Quick Review: CITY ON FIRE by Don Winslow (William Morrow)

WinslowD-1-CityOnFireUSHCAn excellent start to a new, final trilogy

Two criminal empires together control all of New England.

Until a beautiful woman comes between the Irish and the Italians, launching a war that will see them kill each other, destroy an alliance, and set a city on fire.

Danny Ryan yearns for a more “legit” life and a place in the sun. But as the bloody conflict stacks body on body and brother turns against brother, Danny has to rise above himself. To save the friends he loves like family and the family he has sworn to protect, he becomes a leader, a ruthless strategist, and a master of a treacherous game in which the winners live and the losers die.

From the gritty streets of Providence to the glittering screens of Hollywood to the golden casinos of Las Vegas, two rival crime families ignite a war that will leave only one standing. The winner will forge a dynasty.

I’m a relative newcomer to Don Winslow’s novels, having started with The Force (2017). Since then, I’ve eagerly anticipated each new book, as well as gone back and read some of his older novels. He recently announced that the trilogy that City on Fire starts will be his last — he is retiring from writing to focus on political activism. Based on this novel, it looks like he’s going to be going out on quite a high — City on Fire is an excellent start to a series, and one that hooked me pretty much from the get-go.

The novel focuses on the trials and tribulations of two rival crime families in Providence. At the start of the novel, they are engaged in what amounts to a Cold War, neither pushing too hard on the other’s areas of operation or interest. However, events of an end-of-summer party get out of hand, and the tensions boil up to the surface. It is only a matter of time before violence ensues, and everything goes to hell. To make matters worse, Providence is rotten to the core — everyone’s either on the take, or content to avoid involvement with the warring families. As events gain the attention of those further afield (more powerful crime families as well as the feds), things only become more heated and dangerous for those on the ground.

Danny Ryan is a member of one of these families (in case his name wasn’t a give-away, it’s the Irish faction), and yet wishes he could leave the life. His father was the boss, but his family has since taken a back-seat to that of his childhood best friend’s, and Danny has always felt a little peripheral to operations. (A minor concern, given his wish to go straight, but one that does have financial implications.) He’s happily married, has a kid on the way, and just wants to make a proper go of life, away from the violent potential of his family’s chosen profession. When the aforementioned tensions between his family and the rival Italians boils over, he is inevitably drawn into a deadly battle for Providence. Despite his participation, he clearly sees the futility and madness of what’s happening, unable to influence those with the greatest power to stop the escalating violence.

In City on Fire, Winslow brings to bear all of his writing gifts: his characters are all well-formed, realistic and compelling — even those who only feature shortly, or peripheral feel fully realized on the page. His writing is superb, of course, and the momentum of the story will pull you on through. (It was very difficult to put the book down, when work or sleepiness demanded attention.) The action is realistic and not over-used. Readers become invested in the fates of the characters, especially Danny and his family, and there are plenty of tragic moments as the story progresses.

If you’re a fan of Winslow’s already, there’s no doubt in my mind that you’ve already bought and read this novel. If you have yet to try the author’s work, then this would be a good place to start as any: it’s a perfect showcase for Winslow’s skills as a writer, and will leave you eager for part two. Definitely recommended, this will likely appear on many Best Of lists at the end of the year.


Don Winslow’s City on Fire is out now, published by William Morrow in North America, and Harper Collins in the UK.

Also on CR: Reviews of The Force and Broken

Follow the Author: Website, Goodreads, Twitter

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s