Don Winslow: ‘I’m a cupcake. It certainly couldn’t be a leg breaker’ | crime fiction

EITHERWatching Zoom from his Rhode Island home, Don Winslow is straight from central casting for a 68-year-old former private investigator turned crime writer who works in the morning and hikes in the afternoon. He is skinny and tan, splitting his time between California and Rhode Island, with a bald head and owlish glasses. Winslow has written 22 novels, a collection of short stories, and numerous film and television scripts, most notably the adaptation of his novel. wild, which was directed by Oliver Stone. He has become a prominent figure in American politics, producing a series of films in the run-up to the 2020 US election that were highly critical of Donald Trump and were viewed 250 million times. His last novel burning cityIt is published on April 26.

His new book retells the Iliad in the context of warring gangs in 1980s Rhode Island. Where did it come from?The idea comes?
Obviously, other people have done this; you immediately think of Joyce. Ulises – but there was one incident in the true crime story where a war broke out between two syndicates and it was an argument over a woman at a beach party. It happened not far from here. That struck me at the time, going back some 20 years, like a Helen of Troy incident. Like Troy, the woman was the pretext, but the real reasons were what they always have been: money, power and territory. I’ve taken the main rhythms of the Iliadand this is the first book in a trilogy, so subsequent books will be based on the Aeneid and the Odyssey and work on other Greek dramas, the oresteia, for example. I read those texts looking for contemporary parallels. Where could the poetry of my beloved crime genre be found with the poetry of the Greek classics?

What do you think it is that still tells us about these ancient tales?
I feel like there’s something in the zeitgeist right now. We’ve spent the last two or more years flying through this cloud that we can’t seem to get out of. Forced isolation has forced us to think a little more about who we are. I have often said that in crime fiction we seek our roots in too shallow a soil. We look back at Chandler, Agatha Christie, Sherlock Holmes. But we could go further. We should look back to Shakespeare, to Dickens, even further back. During this latest round of Covid I started reading English romantic poetry. Before he couldn’t stand poetry, but suddenly he was catching up with Keats, Shelley and Wordsworth. I think we’re all looking for something deeper.

Do you feel that crime as a genre doesn’t get enough credit for the quality of its prose? His novels have a strong literary sensibility.
I just write stories, man. I want to write good stories with good characters and I want to write them as beautifully as I can. I pay attention to the form of the sentences, to what could be called the poetry of the genre. If you read Chandler, if you read the first sentences of the long goodbyefor example, it is pure poetry.

There is something almost nostalgic about the story: Irish and Italian gangs, the sense of honor, the unions and the longshoremen.
Deliberately so. I think it’s more interesting to write about the death of light, right? I wanted to write about a culture that was in decline and aware of it.

Is the protagonist, Danny, a version of you?
You can’t see it from there, but I’m 5 feet 6 inches tall and weigh thirty dollars (130 pounds). I’m a cupcake, I certainly couldn’t be a leg breaker. I chose to look at this story through the perspective of Aeneas, who in the Iliad he’s a minor character and he was always on the outside, never really accepted even though he married into the Trojan royal family. I like to start a story in true north and then kick it a little skewed, to get this quirky perspective from someone who had the conscience to comment on things. Danny is looking from page two to get out. Danny is not me, but I know him. I grew up Irish Catholic in a fishing port. I know all these people intimately.

He feels like he’s a writer who thinks more than most about the ethics of violence in literature.
It’s something that all of us in this genre think about a lot. I spent 23 years in Mexican drug trafficking, in hyperviolent situations. Sometimes I backed off from writing about them because they were so horrible or so surreal that I didn’t think any reader would believe them. I always worried about crossing a line in violence porn. It’s a thin line. At the same time, I don’t want to sanitize violence. I don’t like the idea of ​​murder as a parlor game. If you’ve ever seen someone die from a gunshot wound, you know there’s nothing pretty or romantic about it.

Was the Trump era an aberration?
We have to fight him harder now than ever. You can hear the sigh in my voice. I think we thought for a little while after the election that he won. And then came the insurrection. And then came the incredible lack of reaction from the Republicans. The open collusion to try to overthrow a democratically elected government in this country. I think Trump (I hate to say his name, by the way) will run again. I think he needs to be beaten again and he has his clique of copycats to be beaten. So we have a fight on our hands.

What books are on your nightstand?
I am reading right now Sense and Sensibility. I can read about 10 pages at a time and enjoy it and appreciate it and then I get a little tired. The very mannered speech gets to me a little bit, but now I appreciate the brilliance and substance in ways I couldn’t have a few years ago. And also Don Juan by Byron.

Which novelists and non-fiction writers working today do you most admire?
Richard Russian should be much better known. The late Jim Harrison he is a better and more important writer than Hemingway. My friend Adrian McKinty I really enjoy Lou Berney. There are so many. One of the great joys and sorrows of life is that there is not enough time to read everything you want to read.

How do you organize your books?
I’m pretty OCD about it. Most of the books on my shelves are non-fiction. There are two or three bookshelves of the history of the American West that are organized chronologically by subject. There is African history arranged chronologically by subject. There are what we could call the classics, organized chronologically. Then my collection of classic crime novels organized by author. There is a section of biographies of jazz artists.

burning city by Don Winslow is published by HarperCollins (£20). to support the guardian Y Observer order your copy at guardianbookshop.com. Shipping charges may apply

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