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May The Force be with you

Once in a while you come across a book that really moves you. Makes you laugh. Cry. Even get angry. A book that makes you think. Where you turn the page to read more no matter what emotion you’re feeling, or how tired you are. Usually they’re epic tales of love lost, world’s conquered or heretic feats of greatness. But rarely, a crime novel. And probably even more unlikely, a police procedural.

Until now.

I read all 477 pages of Don Winslow’s The Force in two days (a reading record for me) and I could have read another 500. The front cover features endorsements from Stephen King and Lee Child (can you get any bigger?) with the latter saying The Force is ‘probably the best cop novel ever written’.

Big call.

Cop procedurals (like the one’s I write, well, try to anyway) don’t always have the greatest plot twists or page turning suspense/whodunnit features of the psychological thrillers and murder mysteries. Their page-turning ability comes in detailing what police do, how they go about their business and who it affects. Throw in a loveable detective, a love interest and maybe a murder or two and you generally meet the standard. It’s the characters, their interaction with each other, the crooks and their work that makes them readable. The Force not only features all of this, but more.

Following the protagonist cop through their up’s and down’s and identifying with their journey is what it takes to make a solid procedural.

But in The Force, things are different. You might be repulsed by the main and secondary characters. After all, who’d love a corrupt, womanising, pill-popping bastard like NYDP detective Denny Malone? He makes Roger Rogerson (if you’re not Australian, Google him) look like a pimple-faced teenager studying his first year of accounting at university. The Force makes the Wood Royal Commission and Fitzgerald Enquiry play out like a kindergarten spat.

It’s difficult to put into words the feelings I had about the protagonist Malone. Being an ex-detective with the same years of service as him left me with mixed emotions; disgust in his tales of corruption, admiration for the mongrel in him that made him the best cop in Manhattan North and sadness seeing it all unravel. Sadness in the effect he had on those close to him. By the end of the book I was silently weeping, reflecting on my own journey as a cop and what it means/meant to be a detective. Somehow, through his fictional character, Winslow made me think about my own career and life in a new way and helped contextualise the feelings of lost identity and pain that comes with ’The Job’. It’s the same story for all of us that many don’t and can’t understand.

I don’t know how, but Winslow nailed it perfectly.


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