In the opening chapters of Don Winslow’s The Winter of Frankie Machine we get a carefully detailed description of a day in the life of Frank Machianno, a San Diego surfer and small business owner of retirement age who clearly ain’t about to retire any time soon. He opens his bait shop on the pier, catches some waves with a cop buddy, plays handyman for his ex-wife, catches lunch with his twenty-something daughter, checks in on the local restaurants he handles linens for, and wraps up the night with a dinner date with his ex-Vegas showgirl girlfriend. First impressions: Frank Machianno seems like a hard-working, slightly OCD guy who you’d love to grab a beer with if he ever slowed down long enough to enjoy it.
But when Frank pulls up to the house after banging his lady friend silly, he catches some Jersey Shore-looking mob kids waiting for his return home. Turns out, Frank used to be in the game back in the day and that his name still holds water in the community. The junior mafia asks Frank to come along with them on a meet, help them negotiate a deal with another old wiseguy – for a price, no worries. Frank reluctantly agrees (he’s gotta do the whole routine over again in the morning, after all) only to be ambushed in a boat by some serious heavy-hitters. Thing is, Frank can hit back pretty hard himself. See, he used to be an infamous hitman, Frankie the Machine they called him, and his murdering skills have not fucking dimmed in the slightest. After blowing holes in some motherfuckers, Frank hits up a safehouse he set up for himself years ago and regroups. He’s gotta find out who wants to off his ass and why. Thing is, with how many hits he was involved in over the years, there’s certainly no fucking small amount of likely suspects. Second impression: Frankie M. is a stone-fucking-cold badass.
Much like Dave Zeltserman’s Killer from earlier this year, Frankie Machine from this point on alternates between Frank’s past in the San Diego mafia and his present situation hunting down whoever ordered the hit, each section informing the other in fucking gorgeous ways. Winslow’s takes on the sixties, seventies and eighties are both lovingly depicted and razor-sharp, managing to recreate very specific eras in crime history while also never bogging down what is truly a fucking straight-up free fall of a novel.
I mean, Winslow lets it fucking rip in the suspense and action departments with this one, dear reader. The violence hurts like hell but thrills at the same time, like the best kind of sex (did the Nerd just reveal too much?). The dialogue is at turns hilarious and dead-on, Winslow relishing the chance to Sopranos-up the talky parts with his sharply rendered low-rent mob characters. As ever in a Winslow novel, we also get a look at a southern California seldom seen, a place where the present is gentrification and trust-fund babies and the near-past is a wild west of surfers, rarely hassled mobsters and corrupt officials galore.
Due to its kick-fucking-ass structure, The Winter of Frankie Machine manages to feel both epic and tight, straight-ahead nasty thriller-ish at the same time. In fact, it’s a happy medium between the novel that comes after it, the kick-ass PI novel The Dawn Patrol, and that which came before it, the ridiculously expansive and ambitious The Power of the Dog (raving fucking review no doubt forthcoming toot-fucking-sweet). If the Nerd can tie this motherfucker up by paying off the little “1st and 2nd impressions” hack-y bullshit thing I was doing earlier in the review, let me leave your asses with this third impression: The Winter of Frankie Machine fucking rules.