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The Barcelona Review


Don Winslow
HarperCollins, 2020

The announcement of a new book from Don Winslow never fails to send me into a state of high joy.  And this latest, a collection of six novellas, goes so far as to surpass all the hype and deliver with a wallop.  Here we find the usual Winslow characters:  middle-aged cops, bail bondsmen, con men, thieves, organized crime thugs, gorgeous ladies, and a whole array of colorful, offbeat characters, along with some familiar names from novels past—Neal Carey, Boone Daniels, Bobby Z, Frankie Machine, and the trio from Savages.  If that doesn’t lure you, you haven’t read Winslow, in which case Broken serves as the perfect introduction.

In Crime 101, dedicated to Mr. Steve McQueen, we follow a lone-wolf jewelry thief going into his last job.  Davis likes to drive souped-up cars, such as his Camaro ZL1 or a 2019 Bullitt Mustang, always mixing ’em up.  “Crime 101:  When you need to get away, you need to do it fast.”  He rents various luxurious condos, never one for long, always paid for in cash, and he knows his way around fine wines and fine dining.  His big love:  Highway 101, which he loves “like a man loves a woman.” So, most of his heists are along this route.  When a certain wily detective, Lou Lubesnick, himself about to retire, takes note of the pattern, the game is on.  It’s a wild ride, as much fun as the classic chase scene with the novella’s dedicatee at the wheel.

Lou Lubesnick shows up in Sunset as well, as a secondary character, friend and poker buddy of  bail bondsman Duke Kasmajian.  Dedicated to Mr. Raymond Chandler.  A landmark law to abolish California's money bail system is about to go into effect.  Ex-world champion surfer turned addict and thief has jumped bail and Duke stands to lose a lot of money, which is not how he wants to end his career.  Duke’s team of guys who pursue jumpers is on the case.  But they’re all hard-core surfers who once worshipped the ex-champ. Amid conflicts of interest, they hit the trail.

Dedicated to Mr. Elmore Leonard is The San Diego Zoo, which begins with the memorable line: “No one knows how the chimp got the revolver.” In true fashion of the late, great Leonard, we have a crime venture with touches of humor as cop Chris Shea is called to the scene to find another cop — “not the sharpest spoon in the drawer” —yelling to the chimp on his megaphone:  “Drop the weapon and come down.”   

The title piece, Broken, follows New Orleans cop Jimmy McNabb, whose brother Daniel is also a cop, as was their father. Mother Eva is a 911 dispatcher on the night shift.  The hunt is on for methamphetamine smuggler Oscar Diaz , a nasty piece of work from Honduras. The dark plot becomes increasing darker as the team homes in on its subject.  “You ain’t gotta tell Eva the world is a broken place,” the novella begins.  And with the same line it ends.

In Winslow’s novel Savages (2010), we’re introduced to Ben and Chon, two Americans running a lucrative marijuana operation out of  Laguna Beach, California, along with their gorgeous confidant and sexual playmate “O.”  Then, in 2012, came The Kings of Cool, a prequel set in 2005.  In Paradise, set in 2008, the threesome resurface in Hawaii where they have gone in hopes of expanding their trade by working with a U.S. resident in Kauai. Trouble is:  trouble awaits; while The Last Ride, set in El Paso, follows a Border Patrol agent working with caged children in one of the detention centers:  “Call it what it is, don’t call it what it ain’t,” he says.  A sentiment echoed by a female co-worker: “This is going to sound stupid, but I went to Iraq because I loved America…Now I feel like I don’t even know this country anymore. Something’s broken in us.”  Thus, the theme of “broken” —broken people, broken systems, broken promises—works its way to the end.   

There is crime throughout, of course, but it comes with humor, wry one-liners, moving portraits of men past their prime, young upstarts and surfing wonders, and, yeah, a chimp with a gun.  Unlike some of Winslow’s recent novels —The Force, The Cartel, The Border —which can run up to 600 pages, these novellas come in at around 80.  It’s a delicious offering.  J.A.

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