Don Winslow

"The Winter of Frankie Machine"

(Reviewed by Guy Savage MAR 16, 2008)

“You could take the Crips, the Bloods, the Jamaican posses, the Mafia, the Russian mob, and the Mexican cartels, and all of them put together couldn’t rake in as much green in a good year as Congress does in a bad afternoon. You could take every gang banger selling crack on every corner in America, and they couldn’t generate as much ill-gotten cash as one senator rounding the back nine with a corporate CEO.”

I was only into a few pages of Don Winslow’s thriller The Winter of Frankie Machine when I realized that there must be several middle-aged Hollywood actors who would kill for the film rights to this novel. So it came as no surprise to learn that Robert De Niro bought the script, and that a film version is scheduled for release in 2008. I only hope that the film version does justice to the clever twists and turns of this excellent thriller. Another of Winslow’s novels The Life and Death of Bobby Z made it to the big screen with mixed results. So let’s hope that the screenplay for The Winter of Frankie Machine is handled correctly, and if so, Winslow may have a huge hit on his hands.

The novel’s protagonist, sixty-three year old Frank Machianno is a former hit man known as Frankie Machine who now lives in retirement from the mob. From his home in San Diego he runs a number of businesses—including a bait shop, a linen service and a property management business. The book begins with an average day for Frank as he juggles business responsibilities with his personal life, and this includes saving time for his demanding ex-wife and his luscious girlfriend, the lingerie-sporting Donna.

At a vigorous sixty-three Frankie seems to have it all: security, good health, a sex life most teens would envy, and plenty of free time to enjoy the good things in life. But one day all this comes to an abrupt end when two young punks approach Frank. It seems that these boys have been bootlegging their own company’s porn videos, and now “guys from Detroit” also known as the “Combination” want a piece of the action. The punks don’t want to share, and so they want to hire Frank to sort it out—one way or another. While Frank’s first instinct is to tell the kids to get lost, one of them is the son of the “boss of what’s left of the L.A family.” With hints that he can’t turn down the job, Frankie accepts $50,000 in payment and goes to talk some sense to Vince Vena, a member of the “ruling council of the Combination.” Word is that “Detroit is positioning itself to move in on what’s left of the West Coast, and in one of the few profit centers left.” So Vince’s muscling into the West Coast porno action may not be an isolated incident but instead it may be the first step in a concerted effort to take over West Coast operations.

Frank anticipates a typical negotiation session with Vince, but instead a brutally violent encounter with Vince convinces Frank that someone has taken a hit out on him. But why?

At first Frank asks himself: “what have I done?” But before long he realizes that this is the wrong question. The right question is what does Frankie Machine know? And from this point the novel goes back and forth in time into the shady episodes of Frank’s bloody past to uncover why someone wants him dead now, years after he’s retired.

Frankie Machine proves that he still has what it takes as he leaves a trail of blood behind him. While mob hit men converge on his path, Frankie tries to buy time to uncover the truth, and this is a journey that takes him all the way to the top of the corruption power center of America.

Coming on the heels of California Fire and Life, The Winter of Frankie Machine, a quintessential mob story, is a complete change of pace. Although the protagonists of both novels fight alone, Jack Wade (California Fire and Life) is a boy scout next to Frankie Machine. Frankie Machine is a study in conflicting morality—a good father, a dependable ex-husband, but nonetheless his past is a bloody trail of executions conducted without remorse. Now, in his 60s, this is Frankie’s “winter” as the title suggests. Old age looms, but retribution is hot on his heels, and Frankie may not enjoy the old age that he’s so slickly taken away from other men with a bullet to their heads. What’s so interesting about this novel is that while Frank has managed (or so he thinks) to step away from his past, he really has done no such thing. His past is waiting for him, and he must confront it—whether he wants to or not:

“Stop feeling sorry for yourself, he thinks. After all, you’ve got it coming. You’ve done a lot of bad things in this world. You’ve taken life, and that’s the worst thing there is. You can justify it all you want, but when you look back at your life with your eyes open, you know what you were.”

  • Amazon readers rating: from 55 reviews

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About the Author:

Don WinslowDon Winslow was born in 1953 in New York City but raised in South Kingstown, Rhode Island. As a kid, he acted in plays and did radio commercials.

Don went to college at the University of Nebraska in Lincoln, majoring first in journalism (even as a student he had the crime beat) and then in African History. He went to South Africa in his junior year and worked as a researcher at the University of Cape Town and as a free lance newspaper reporter. His other role was to smuggle in money that had been raised in the States for an organization called TEACH, which helped build and equip classrooms in Soweto. The funds had been banned by the government, so Don was eventually arrested and asked to leave. He bummed around southern Africa for a few months, then headed home via Nairobi.

After college, Don continued directing the Historical Theatre Company for two more years, then moved to Beyond Hope, Idaho, lived in an isolated cabin and worked herding cattle, riding fence, and delivering salad dressing to towns in Montana and eastern Washington. From there he moved to New York City and spent three years managing movie theaters. From there he became a private investigator working various gigs in London and Amsterdam. He returned to grad school and received his MA in Military History and continued to do freelance PI work.

His first novel, A Cool Breeze On The Underground, was nominated for an Edgar, and a later book, California Fire and Life, received the Shamus Award. The Death And Life Of Bobby Z will come out as a feature film in March of 2007, starring Paul Walker and Laurence Fishburne. His novel, The Winter Of Frankie Machine, has been purchased for Robert DeNiro to play the lead role.

Don lives on an old ranch in the San Diego area with his wife, Jean, and son, Thomas. About Us | Subscribe | Review Team | History | ©1998-2014