WESTERLY — Best-selling crime novelist Don Winslow — the man Esquire magazine has called “one of the best thriller writers on the planet” — will be at Westerly on Saturday to talk about his latest book, ‘City on Fire’ .
Set in Rhode Island, “City on Fire” – an epic crime saga about Irish and Italian crime syndicates in America in the 1980s and 1990s – was inspired by Homer’s “The Iliad”.
“I love Westerly,” said the author of 22 acclaimed international bestsellers, including New York Times bestsellers “The Force” and “The Border.” “I’m at Westerly all the time.”
Winslow, who grew up in South Kingstown, lives in California and spends part of every year in the Matunuck area, was on the phone from Philadelphia, one of many stops on his 23-city tour, which will end in Santa Fe on May 21 after her stops in Rhode Island this weekend.
As he gazed out his hotel room window at a statue of William Penn, Winslow talked about his new book — now No. 3 on the New York Times Bestseller list for hardcover fiction — his mother, his background, his decision to retire from writing to focus on politics and advocacy work, and Danny Ryan, the main character of “City on Fire”.
Danny starts life as a fisherman, Winslow explained. He’s a longshoreman who marries the daughter of an Irish mob boss and finds himself embroiled in a war between the Irish and the Italians, a war that will destroy an alliance and set a town on fire.
“People will recognize a lot of the places I write about,” he said of the book, which opens on Goshen Beach, Rhode Island, in August 1986, not far from the “little cottages of the across the road”…”so close together you may hear your neighbor sneeze or lean out the window to borrow something from the kitchen.”
If it sounds a bit like Roy Carpenter’s Beach, it could be because Winslow, a graduate of South Kingstown High School, is quite familiar with Matunuck, the area where he spent much of his childhood.
Winslow’s mother, the late Ottis Mary Winslow, was a longtime assistant librarian at the Robert Beverly Hale Library and served as house manager at the Theatre-by-the-Sea for more than 25 years.
“She was a familiar face in the lobby,” he said, “and she was always well dressed. If you went to the theater, you probably saw her.”
“She was from New Orleans,” he said, adding with a laugh, “I make my red beans and rice every Monday night.”
It was from his mother that he inherited his love of books and stories, he said.
“City on Fire”, which received acclaim from Stephen King (“One word for this book – superb”) is part of a trilogy that includes “City of Dreams” and “City in Ashes”. Sony’s 3000 Pictures and Elizabeth Gabler acquired the theatrical rights to the books for a “seven-figure average purchase price”.
Winslow, who left Rhode Island to study journalism at the University of Nebraska at age 17, eventually earned a degree in African studies and traveled – to southern Africa, California, Idaho and Montana before moving to New York. become a writer. He worked as a film director and private detective, earned a master’s degree in military history, and intended to enter the foreign service, but instead joined a friend’s photographic safari company in Kenya. He led trips there as well as hiking expeditions in southwest China, then directed productions of Shakespeare during summers in Oxford, England.
While bouncing between Asia, Africa, Europe and America, Winslow wrote her first novel, “A Cool Breeze on the Underground”, which was nominated for an Edgar Award. With a wife and young son, Winslow returned to investigative work, mostly in California, where he and his family lived in hotels for nearly three years while he worked on cases and became a trial consultant. A film and publishing contract for his novel “The Death and Life of Bobby Z” allowed him to become a full-time writer and settle in California, the setting of many of his books.
Winslow said he decided to retire from writing to do his part to save democracy.
“Democracy is in the midst of an existential crisis, he said. “We are in the midst of difficult times.
“I think it’s time for me to leave this scene,” Winslow recently told Geoff Bennet in an interview for PBS Weekend. “We are in an existential crisis for democracy around the world… but particularly here at home, and I started to feel that, and not by chance, around 2016.
“I don’t think we’re out of the woods by any stretch of the imagination,” he added. “I think it’s going to be a fight. It’s a fight we have to win and I wanted to put more time and energy into this fight.”