Thursday, November 14, 2013

Don Winslow: The Power of the Dog

I just finished this huge novel by Don Winslow, who's one of the foremost new hardboiled crime writers in the USA. I've liked what he's done, especially Savages (and I even liked the film, which most people seemed to hate), but there's something about him I can't quite grasp. He leaves me a bit cold. 

Winslow belongs firmly to the James Ellroy school of crime writing - at least when it comes to The Power of the Dog -, but he's different from Ellroy in two aspects: first, he writes about true stuff, things that have happened and are happening; second, he's not maniacal about his writing. His characters are not wacky psychos, like with Ellroy, and his language and narration are not clipped nightmares of White Jazz or The Cold Six Thousand. Winslow writes very curtly, with very short sentences, but his sentences are not feverish. They seem more like he's writing a story treatment for a film or a TV series. The same immediacy - we see only action, not the motives behind them, we are never offered glimpses of inside people's minds - is prevalent also in Winslow's other books, especially Savages, in which the narration at times transforms into fragments of a screenplay. 

So, when Winslow writes about the tragedy of war against drugs and the drug cartels of Mexico and Columbia that are in control in those countries, mostly with back-up from CIA and DEA, we know it's real stuff. He's that convincing. He shows in The Power of the Dog that the war against drugs should be stopped immediately, but he doesn't say that out loud. It's up to us to realize that ourselves. It helps Winslow's characters are not loonies. 

But maybe it's the reason the book left me colder than I really expected. Still, it's a great read, with many explosive action scenes and some very suspenseful chase scenes. It would work great as a TV series by HBO. 

The book came just out in Finnish from Like under the title Kuolleiden päivät/The Day of the Dead


J F Norris said...

Count me among the few that think him overrated. I liked his first books about the grad student turned private eye Neal Carey. And I very much enjoyed California Fire & Life. But I couldn't finish Savages or that one about the surfers -- Dawn Patrol. I think it's the screenplay disguised as a novel style you highlight as his positive skill that turns me off.

Ron Smyth said...

I'm a huge fan of THE POWER OF THE DOG and also of CALIFORNIA FIRE AND LIFE . I've read the Neal Carey books and indeed, everything except ISLE OF JOY and SATORI but I think the first two are far and away his best. SAVAGES wasn't bad but THE KINGS OF COOL added nothing to the story.

jurinummelin said...

I'm not sure if it's just a question of positive or negative skill, it's more a matter of themathics and ideology. At least in SAVAGES it's pretty obvious he uses the screenplay/story treatment style as comment on the world we perceive totally through and via media.

jurinummelin said...

And yes, I was a bit disappointed with THE KINGS OF COOL.