically true. That’s what Don Winslow does.
...[an] epic novel of devastating moral complexity ... As the reader discovers, Malone’s corruption is but a tiny part of a much larger system that extends into the highest reaches of New York’s power structure, where the real business is done, and everyone on the chain takes a cut. Fans of modern masters such as Don DeLillo, Richard Price, and George Pelecanos will be richly rewarded.
The reader is asked to admire the effectiveness of their policing while condemning their methods—Joseph Wambaugh did it better. Malone’s brother, Liam, a firefighter, was killed on 9/11, and that horrific disaster for first responders forms a grim attitudinal backdrop to their days. Malone and the boys are dirty cops: they take and deliver payoffs, ignore the demands of the Black Lives Matter movement, and administer crude vigilante justice ... By turns grim and giddy, this is a good read in the service of dark cops.