City on Fire by Don Winslow [8/10]

Don Winslow blasts out stories violent, troubling, and real as houses. This incendiary saga, “City on Fire,” is part of a trilogy modeled on Homer’s The Iliad, and tells of an Irish crime clan on Rhode Island during the mid 1980s. When Danny Ryan, a loyal gang foot soldier, finds himself thrust into a spiraling war against the Rhode Island Morettis, an escalating, unpredictable battlefield between the Italians and the Irish, he hesitates at first, then feels his way toward into leading. Reluctant minion turned strategist and havoc-reaper … the influence of The Godfather and The Sopranos is writ large. But City on Fire is no paper mache copy, The author is a direct, strongly voiced stylist who does not waste a sentence and can conjure up worlds in a paragraph. The cast of grappling combatants and insiders is large, and Winslow’s dominion of them is so intertwined that subtle characterization is not the order of the day; even hero Danny remains elusive to the reader, revealed only slowly through transformative actions. Similarly, the author captures Providence and Rhode Island in a forensic, spartan fashion, as if imagining a film. But this reader never noticed any shortfall in character depth or location lyricism, because Winslow is a master plotter. Impossible to foretell, so sweet afterward, the plot surges and twists, surges and twists, exploding its violent canvas. City on Fire is a pleasurable tonic of raw human thrills, drawn from ancient tropes, and it shall surely figure on many highlight lists. One sitting, reader, one sitting.

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