Thursday, October 18, 2007

Soon To Be Robert De Niro Movie!

Don Winslow has written one of those classic crime fiction novels that people will read and talk about for years. The fact that Robert De Niro is going to star in the movie based on the book will undoubtedly propel The Winter of Frankie Machine to a whole new level of exposure.

The author has already had book/movie success with a previous novel, The Life and Death of Bobby Z. That movie is currently out on DVD.

Winslow also happens to be the real deal when it comes to crime writing. While in his twenties, Winslow helped break up a theft ring in movie theaters where he was a manager. After being put undercover again, and again succeeding and breaking up a theft ring, he was offered fulltime employment as a private investigator.

As a P. I., Winslow went international and handled cases in London and Amsterdam. Later he worked to train counterterrorist teams and became part of a forensic anthropology group that specialized in arson and fraud investigation. He used those experiences to write the novel, California Fire and Life.

Winslow wrote five critically acclaimed mystery novels featuring Neal Carey before going to the stand-alone crime novels he’s known for now.

The Winter of Frankie Machine grabbed me in a hammerlock from the first few pages and refused to let go. Maybe I was influenced by the fact that I’d learned De Niro was going to play Frankie Machine in the movie version, but the character is so interesting that I think I would’ve been caught up in the story even without knowing about the movie.

The book opens in such a casual, almost genial, fashion that I at first was lulled into a casual reading. And I know that doesn’t explain the “hammerlock” statement I used at all. It’s just that the character description is so well done that I had to follow along behind Frankie and find out everything about him.

The first 50 pages or so calmly delineates Frankie “the Machine” Machianno’s life concerning his job at the bait shop he owns, the friends that he goes surfing with every morning (and one of them is a police detective), his daughter who has decided to extend her college experience by attending medical school after graduation, his ex-wife who would rather still call him than the plumber when the sink stops up after she blocks the garbage disposal, and his hair stylist girlfriend who won’t make an honest man of him.

Frankie’s life on an average day is so filled with turmoil that I just couldn’t see how any criminal activity was going to be hammered into any non-existing gaps. In fact, as a father with grown kids and working in two professional fields while trying to find time to do things that I enjoy, I may have empathized with Frankie’s life more than most readers will.

But it’s this layering of the character that I truly appreciated about the book. Within those pages, Frankie Machine became a real person to me. And this is exactly the kind of character that Robert De Niro plays so well.

Even as complicated as Frankie’s life is, however, things become even more complicated when young members of the remnants of the San Diego Mafia come to him and ask him to interface for them regarding a conflict between them and a much larger section of the Detroit Mafia that oversees business in San Diego. They’ve been running pornography studios and stealing from their own partners. The trouble kicks in when they set Frankie up to take a fall that rightfully belongs to them. At least, that’s what it looks like on the surface. Frankie quickly finds out that they’re actually brokering a deal to get him assassinated.

Once Frankie finds out what the real score is, he swings immediately into action. He gets everyone he loves out of harm’s way to level the playing field. Then he works on figuring out who wanted him dead. And he hunts the hunter. If he can ever get his sights on the guy who hired the hit, Frankie plans to put a bullet in his brain for causing him problems. With everything that’s happened, most readers will agree that the solution is warranted.

At this point the book mixes between ongoing story and the history that swept Frankie into a life of crime. It also details the people who might have reason to want him dead.

Once Winslow gets going in the action sequences, he doesn’t let up. Although the book tends to be understated in some areas, it excels in the violence. I love both sides of the book, the expansion of the present day story as well as the events in the past that touch on Frankie’s character and belief system.

Overall, the book is a fantastic read. I found myself sitting there turning page after page, totally mesmerized by the characters and the way the plot neatly escalated into a point of no return. This is just good crime fiction.

After reading the book, I can’t wait to see de Niro pull this role off. This is one of those he was born to play.

Winslow has created a crime novel that is an absolutely splendid marriage of real life and fiction. If you like crime stories, this is one you need to read. But make sure to carve out plenty of reading time to get through it. Once you start, you won’t want to put the book down. It’s that good.

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