Don Winslow talks trilogy-starting crime thriller City on Fire and why Donald Trump should be in jail
Novelist Don Winslow spent much of the last two decades researching and writing his acclaimed Cartel Trilogy (2005's The Power of the Dog, 2015's The Cartel, 2019's The Border), a bloody saga about America's war on drugs set in the U.S., Mexico, and Guatemala. Winslow's just-published new book, the '80s-set City on Fire, has a high body count, but is a less sprawling tale which takes place among the criminal fraternity of Winslow's native Rhode Island.
"It's about a guy named Danny Ryan who, when we first meet him, is loosely connected with the Irish mob," Winslow recently told EW. "The Irish mob and the Italian mob in New England, they are all friends. They have a party, and there's an incident over a woman, and that is the pretext for a war between the Italian and Irish syndicates in Rhode Island for control of New England and Danny Ryan has to get involved."
Winslow started writing the book almost three decades ago, inspired by a reading of the ancient Greek poem The Iliad.
"When I was reading The Iliad, when I came to it relatively late in life, there were parallels that struck me between things that happened in The Iliad and things that I was aware of growing up around the New England crime wars," said the writer. "As I began to read more of the classics, I just kept seeing these parallels [with] real-life crime events and contemporary crime fiction. I thought, huh, I wonder if I could write a series of novels that stood alone as contemporary crime novels but also echoed these stories and themes from the classics. I think I wrote that first chapter 27 years ago. I've been picking it up and putting it down for years, as I was busy with other things. But I don't think I was ready yet to write about my hometown. It took a while."
Winslow lives half the year in Rhode Island and admits that researching City on Fire was an easy task when compared to the efforts he expended to make the Cartel Trilogy seem realistic.
"I grew up in a little fishing town in Rhode Island," he said. "Where the book begins, I'm on that beach every day six months a year. So, the research for this book was basically walking out the door, and remembering the people that I grew up around, what was happening, the dialect, the jargon, the culture variously of the Irish and the Italians. This is a fictional work. It's not as realistic as, say, the drug books, which were virtual documentaries. But I read and I talked to a lot of people. A lot of it was going to locations again and it took me a while to relearn the dialect, to regain an ear for that very distinctive Rhode Island way of speaking. I had to hang out for a couple of years getting that down again."
City on Fire is the first in another trilogy of books, which Winslow has already completed.
"Once I got into volumes two and three, then it was a continuous writing event, primarily I guess because of COVID," he said. "The publication for this book was delayed by six months because of Covid and, like everybody else, I was locked down or locked up, or however you want to put it, and so I sat down and wrote the next two. So there'll be two more coming, one each year."
Winslow also spent part of lockdown helping to craft videos which criticized President Trump in collaboration with screenwriter Shane Salerno. On Saturday, a few days after speaking with EW, he announced his retirement from writing in order to devote himself to politics full-time. "It's time to do something else," Winslow told CBS Saturday Morning co-host Jeff Glor. "I want to continue on speaking out where I see what I think is wrong. It's a big deal. It's not a decision I made easily. Democrats have better ideas, better candidates, and a better vision for tomorrow. What they don't have is better messaging and I'm going to try and change that."
That news didn't come as the biggest shock to this writer given Winslow's obvious concern that Trump might run again in 2024 and his preparedness to do everything in his power to stop the former President returning to the White House.
"Look, I think he should be behind bars," Winslow told EW. "The man committed treason and tried to overthrow the government of the United States. But he still seems to have some support and people seem to want to ignore that and so I'm afraid we're going to see him again, and we're going to have to fight him again, and we're going to have to beat him again."
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