“The Force” is a tome about Dennis Malone, a powerful New York City police detective. He’s arrogant, contemptuous, corrupt, smart and violent. He steals a lot of cash and heroin from a drug bust. Things get complicated. Malone gets tossed in the slammer. But he’s got the glossies on the rest of Gotham’s power players, and he’s not going down easy, and he’ll fight to the end to protect his family and his brother cops.
If this sounds like a good pitch for a summer blockbuster, that’s because it is. The latest by Don Winslow (“The Cartel,” “The Power of the Dog” ) is a big, fat book of fast-moving fiction. It sold to Hollywood for seven figures last year, before it even had a title. James Mangold, who directed “Logan,” is already attached. You’ll see the book in every airport you go through this summer.
Here, Winslow turns his ruthless gaze from drug cartels — the subject of his past two books — to law enforcement in New York. In interviews, he has referred to his past as a private investigator in the city, how much time he spent with cops reporting this one; he has said he’s been wanting to write this book all his life.
The result is riveting and scary — in a lot of ways.
Malone is like a lot of New York cops you’ve read about. He’s the son of a cop, Irish American, grew up in Staten Island, wears black all the time, massive chip on the shoulder. His brother was a firefighter who died on Sept. 11, 2001. In 18 years with the NYPD, Malone has worked his way up to being the biggest dude on the city’s most elite unit, the Manhattan North Special Task Force, known as “Da Force.”
Malone sees his group as the saviors of American society, the underpaid guys doing the grunt work, the real men of the city. Civilians, those morons, have no idea of what heroes Malone’s guys are, the kings of the street:
“We earned our reps as tough, strong, ruthless and fair rulers, administering rough justice with tempered mercy.
“That’s what a king does.
“He hands down justice.”
Malone is the top dog, though: “All Da Force detectives are kings, but Malone — with no disrespect intended to our Lord and Savior — is the King of Kings. Manhattan North is the Kingdom of Malone.”
But everything is corrupt here, everything. So when Da Force raids a big-time drug lord, Diego Peña, and nails him with 70 kilos of Mexican cinnamon heroin, Malone assassinates him and takes a chunk of loot.
“We’re rich!” a fellow cop gloats.
This sets off the central narrative arc of the story, which spreads over 400-plus pages. 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.
Malone’s mind-set was the only thing that slowed me down.
Malone’s mind-set, though, may be the most disturbing element at work. According to Malone, only he and his fellow cops really care about the poor and the downtrodden, especially about young African Americans (the story mostly takes place in Harlem), Malone thinks to himself on more than one occasion. When a black superior tells Malone and his brethren that he won’t stand for police violence, Malone sneers and puts “police brutality” in quotation marks.
“How the f--- does he think we maintain a semblance of control?” Malone thinks.
It’s the same with Black Lives Matter, “celebrity ministers” who swoop in for the cameras, liberal pinheads who claim to be “outraged.”Malone is not even 40 yet and he’s tired of the lot of them.
“You start blaming yourself and/or you start blaming the victim — why are they so vulnerable, why so weak, why do they live in those conditions, why do they join gangs, sling drugs, why do they have to shoot each other over nothing . . . why are they such f---ing animals?
“But Malone still f---ing cares.
“Doesn’t want to.
After reading that passage, I scribbled two things in the margin. One was “White Man’s Burden,” the infamous Rudyard Kipling poem that crystallized the colonialist mind-set. Second was “Mark Fuhrman” — the former Los Angeles cop whose racist ramblings to a screenwriter about police beatings of black suspects helped lead to the 1995 acquittal of O.J. Simpson.
So 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.
Neely Tucker’s most recent book is “Only the Hunted Run.”
On Saturday, June 24 at 3:30 p.m., Don Winslow will be at Politics and Prose Bookstore, 5015 Connecticut Ave. NW. politics-prose.com
by Don Winslow
Morrow. 479 pp. $27.99