City on Fire by Don Winslow

Review by Brennan LaFaro

City on Fire marks the first book in what will be Don Winslow’s final trilogy. That knowledge brings a bittersweet note with it, but that’s quickly forgotten as the New England organized crime story sucks the reader into its pages. It becomes increasingly difficult to think of much beyond the Italian-Irish dispute.

Winslow sets the scene from the get-go. 1980s Rhode Island, primarily focused on the Providence area. In the interest of full disclosure, this was a major selling point as I know the area well. I’ve lived right down the road all my life. The world of film and literature doesn’t spend as much time in Providence as it does Boston and New York City, and reading about the landmarks I’ve passed by hundreds of times and the streets I’ve walked down at 3 a.m. added a level of enjoyment.

Having grown up in Rhode Island, Winslow has a knack for not only the scenery, but the dialect and attitudes of the locals. It helps bring the competing families to life. Once the Morettis and Murphys, as well as their supporting cast, are established, Winslow unleashes an onslaught of intrigue, full of suspicion and suspense, double crosses and vicious violence. No one is safe and no one can be trusted.

City on Fire is a story of family, both adoptive and in terms of blood. Danny Ryan, our main character, struggles to navigate a messy world of relationships, deals, and shall we say career advancement, all balanced with a wife and a child on the way. Winslow masterfully weaves Ryan’s past experience with his parents into the current events transpiring around him.

With notes of The Departed, City on Fire introduces a world where trust is a distant memory, and readers must hold on tight in order to find out where the story will take them next. Understanding it as a modern retelling of Homer’s Iliad adds a fascinating layer, but unfamiliarity with the source material will not hinder enjoyment. Winslow steps on the gas early and as the final pages draw near, the reader has every right to fear he’ll forget where that brake pedal is if and when he needs it.

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