Author Don Winslow is considered one of the most successful crime writers in the USA – and a committed political activist. His excellently researched novels about the drug war and the Mexican cartels are world bestsellers. Oliver Stone filmed his book “The Time of Rage”, and more films and movie series are planned. After 22 books, Winslow released City on Fire on May 24, the first in a trilogy about the struggle of Irish and Italian gangs in his old home in Rhode Island, the smallest US state in New England.
Did Homer’s “Iliad” really inspire you for this trilogy?
Nearly 30 years ago I read the Iliad, the Odyssey, and other classics, and they reminded me of events in New England, where I grew up. That’s when I came up with the idea of writing a crime series in three novels about one person covering her entire life. The lead actor, Danny Ryan, is based on the character of Aeneas, a supporting character in the Iliad. I wanted to transform elements and character traits from ancient epics and Greek mythology into a contemporary thriller – without direct reference to archetypes.
Where did you see similarities with today or your youth?
The Trojan War once began with a dispute over a woman, and a similar story once began a guerrilla war in New England that claimed more than 30 lives. And this is just one of many parallels. Crime novels are about honor, loyalty, betrayal, justice, love, murder, revenge, passion, corruption – all these things are also present in Greek drama.
Is it true that your grandmother who was addicted to gambling had contact with the mafia?
Occasionally, yes. But only as a player she wasn’t a part of anything, but as a player she inevitably met people like that in New Orleans and got to know some of them quite a bit.
And you already saw the first part of “The Godfather” with the son of the godfather?
Yes, that’s right, he was a classmate of my high school. Everyone knew what their father had done and who he was, and it was impossible not to know. Our city was not very big, and organized crime was very strong at that time.
The first book in your trilogy is about Irish gangs, Italian clans, identity, honor, power, and the great importance of labor unions at the docks of the early 1980s. Is this a nostalgic look at your youth?
If you understand “nostalgia” to mean a sad look that wishes for the circumstances of the past – no way. If you understand “nostalgia” as a feeling that echoes the events of that day, then yes. I touched this book more with memories than research.
Do you still see the strong identities of origin – Irish and Italian – in your ancient homeland today?
When I was growing up, there was a very strong awareness of one’s roots that faded away. There is still a certain ethnic pride, but both groups are now part of mainstream society. When the Irish came in the mid-1800s, signs still said “No dogs or Irish allowed.” The Italians came later, and they weren’t welcome either. Both groups earned a place in society through honest and hard work. But few of them chose the path of organized crime.
There is also no longer an IRA that is supported by people of Irish descent, as we know from many films.
It wasn’t just movies, believe me, I was able to try it out almost every day at that time, in bars and restaurants.
The book tells of massive violence, car bombs, killings and shootings. You are known for your extensive research. How realistic are these bloody scenarios?