A while back I mentioned that I have a deep fascination with criminology. Crime in general is a truly interesting concept to think about, but I specifically found myself being drawn to the ideas of criminology in college. The questions of why some commit crimes, why most don’t, and what the right and moral thing to do with people who do transgress from societal norms are fascinating ones, and have dozens of different viewpoints. And it will never not be relevant. We’re living in a world that has a lot of problems, and an ever-changing understanding of what crime is, and how we should deal with it. The criminal justice system seems completely broken, and there doesn’t seem to be a lot of interest in reforming it. Everything from the laws to the police officers enforcing the laws seem flawed, and there doesn’t really appear to be any major efforts to stop that. The idea of corrupt police should be shocking, but it really isn’t anymore. People just assume that things are legitimate. But it shouldn’t be that way. It’s reached the point where it actually can feel a little weird to see stories that make cops likeable protagonists. I recently finally tried the show Brooklyn Nine-Nine and ended up loving it, but there were times when it felt strange to be enjoying the antics of goofy cops, while getting news alerts of the latest police brutality controversy. So you know what a good balm for that cognitive dissonance is? Diving deep into a story of pure corruption that examines one of the most flawed protagonists I’ve seen since Patrick Bateman. That’s right, let’s talk about The Force.
The Force tells the story off an NYPD officer named Denny Malone. Malone is considered a hero cop, and a member of an elite drug-taskforce that seems to have carte blanche to do whatever is necessary to get drugs off the street of New York. And that takes the form of Malone and his crew essentially becoming a rival gang. Malone is an Irish-Catholic, divorced, and cynical cop who has realized the only way to survive in this twisted world is to get just as twisted. Along with his partners Russo and Monty, and their new recruit Levin, Malone runs Manhattan North, keeping the various drug gangs and cartels in line while keeping his beak as wet as possible. Malone and the boys aren’t afraid to rob, plant evidence, move drugs, and work with the mob, whatever it takes to keep them alive and their families financially stable. But everyone is doing it, so it’s fine. They kick bribes up to the brass and everyone agrees to keep it a secret. And business is great.
Until it all falls apart. Because while riding high, preparing to make a huge financial windfall by selling a mother lode of stolen heroin, Malone gets cocky and screws up. He’s gets implicated in trying to bribe a public defender, and gets brought in by the feds who want him to turn rat and tell them about the corruption in the NYPD. Malone does his best to refuse, but things rapidly start falling apart in his life, as all of his crimes start rising to the surface, and he sinks further and further into trouble. Malone ends up fully under the thumb of the feds, and finds himself in the impossible situation of having to screw over his partners and police family to protect his actual family, throwing Malone down a rabbit hole where he has to come to terms with his life. He has to figure out what matters most to him, what his duty as an officer and a man is, and he has to confront how far his life has gone off track, while dealing with the fact that all he ever wanted to be was a good cop.
The Force does not try to forgive Denny Malone. He is not a sympathetic character that we grow to appreciate and whose side we take. Denny Malone is not a good person. He abandonned his family, he lies, he cheats, he steals, and he committed what could only be described as premeditated murder. He stole heroin and plans on selling it to the mob. We see Denny try to explain it all away, telling us that all cops are like this. We learn that the whole system is corrupt, and that in one way or another every single person involved in the New York criminal justice system is crooked. It’s not forgiven. It’s not told to us so that we see their side and move past it. It’s told to us so that we see how easy it is for people to be corrupted. Absolute power corrupts absolutely, and this is a story of that principle. Denny Malone went into this career to be a good cop. He wanted to protect people, to do good. But he started giving himself little allowance, bending the rules here and there, and seeing that everyone is doing it too. It’s a slippery slope, and Denny ends up finding himself corrupted, becoming a criminal himself. This novel is an enlightening look into the how easy it is for the protectors to become the aggressors, and that it’s human nature to take authority and use it for your own gain. I have no idea if the Force is an accurate take on what the NYPD is actually like. Nor do I think it’s all fun and games like Brooklyn Nine-Nine. It’s probably some mixture of the two, but this story gives a very believable look into how easy it is to go down the wrong path, serving as a reminder that we need to actively work to better this whole structure. And it’s a hell of a great book as well.
The Force was written by Don Winslow and published by William Morrow, 2017.
Categories: Page Turners