When cop­ping it sweet is the wrong call

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Books - An­tonella Gam­botto-Burke’s

Amer­i­can crime writer Don Winslow has at­tracted some of the most hy­per­bolic re­views in lit­er­ary his­tory for The Force, his in­ter­na­tion­ally best­selling, painfully predictable po­lice pro­ce­dural. Pulitzer prize-win­ner David Mamet is in talks to write a film adap­ta­tion. The rights went for mil­lions. James Man­gold, signed on to di­rect the film, de­scribes the book as “a bea­con of fierce orig­i­nal­ity … and blunt mas­cu­line po­etry”. Ri­val crime writer Lee Child thinks it is “pos­i­tively Shake­spearean”. Even Stephen King weighed in: “mes­meris­ing, a tri­umph”.

All of which made me won­der if we’d read the same book be­cause af­ter 50 pages I started wish­ing some­one would mur­der the pro­tag­o­nist so it would end.

In gen­eral, the de­pic­tion of de­tec­tives has de­graded since the golden age of crime writ­ing. The im­pact of semi-doc­u­men­tary films and tele­vi­sion can­not be un­der­es­ti­mated in this lit­er­ary ero­sion, re­sult­ing in an epi­demic of nov­els that read like vaguely fleshed-out scripts. Typ­i­cally, the first seven para­graphs of The Force con­sist of a sin­gle sen­tence each. “A hero cop. / The son of a hero cop. / A vet­eran sergeant in the NYPD’s most elite unit. / The Man­hat­tan North Spe­cial Task Force.” This is comic book haiku. Ray­mond Chan­dler, whom Winslow ven­er­ates, was a rich, funny, ironic and po­etic prose stylist, but Winslow is sen­ti­men­tal and de­riv­a­tive. He lets the genre do the heavy lift­ing.

The “dirty cop” an­ti­hero is Denny Malone, a hard-boiled, drug-tak­ing, di­vorced Ir­ish-Amer­i­can de­tec­tive: “I’ve taken more real bad guys off the street than can­cer, and it’s my team that keeps the lid on this shit­hole.” He’s the “king”, “the cop di tutti cops”.

He works in “Da Force” with other stereo­types (emo­tional Ital­ian, tough at­tor­ney). He de­liv­ers eu­lo­gies on the im­por­tance of “fam­ily”. He “hates” child mo­lesters. He never welshes on child sup­port. These stop­watch-timed, creaky-floor­board scenes are de­signed to es­tab­lish Malone’s gold-plated heart, even though we know he put heroin on the streets.

The Force is cliche-rid­dled and cliche-driven, a lum­ber­ing mass of film noir tru­isms with a misog­yny so of­fen­sive, so re­flex­ive, so un­funny that had the same re­marks been made of an ethno-re­li­gious group, the book would have been black­listed.

Winslow’s men are de­scribed in terms of their char­ac­ter. Malone’s best friend: “Stand-up, old-school guy with a Grill Mas­ter apron, an un­ac­count­able taste for Nir­vana, Pearl Jam and

Nine Inch Nails, smarter than shit, NNc cla clang­ing f..king balls, loyal like a do dog, be there for you any­where an any­time Phil Russo.” Winslow’s wo women are not only re­duced to the su sum of their parts but graded on th them. Malone’s ex-wife Sheila has “lo “lost a few pounds, no ques­tion. She lo looks good.” Later, he notes that sh she “looks good in a green fleece jac jacket and jeans”. Look­ing good is ab about the most a wife can hope for.

Russo’s 17-year-old daugh­ter (“(“tallt and leggy and with char­coal­black hair”) w wouldn’t have a chance of win­ning Miss New York, Malone notes, but she “might” make Miss New Jersey. Her fa­ther’s as­pi­ra­tions for her? “I just gotta keep her off the strip­per pole.” Malone’s girl­friend Claudette wears a “tight sheath of a white dress that shows off her fig­ure and her dark skin”.

In con­trast, a pros­ti­tute “wears a tight black dress with a deep decol­letage” and brothel work­ers are “at­trac­tive, spoiled girls”, “thou­sand-dol­lar pussy”, “gor­geous”. His idea of a com­pli­ment? “[N]ot some ratchet you put in a porn film.” Said ratch­ets, whores and “gu­mars” are not only in­ter­change­able but es­sen­tially in­hu­man, ob­jects used by male char­ac­ters to ex­or­cise the ten­sion of be­ing given di­a­logue that reads like an El­more Leonard par­ody (“I’ll assf..k your widow on your cof­fin un­til she calls me Papi”). When the men meet, it’s im­por­tant, life- chang­ing, dra­matic; when their wives meet, it’s to put “their heads to­gether in girl talk”.

Ly­ing to women is pre­sented as a ne­ces­sity; too much truth and “the girls” may start to ques­tion the gen­i­tal hi­er­ar­chy. The few fe­male char­ac­ters who do not de­pend on pa­ter­nal­is­tic wom­an­is­ers for their liveli­hood are var­i­ously de­scribed as: a “spic c..t” (Paz), “a f..king c..t” (Tenelli), and a “party girl with the sex­ual vo­rac­ity of a Ro­man em­press” (Flynn). No con­fus­ing plu­ral­ism here.

In­stead of ded­i­cat­ing The Force to the US law en­force­ment per­son­nel mur­dered dur­ing the book’s ges­ta­tion, Winslow might have been bet­ter ad­vised to ded­i­cate it to the thou­sands of girls and women mur­dered dur­ing the same pe­riod by men who, like all of its male char­ac­ters, ad­vo­cate male sex­ual en­ti­tle­ment and the nor­ma­tive use of vi­o­lence to re­solve con­flict.

A metic­u­lous re­searcher, Winslow may ar­gue he is sim­ply re­flect­ing po­lice cul­ture, but DH Lawrence, for ex­am­ple, de­picted a sim­i­larly coarse and misog­y­nis­tic uni­verse in Sons and Lovers with a de­gree of in­sight, sub­tlety and pathos that hu­man­ised ev­ery char­ac­ter.

Ul­ti­mately, The Force amounts to lit­tle more than an en­dorse­ment of gen­der in­equal­ity. Its val­ues are en­cap­su­lated by a sin­gle line: “[He] was a drug slinger, a whore­mon­ger and a woman beater … but he wasn’t … a rat.” lat­est book is Mama: Love, Mother­hood and Rev­o­lu­tion.

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