One of the dustjacket quotes proclaims Don Winslow as America’s greatest living crime writer following the passing of Elmore Leonard. With his latest, Broken, not only has Winslow accepted that mantle but in a mage-like move, he’s encased it in rock like Excalibur.
Broken features six stand-alone novellas each telling the story of an individual, group, or situation broken in some way. Some stories enlighten a restoration. Others wallow in their shattered mess. All are compelling.
Winslow’s tone changes per story. The bookends are dramatic. The interior? Downright amusing. New characters – Lt. Lubesnick, Officer Shea – are introduced. Old friends – the Dawn Patrol, Neal Carey, the trio of “Savages” – make return visits. Sometimes they even bring along a few surprise guests.
Two of those interior stories are prefaced with dedications. “Crime 101” is a hip jewelry heist where the thief meticulously plans his jobs along Highway 101. Of course it is the cliché final caper that gets him on the run from the aforementioned Lt. Lubesnick. Styled in Steve McQueen chic, Winslow does not choose sides. There is no black. No white. What counts is the compelling characterization and Mustang-charged pacing.
The other? “The San Diego Zoo” is amusing, entertaining, and would absolutely fit in the Elmore Leonard section of any crime-worthy library. Why? First line: No one knows how the chimp got the revolver. ‘Nuff said.
“Sunset” completes the crime-hip trilogy. An aging surfer now H-addict turned woman-beater skips on his bail. Boone Daniels and the Dawn Patrol catch the case. Within, Winslow provides a look at age. Face it. No one is as young as they used to be. Doesn’t mean you still aren’t money.
“Paradise” works in the return of Ben, Chon, and O as they travel to Hawaii trying for an easy in on the upcoming legalization of marijuana. Theirs is a desire to control both product and demand. The Hawaiian mob, the Company, ain’t at all interested in strangers hitting their surf and turf. “Paradise” is perhaps the most straightforward tale since the book’s opener. Instead of heists or hunts, this trope deals with bad business gone badder and how revenge mixed with honorific testosterone gets in the way of all plans. If anything, “Paradise” serves as a palate cleanser for the finale.
Broken opens and closes with two dramatic action pieces. “Broken”, the title piece, almost reads as a pre-lim chapter of The Force. A team of the baddest ballbreakers in the Big Easy go after the biggest of slimeballs in a forceful brawl. Good? Bad? Jimmy McNabb is the guy with the gun. And a dead brother. While the finale, “The Last Ride” is a slow burn political piece focusing on the fragments of society. A society that has been broken itself since the division of the 2016 election.
All the stories provide glimmers of hope. Smiles. Tussles of hair. People fall in love and make new friends. These fragments can be found as littered shards among the weeds. The desperation. The murder. The attempted suicides. The misplaced bravado. Winslow shows life as something hard. Yes, there are sunny days full of surfing and sunsets downed with red wine. There is also hurt, pain, and questioning. Some people run. Some thrive. Everyone is broken. Don Winslow’s words prove that through it all strength can be found.