Don Winslow’s Broken A Balm For The Soul In Troubled Times

Don Winslow’s “Broken”: A Balm For The Soul In Troubled Times

Mike Aaron reviews Broken, the latest book by Don Winslow, featuring six intense short novels connected by the themes of crime, corruption, vengeance, justice, loss, betrayal, guilt and redemption. 

*****

Don Winslow’s latest release- a book made up of six novellas takes us on a journey through the author’s history and shows what a stone cold master he is. Each of the short volumes that make up “Broken” reflect aspects of Winslow’s career- gritty urban cop dramas sit next to California surf culture mysteries and bleak joints ripped from the headlines.

Along for the ride are nearly all of Winslow’s characters. His two main series leads Neal Carey and Boone Daniels team up. Frankie Machine and Bobby Z are here. Ben, Chon and O from “Savages”. Even Jack Wade, the protagonist of “California Fire and Life” shows up in a Kauai based story as investigator for Hawaii Fire and Life.

The only missing pieces I could see were Nicholas Hel, protagonist of Winslow’s underrated and brilliant “Satori” (which was an authorized sequel to the 1970’s classic “Shibumi” and presumably he doesn’t have the rights to the character) and his more serious leads Denny Malone from “The Force” and Art Keller from The Cartel trilogy.

Along for the ride are nearly all of Winslow’s characters. His two main series leads Neal Carey and Boone Daniels team up. Frankie Machine and Bobby Z are here [as well].

The stories all sing, all a pleasure to read. Some more than others. The weakest is the lead story from which the book takes its name- a gritty cop revenge tale called Broken. It’s as compelling and page turning as everything Winslow writes but feels like a movie you might watch on HBO in 1987.

It’s style recalls his gut wrenching the novel “The Force” but with none of the nuance or moral complexity. A cop who plays by his own rules (but gets results, natch) is out to get revenge on a drug dealer who killed his brother, that’s the whole story, lacking in the emotional depth I expect from the author.

Others are pure magic. Crime 101 is classic Winslow. A cat and mouse game between a debonair thief and a schlubby police lieutenant (who reappears in several of the stories) where both criminal and cop are equally charming and worth rooting for. It treats highways, names of towns and local businesses like poetry in a way that will really vibe if you have ever spent time in Southern California.

Crime 101 is classic Winslow. A cat and mouse game between a debonair thief and a schlubby police lieutenant…

Sunset was my favorite of the bunch. It’s dedicated to Raymond Chandler and it’s a fitting tribute about a detective with a friend named Terry who keeps causing him trouble and wants to escape to Mexico, riffing on Chandler’s best novel “The Long Goodbye”.

It also features a bail bondsman who loves West Coast Jazz and scotch- the character’s loving commitment to knowing the names of sidemen and record labels makes me wonder if Winslow is a jazz man. The writing style of the book in fact reflects a jazzy feel- full of knowing references, cool riffs and confident players given the space to jam.

In the back half is a return to his characters from “Savages”. It’s enjoyable and makes a lot of effort to be consistent with plot points established in the prequel “The Kings of Cool” but it never comes close to the dizzying, unpredictable, poetic, fever dream style that “Savages” had.

In the back half is a return to his characters from “Savages”. It’s enjoyable and makes a lot of effort to be consistent…

He ends with The Last Ride which thematically references his Cartel trilogy. A Trump supporting border patrol agent and washed up cowboy becomes fixated on the case of a little girl separated from her family. It’s topical plot, surprisingly grand scope and bleak ending make it a perfect companion to much of Winslow’s later work.

A new Don Winslow book is a gift anytime it comes. Even more so a book that comes at a time when we are all alone, trying to keep away the bad thoughts while struggling for meaning and answers. A book that brings you joy, makes you laugh and makes you ponder is a balm for the soul.

*****

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