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Broken Lives

Don Winslow’s action-filled collection is layered with emotion

In his new novella collection, Broken, Don Winslow takes a breather from the intensely dark depictions of violence in his Cartel crime trilogy, but he still provides plenty of action to satisfy readers. The six little doses of crime fiction here run the gamut from gritty, bloody thrillers to a humorous encounter with a gun-wielding chimpanzee.

Photo: Robert Gallagher

Winslow wastes little time in hooking his audience as he introduces us in the title story to New Orleans Police dispatcher Eva McNabb on the most memorable night in her career. “Eva McNabb hears humanity’s brokenness for eight hours straight, five nights a week, more when she’s pulling doubles,” Winslow writes. “She hears the car accidents, the robberies, the shootings, the murders, the maimings, the deaths. She hears the fear, the panic, the anger, the rage, the chaos, and she sends men racing toward it.”

But when one of her two sons is killed in the line of duty on a call she dispatched him to, Eva’s next set of instructions to her remaining son, Jimmy, is shockingly simple: “I want you to embrace everything I tried to love out of you,” she tells him. “I want you to embrace your hate. I want you to avenge your brother. … And you make it hurt.” With a sympathetic police team at his side, Jimmy does just that as he ferrets out the killer and his associates in a fast-paced, John Wick-like action vendetta.

Winslow slows things down a bit in the next story, “Crime 101,” as Detective Lou Lubesnick investigates a string of jewel heists along the Pacific Coast Highway. While the cat-and-mouse pursuit of good guy after bad guy is engrossing in itself, Winslow adds an emotional layer with Lou’s marital dilemma, causing Lou to reflect: “It’s like looking at a painting that’s been in your living room for twenty years — you see what you’ve always seen; you don’t see what you haven’t seen. Like a marriage.”

The emotional turmoil — both highs and lows — of Winslow’s characters continues in the next entry, a humorous escapade titled “The San Diego Zoo.” Police officer Chris Shea, who has aspirations of advancing his career to the robbery division, is embarrassingly thrust into the public/social media eye while trying to apprehend a gun-wielding chimpanzee. As he climbs to catch the furry critter, the gun drops onto his face, breaking his nose, and the whole thing is caught on tape and replayed ad infinitum for YouTube fans.

Winslow could have left the story at that but again takes readers deeper by delving into the emotional fallout Shea feels afterwards. “I’ve pissed off my lieutenant … I’ve pissed off Robbery — the exact people I least want to piss off … ” Chris muses. “I’m going to stay in a radio car for the rest of my career, unless they force me to quit first.”

While the bulk of the tales here include serious and cautionary themes of corruption, vengeance, loss, and redemption, time and again Winslow creates deeply believable characters by highlighting their desires and the setbacks to fulfilling those desires — goals in which readers can easily relate.

Longtime readers — Winslow has penned 21 international bestsellers — will be especially happy to see some of his recurring characters making return appearances here, like Ben, Chon, and O, in the story “Paradise.” The three friends in the cannabis business were first introduced in Savages and The Kings of Cool and later immortalized in the Savages TV series. But rest assured, if you haven’t encountered Winslow’s cast before, you won’t feel lost. Winslow takes deliberate care to make each character and story stand alone.

Broken Lives

G. Robert Frazier is a former Middle Tennessee newspaper reporter and editor now working as a book reviewer and aspiring screenwriter. He has served as a script reader for screenwriting competitions at both the Austin Film Festival and the Nashville Film Festival. He lives in La Vergne.