Don Winslow has become famous for his opuses – hefty, impeccably-researched page-turners that require you to book a weekend off doing anything else. His celebrated Power of the Dog trilogy, about the US’s drug war on its Mexican border, is rightly acclaimed as one of the great achievements of modern crime fiction. In the middle of this he managed to produce a novel about corruption in the NYPD which Lee Child called “probably the best cop novel ever written’.
But this Don Winslow evolved from another Don Winslow: an author of slighter, lighter, funnier, but no less compelling crime fiction, often set amid the Californian surfing and druggie communities, often involving ageing cops and hitmen and dealers looking for a way out that doesn’t involve their death. They don’t always find it.
Winslow mixes the laconic jive of Elmore Leonard and the toned one-liners of Raymond Chandler
Winslow has chosen to return to these old favourites, that old style and many of those old characters in Broken, his new book of short stories – a choice that fills me, a long-time devotee, with joy and a fair dose of nostalgia. The six tales are mini-worlds in their own right, the author mixing in the laconic jive of Elmore Leonard and the toned one-liners of Raymond Chandler, if never at the expense of his own distinctive, beguilingly intimate voice. Indeed, two of the stories are dedicated to his illustrious predecessors. Leonard, whose opening lines are legendary, echoes in the first sentence of The San Diego Zoo: “No one knows how the chimp got the revolver.”
Best of all is the story “Paradise”, where Winslow resurrects the three wild young things from his novel Savages – Ben, Chon and O. An attempt to expand their cannabis operation into Hawaii ends predictably badly and violently, but not before a variety of characters from the earlier books are given surprise walk-on parts. It’s like meeting old friends you never expected to see again. Winslow is the kind of author who gives books a good name.
Someone in the process of making a good name for himself is Adam O’Fallon Price. His second novel, The Hotel Neversink, has just deservedly won the 2020 Edgar Award Winner for Best Paperback Original. The book has touches of Stephen King – it is set in a spooky remote hotel with hints of a malign ghost – and also Philip Roth, in its generational spanning of a troubled, broken family and its rich character development. A book teeming with ideas, twists and the texture of the best Americana.
Broken, by Don Winslow, is out now (HarperCollins, £20)