The Force

The Force by Don Winslow

Wow. It’s just been proven to me that you can want to give up on a book for the first few chapters, but still thoroughly enjoy the read by the end. 

This isn’t a book I would have chosen myself. It’s the Book of the Month at my work, so I decided to give it a read so I could talk about it with my customers. Also, I was in the middle of a pretty serious book hangover and was having trouble finding literally anything I wanted to read. I haven’t read a lot of crime but I thought I’d give it a go, now that I have a slightly hardened exterior from reading Patterson before bed. 

Set in New York, “The Force” follows NYPD detective Denny Malone. If you’ve read even one of my blog posts, you’ll know since I went to New York last year for nearly three months, I can’t stop thinking about it. But the New York in this novel was not the New York I knew. Maybe it’s because I didn’t exactly spend a lot of time in Harlem, or maybe because I’m a little Aussie tourist, rather than a cop or a drug dealer. The book focuses so much on race, it’s literally white vs black vs blue, with the occasional truce between colours. 

Malone ultimately wants one thing. He wants the people on his street to be safe. Safe from drugs, safe from violence, safe from each other. Sometimes in order to keep his streets safe, he might have to fake the evidence a little bit to get a perp off the streets. He might need to accept some cash to turn a blind eye, so the gangs and mobs can fight it out amongst themselves. He might have to “testilie” in court, fib a little, if it means getting the bad guys locked away. He might need to avenge a brother cops life when he’s shot and killed in the line of duty. 

Somewhere along the way all the lines become blurred, and Malone’s cases of corruption and deceit stack up as high as the Empire State Building. But he’s not the only one; corruption is fraught in the Task Force and the NYPD. The attorneys and judges are no cleaner. So who can you trust when everyone’s always watching their own backs, trying to keep from being betrayed? 

Malone is a lot of things, but above all he prides myself on his loyalty to his brothers. His brother perished in 9/11, but he counts his partners Phil Russo and Bill Montague as his brothers, too. As is apparently widespread and widely accepted in the NYPD (which I am so not okay with), Malone was less than faithful to his wife, Sheila. They are separated; Sheila lives on Staten Island with their two kids, Malone lives in Manhattan, and has a girlfriend, Claudette. Russo and Monty are married with kids, and they’re godparents to each other’s kids. It’s really sweet and the bro-ship is something to be admired. While they frequently have “Bowling Nights” to go cheat on their wives with expensive prostitutes, they would never dream of betraying each other. How sweet. 

Malone knows he’s king of Manhattan North. His team know it, his captain knows it, even the bad guys know it. He’s untouchable, especially after he and his partners make the biggest heroin bust Manhattan has ever seen. So what if he doesn’t always go by the book? Malone justifies his actions to himself. Yeah, he’s making a little extra money on the side. But he’s making money for his children’s college fees, they’ll never need to worry about student debts. He’s making money so that Sheila doesn’t have to worry about money even though they’re separated. What does it matter if he knows he doesn’t have a warrant, so he plants a weapon on a perp so that he can take him down, if it gets a drug dealer off the street? But as Malone’s internal monologue goes, “how do you cross the line? Step by step.”

One careless mistake on Christmas Day and a less than “legal” exchange is caught on tape and handed to the FBI. How far will Malone go to protect his name, his partners, his family? As each drug cartel in Manhattan North have different members of the Task Force on their payroll, innocent (and corrupt) lives get caught in the crosshairs. 

It begs the question, does doing bad things make you a bad person, even if you do it for good reasons? Who will Malone choose, his family or his brothers on the force? 

I’m not going to lie, there were a lot of things I didn’t understand. I don’t know if I’m just naive, or if maybe Winslow took the whole “cop slang” thing a little too far. But mostly I could infer what was happening, even if it meant re-reading something when I realised I’d totally misunderstood an entire scene. For the first few chapters I felt lost and the language felt forced. I was, quite frankly, a little bored and confused. Plus, there were a LOT of characters and I found myself forgetting which names went with which story. But since I have had a lot of travel while I get started at my new job in the last week, I had plenty of time to persevere. And by the time I was a few chapters in, I no longer wanted to give up. By the time I was halfway, there was no choice to give up. When I was three quarters of the way through, I couldn’t put it down.

This novel definitely creates a discussion about race, particularly about police brutality towards African Americans. It’s making a statement about the pressures put on police officers, and also the toll the job has on them. 

“The Force” isn’t scary in the same way as I find Patterson. It’s not suspense-slash-I’m-going-to-be-killed-in-my-bed scary. It’s more like who-can-I-trust-if-not-the-police scary. It was definitely an eye opener. I understand it’s fiction, but it also leads me to think, is it?

So Winslow did it, he changed me from “I’m going to read this since I have nothing else to do” to “It’s my stop already!? But I want to finish this chapter!” real fast. From a “yeah you can probably give it a miss” to a “dude seriously, you have to read this book!” in less time than the average train ride. 

Overall, I couldn’t get enough, and I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it since. And that’s a nice little reminder to every now and then read outside your comfort zone! 

Recommend it? Oh, yes! 

Read before bed? Potential to get into a good action part and not want to put it down, but you won’t stay up all night worried someone’s going to pop out from underneath your bed

Cry-worthy? It nearly got me! If I wasn’t on a public train, maybe 

Re-readable? Yeah, someday!  

Potential to fall in love with characters? Not really, all the characters are kind of varying levels of scumbag. That’s what makes it so great 

Score /10? I’ll have to say 8/10 – could’ve been higher if I’d been sold from the first chapter 

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