The Force

by Don Winslow, Harper Collins, £18.99

In The Power of the Dog and The Cartel, Don Winslow told the story of America’s war on drugs in exacting and devastating detail. Those books stand as impressive examples of journalistic fiction, with much of the material drawn directly from real life. It was with an increasing unease, then, that I raced through his latest hefty opus, The Force, a story set in contemporary New York that drips with corruption, seediness and savagery. How much of what goes on here is true? Knowing Winslow, probably most of it.

Denny Malone is an Irish cop who is the undisputed king of “Da Force”, an elite band of officers policing Manhattan North, one of New York’s most degraded neighbourhoods. Malone and his crew have recently been fêted for killing a notorious drug dealer.

What the press, public and police chiefs don’t know, however, is that Malone and his team also stole millions of dollars worth of heroin that they found at the scene of the shootout. This act of theft is the biggest play they’ve ever made. Da Force have always operated on both sides of the thin blue line, but it’s a line that gets even more blurry from this moment on.

In fact, Malone’s life and career quickly unravel as his corrupt ways begin to catch up with him. He is caught in the kind of sting that he should have seen coming from the other side of the Hudson River and is forced to choose between informing on his colleagues or paying for his crimes. Unmistakably Catholic themes emerge to do with guilt and confession, sin and forgiveness, as Malone (a very lapsed Catholic) makes his decision.

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