Much contemporary crime fiction is small-scale work: a focus on inner life, claustrophobic domestic settings, and an evil you don’t know exists next door, in the next room, in the bed next to you. That was never Don Winslow’s style. His books often involve large, intricate plots with multiple moving parts and broad geographic and contemporary historical vistas. His latest work, city of dreams, No exception.
This is the second installment in the urban gangster trilogy, which begins with Irish gangster Danny Ryan having just lost his battle with the Italian Mafia for criminal control of the Northeast coast city of Providence. Leaving behind a trail of dead bodies, including a corrupt federal agent, Ryan flees to California with the remains of his gang, his 18-month-old son, and his aging alcoholic father.
Desperate for money to fund a new start, he strikes a deal with the DEA to run an undercover operation against a Mexican drug dealer. Next stop is Hollywood, drawing into the ranks two of his former gang members who are blackmailing the producers of a new feature film about the New England crime wars he fled. But as time and money wore on, Ryan began to think that the film business might be his next career move.
Themes in this book are widely questioned elsewhere in crime fiction: the remnants of two once-powerful criminal traditions vying for control in a rapidly changing economic and social environment; a reluctant but talented criminal who wants to Legitimization; a significant score that could benefit him and his team for life, but also comes with enormous risks. And behind the scenes, an even more ruthless entity is gaining power – Mexican drug dealers. There’s betrayal and greed here and there, and a fair amount of violence, all handled deftly by Winslow.
city of dreams There’s a scene I’ve never seen Winslow tackle before, where Hollywood, as he writes, “intersects the film industry and the criminal class.” He seems to be having a good time and is no doubt keen to apply his film industry exposure to his work.winslow book savage The 2012 film adaptation of Oliver Stone and his 2017 New York cops novel the force Soon to be a major movie.
It’s become a cliché to say that Winslow is a crime writer at the top of his game. But that doesn’t make it any less real. Winslow has published more than 20 books, growing from simpler, richer crime stories to sprawling romances. In the process, he honed his style like a patient man sharpens a knife on a whetstone. His writing acquires a fluid, almost effortless feel, conveying complex backstories, subtle but brief character descriptions, and dramatic scenes with a minimum of words.
exist city of dreamsAgain, Winslow takes a large number of characters anchored by Ryan and multiple related plot threads, and manipulates them at different points in time at breakneck speed without losing control of the rhythm and narrative.
Another salient aspect of Winslow’s work is how his book functions as a detailed alternative history of crime in America since the 1990s. city of dreams proves that Winslow is that rarest of literary figures: a skilled crime writer who can combine an almost relentless story, both stylistically and emotionally, with an understanding of the fault lines of post-Imperial America, its ever-changing crime syndicates, and their orders. A complex analysis of the fraught relationship united with the southern neighbors.