- 13 May 20
Capital Compendium Of Criminal Capers
Don Winslow already has twenty-one novels under his belt, and has been described by no less an authority than Stephen King as “one of America’s greatest storytellers”, but Broken is his first collection of short stories, or novellas, as is probably more accurate. If you’re already familiar with the man’s work - if you’re not, his Cartel series is particularly great – you'll have some idea about what you’re going to get; stories of misdeeds and malfeasance, of a particularly hard-boiled variety.
Before we get anything, we get a quote from Hemingway, the one about people being strong in the broken places from A Farewell To Arms. It’s appropriate for Winslow to call up the spirit of old Papa, as he’s a dab hand at the iceberg technique himself – taut prose with a lot of the meaning just under the water. The first story, “Broken’, the title track if you will, is set in a post-Katrina New Orleans. Tough as nails narcotics detective Jimmy McNabb pushes bad guy Oscar Diaz just a little too far. Diaz’s revenge is of the personal nature, setting McNabb off on the warpath, leaving any semblance of Law adherence in his rear view mirror. The murder cops aren’t stupid, they can see what’s going on, so how’s it going to end?
“Crime 101’ is dedicated to Steve McQueen, and it’s easy to imagine the king of cool in the part of Davis, the careful and clever jewel thief, who’s a well-groomed petrol head while he’s at it. The story introduces another great character in the likeable Lieutenant Ronald ‘Lou’ Lubesnick, who gets a new lease of life when he’s marriage falls apart.
Lubesnick has a supporting role in the very funny ‘The San Diego Zoo’ – and any story that opens with the line “No one knows how the chimp got the revolver’ is always going to be okay by me. This one is dedicated to Elmore Leonard, and it does share some of his writing’s DNA. Chris Shea is a dedicated policeman on the rise despite a series of slapstick calamities and it’s surely fair to say that Bob Kane never envisioned his Batman and Robin getting into this kind of caper. The private thoughts of primate expert Carolyn Voight are well handled, although she does fall for Shea rather quickly, but then again, he seems like a nice bloke.
‘Sunset’ also features Lubesnick – Raymond Chandler gets the nod this time around - along with his two mates who also had cameos in 'The San Diego Zoo', Bail bonds man Duke Kasmajian and English lit professor Neal Carey. Due to a change in Californian laws, Duke’s career is coming to an end. Admirably, he’s more worried about his employees than himself, happy as he is to sit on his deck, listening to his jazz records, although it would be a lot more satisfying if his beloved late wife were still around. The story centres on surf legend gone to pot – and a lot worse – Terry Maddux. He was a hero, but his hopeless heroin addiction means he’s now jumped bail, and Duke is not going to let his $300,000 go with him.
“Paradise’ finds the three main characters from Winslow’s Savages novel, and its prequel The Kings Of Cool, and if you haven’t read the book, perhaps you saw the Oliver Stone movie which was in part scripted by Winslow. Laguna Beach marijuana peddlers Ben, Chon and O (Ophelia) are trying to get some business going in Hawaii in the time period in between the two novels. Negotiating with Tim, who naturally has a past, and another surf god in the form of his tree house-building son Kit, they fall foul of the local gang, The Palala, and their parent organisation, The Company. The course of their affairs does not run smooth.
The author may have saved the best to finish with. ‘The Last Ride’ is the story of former soldier Cal Strickland who works as a Border Patrol Agent in South Texas because his sister’s ranch can’t even support her. Cal voted for Trump, but he didn’t vote for separating children from the parents and putting them in cages, so he decides, in the case of one young girl, Luz, to intervene. There’s something of the magic of Cormac McCarthy in the language and setting of this story and, if you’re looking for a scathing indictment of US immigration policy, then look no further.
Winslow is a master, in terms of both storytelling and style. There are some marvellous set pieces – Davis’ last job, the two showdowns in ‘Paradise’, Maddux’s final run, the McNabb and Diaz face-off – and use of locations as another character – the surf of Hawaii, and the roads of California, amongst others. It is the tightness of the plots, however, which secures the medals. If this were some sort of HBO mini-series, the Emmy Awards would already be in the bag. Winslow is more than entitled to evoke the names of Hemingway, Leonard, and Chandler, because he is right up there with them.