CITY ON FIRE – A Novel by Don Winslow

Burning Down the House

The Plot:

As with many violent tales, it all started with a woman. Danny Ryan knew the minute he saw the gorgeous woman that she would be trouble. But he didn’t know that the lives of his family and friends would soon implode.

In the past, the name Marty Ryan—Danny’s father—stoked fear in Providence, Rhode Island—”Dogtown by the sea”—but now it just causes pity. In 1986, Marty is a drunk, and the Murphys rule the town, at least on the Irish side, the Irish mob maintaining a balance-of-power with the Italian Mafia. “The Irish kept the docks, the Italians took the trucking, and both unions were run from Providence.”

Danny is married to Terri, daughter of the current Irish boss, John Murphy. And Danny has been best friends with Terri’s brother, Pat, his entire life. Danny loved the job he’d taken as a commercial fisherman, but Terri couldn’t be a fisherman’s wife. He loved Terri more than his job, so he took the union card her father provided and returned to Dogtown to work on the docks.

Around the turn of the century, the Italians had come to Providence and fought the Irish. Two immigrant tribes staking their claims—the Irish in Dogtown and the Italians on Federal Hill. “Two sets of slaves battling each other for crumbs off the master’s plate until they figured out that together they had the numbers to take the whole table. They carved the city up like roast beef.”

Pasco Ferri and the Moretti family run the Italian ventures. Except for Danny never having a key role in the Murphy family planning strategies—he’s never “invited to the table”—things are balanced in Dogtown. Until Terri’s hot-headed brother, Liam, makes a pass at Paulie Moretti’s new girlfriend—the gorgeous woman at the beach that day. That error in judgment causes a war between the Irish and the Italians that will decimate life as they know it.

Things have gotten out of hand. When a car bomb explodes, Danny knows the war has gone too far. The Irish have never risked injury to innocent people, until now. The war is too devastating and takes too many tolls on both families. Danny wants out—he wants to be legit. Although Danny is “the good soldier” and has proven brilliant in his strategizing, he’s trying to be a better man and a better father. No one has ever escaped Dogtown, but he’s damn-sure going to try.

The Vibe and the Art of Storytelling:

This tale of love, vengeance, and honor is a modern-day retelling of the Iliad, with the woman at the beach a 20th century Helen of Troy. Winslow depicts that love, sex, and power can devastate even the strongest of ties. Readers feel Danny’s yearning to leave his life of crime behind, even though it means leaving almost everyone he knows. At least, the ones who are still alive after the deadly war between the Irish and the Italians.

Winslow transports readers to Providence, using his intimate knowledge of the town and beach to write an authentic account of growing up there, and surviving its “gritty” streets.

The Author:

Winslow is considered one of the best American crime writers. His books have been made into movies and cable series. His experience as a former investigator, trial consultant, and antiterrorism trainer lends realistic details to his books that readers experience as if they were spectators in the story.

After writing the two sequels in the series, Winslow announced he is retiring from fiction writing and will focus his efforts on saving democracy from Trumpism. He will help Democrats improve their messaging for their vision of our country. His democracy videos have surpassed 250 million views; his goal is to reach one billion views. Winslow wants his videos to “hit hard, create change, and help [Democrats] win key races across the country.” He is putting his thoughts and views into action.  

What I Like Best:

I love the realism of Danny’s desperation to leave a dangerous life that he never wanted to belong to in the first place. I also appreciate the way Winslow reflects on how one minor act can have devastating consequences no one anticipates. And the question Winslow poses to readers is universal: Who is our family, and can we choose?


Fans of the realistic battle between crime families and the will to “be better” will love this authentic tale of a foot soldier’s yearning for a better life.