Collection features five new tales and some old characters.

By Clark Collis
April 06, 2020 at 12:03 PM EDT
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In the past two decades crime author Don Winslow has been celebrated for his long and very serious novels including the Cartel trilogy and 2017's The Force. In his new book of novellas, Broken (out Tuesday), the writer offers five much shorter, and often tonally lighter, tales.

"Over the past 20 years I’ve been more or less an ultra-marathoner," says the San Diego-based writer. "Not every story is suited to that. I thought this would be an interesting book for me as a writer and also for readers if we did – to torture the metaphor — the middle distance stuff. Also, I wanted a variety. The story Broken is obviously very serious, the final story The Last Ride is quite serious and very topical, unfortunately. But I also wanted to write stories that were a little lighter, that had more humor, that harkened back to some of my earlier inspirations like Elmore Leonard and other folk."

Below, Winslow teases his quintet of novellas.

Broken

New Orleans cop Jimmy McNabb embarks on a quest for vengeance after his policeman brother is killed by a drug gang.

"I wanted to look at revenge in a slightly different way," says Winslow. "Mostly in fiction, particularly in crime fiction, we look at revenge as the end of the story. I wanted to look at the cost of revenge, I wanted to take some characters who were broken to see what’s the internal cost of that and how broken people get through an increasingly broken world. I think that the ultimate question in crime fiction — beyond whodunit or howdunit — is, how do you try to live decently in an indecent world? And sometimes you do and sometimes you don’t."

Crime 101

A cop and a jewel thief play cat-and-mouse on and around the Pacific Coast Highway.

"I just had this idea about the confluence between one of my favorite places in the world, which is the Pacific Coast Highway, Highway 101, and the idea that there’d be a set of rules for criminals and cops, the basics of which you’d call 'crime 101,'" says the writer. "I thought, can there be a meeting point there? I also wanted to do a little bit of a throwback piece to [Donald] Westlake and some of those other guys in California that wrote about that coast. Raymond Chandler wrote all his great L.A. books at a house off the Pacific Coast Highway in San Diego. I've been to the house. What a thrill that was, to walk into the room where The Long Goodbye was written. It was like going into a church. So, that was really the inspiration for the story. But, like a lot of stories, then you have to do the, so what? You’ve got Highway 101 and you’ve got rules for crime, well, what’s the crime? And then you just kind of go from there.

The San Diego Zoo

A young cop’s handling of an armed chimpanzee has unexpected consequences for both his career and his love life.

“I don’t know where this stuff comes from," says Winslow. "I just had a line that came into my head: 'No one knows how the chimp got the revolver.'It struck me funny. And so I did the same thing. It’s like, Okay, so what happens? How did the chimp get the revolver? I mean, I didn’t know the answer either when I started writing the story. I just went along on the ride with that young cop and eventually we both found out."

Sunset

Vintage Winslow character Boone Daniels makes a return in this tale of a bail-jumping junkie-surfer.

"Listen I grew up on the east coast, in Rhode Island, and surfed and then did quite a bit out here, first in Orange County, and then in San Diego," says the writer. "It’s a very familiar scene to me. I wrote a couple of novels with Boone Daniels as the main character that are really sort of surfer novels. I wanted with these novellas to take on stories that were too heavy for a short story, not substantive enough for a big epic structure. I also wanted to return to some old characters that readers have liked over the years. I thought, Well, yeah, let’s see if this works out."

Paradise

This Kauai-set story of drug-dealers and mayhem unites a clutch of old Winslow characters, including the core trio from his book Savages — Ben, Chon, and O.

"Sometimes you think you’re done with characters," says the writer. "You think, this story’s done, these characters have nothing more to do. And you realize you’re wrong. I always like writing about places that I love. If I didn’t live in San Diego I’d probably live in Kauai, maybe the most beautiful place on earth, at least that I've ever seen. I remembered that I had left Frankie Machine there, from one of my earlier novels, and I have left a character named Bobby Z there. So I did the math — which is not my métier — I literally sat down doing the sums. Then I did the same with the characters that had inhabited two books of mine, Savages and The Kings of Cool. So, I thought if I put those characters in the same spot, what might happen? And that’s what happened."

The Last Ride

In the collection's angriest tale, a Trump-supporting Border Patrol agent realizes he must act when children begin to be imprisoned as a result of the president's policies towards undocumented immigrants.

"I think angry is the right word," says Winslow. "I’m not going to run away from that. It’s almost impossible to summon up enough indignation and outrage. Ripping children from their parents and chucking them in cages is unconscionable. I’ve written columns abut it, a lot of Twitter, and all that kind of thing. But my real strength — I think, I hope — is as a fiction writer. I think that’s where I can maybe have a greater impact than in some other places. Headlines always become stereotypes by repetition. But what happens if you look at one kid? I also wanted to look at it from a slightly different angle: what if you looked at it from the angle of a border patrol agent? I’ve spent a lot of time with them. What if you went the other way with it and you took a border patrol agent who had voted for Trump and believed all that stuff? And then saw the reality."

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