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Don Winslow ends trilogy, and his writing career, with final novel 'City in Ruins'

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Danny Ryan, who's been a Rhode Island mobster, dockworker and fugitive from the law, is now a pillar of the community in Las Vegas. He's got a palatial home to which good citizens come to pay homage and enjoy his hospitality, his young son he loves and the companionship - well, three times a week, anyway - of an accomplished and compelling woman he respects. What could possibly go wrong? "City In Ruins" is the third and final novel in the bestselling Danny Ryan trilogy by Don Winslow. It follows "City On Fire" and "City Of Dreams," and Don Winslow says quite explicitly, "City Of Ruins" is my final book - no loopholes I could detect. He joins us now from Julian, Calif. Thanks so much for being with us.

DON WINSLOW: Thanks for having me. I appreciate it.

SIMON: The book opens with an implosion, a famous old Las Vegas hotel, now owned by Danny Ryan, being brought down from the inside. Is implosion a kind of theme for Danny Ryan's life, too?

WINSLOW: Yeah, it sure is. Looking over the arc of these three books, I think we're looking at a certain kind of self-destruction with dynamite, if you will, or explosives that were laid many years earlier on a long fuse, to torture the metaphor, and so implosion's definitely a theme.

SIMON: In earlier books, Danny had used what I'll just refer to as ill-gotten gains from a criminal enterprise to buy his way into a respectable hotel and gaming enterprise. He's got a dream. In fact, a hotel - I guess it's called the Dream in Italian.

WINSLOW: It is. Yeah, Il Sogno.

SIMON: Tell us about this place he wants to bring into being.

WINSLOW: Well, he wants to bring into being a new kind of megahotel where people walk in and it's literally a dream with images shifting constantly on the walls of beauty and action and all kinds of things. And I think it's reflective of his own dream of trying to create a new kind of life for himself and for his son.

SIMON: What stands in the way?

WINSLOW: Well, a number of things. For one thing, this valuable piece of real estate that this old hotel sat on is critical to power on the Las Vegas Strip. And he basically undermines a rival in order to acquire it. And then it turns out that both Danny and this rival have mob ties from the past that each of them is trying to escape and trying to leave behind him, and neither one of them can. And so those things really get in the way of Danny's dream.

SIMON: You've written so many other books over the years, including "Savages," "The Force," "The Cartel," bestsellers made into screen properties. What's kept you coming back to Danny Ryan?

WINSLOW: You know, it took me almost 30 years to complete this trilogy. You know, it's funny. You look back on your life. When I started the Danny Ryan books, my now-adult and married son was a toddler. What I was - set out to do was to write a fully contemporary crime epic that took its stories and characters, however, from the Greek and Roman classics, principally the Aeneid, but also the Odyssey and the Iliad and certain Greek tragic dramas. I kept failing at it. I would write some of the book, and some of it worked, and a lot of it didn't. And so at times, I was discouraged, thinking that either, A, it was a bad idea, or, B, it was a good idea and I didn't have the chops to carry it out. But I kept coming back to it 'cause I couldn't leave it behind. And then later on, a couple of decades down the road - you know, I live mostly in California - I started to go back to Rhode Island, where a lot of the first book is set, and I fell in love with the place again, and I felt that I could write it, perhaps in a better and more mature way than I could have done 20 years earlier.

SIMON: Did you feel a kinship with Danny?

WINSLOW: I think so. You know, I grew up with a lot of Danny'. I played pond hockey with them. I went to the beaches with them, you know, to the bars and restaurants and all kinds of things. So it's funny how little self-awareness you can have. The second volume of this book, "City Of Dreams," is basically Danny wandering the country trying to find a place to set his feet. I was deep into writing the third book before I looked back on the second book and realized how connected I was to Danny in that regard. You know, I left Rhode Island when I was 17 and spent decades wandering not only the country but the world, doing various kinds of jobs trying to make a living, trying without a notable degree of success to become a writer and finally kind of made that happen and found a place, if you will, to set my feet.

SIMON: You mentioned all the jobs you had. You were a private eye in Times Square.

WINSLOW: Yes, sir.

SIMON: Is that as exciting as it sounds, or is it a lot of keyhole peeping?

WINSLOW: (Laughter) Not too much keyhole peeping, thank God. You know, I didn't do what they call matrimonial work. But, no, it was not romantic at all. I was basically what is known as a street rat. And so I started that by investigating embezzlement and thefts in cinemas and legit movie theaters on Times Square - there were a few in those days - and then graduated, if you want to call it that, to being a troll. I would walk around Times Square trying to get mugged, and there were big tough guys, which I am not, behind me jumping in like riders at the rodeo and then eventually chasing runaways and trying to get to them before the pimps did.

SIMON: By the way, not that I'm interested in doing this, how do you arrange to get mugged?

WINSLOW: (Laughter) Well, for one thing, you arrange to be 5'6 and 130 pounds. That helps. And then you walk around looking like you don't know where you're going, like you're a tourist, with a wallet prominently in your back pants pocket.

SIMON: Wow. Sounds like it was indispensable to your literature.

WINSLOW: In some ways. You know, I mean, I think that being a PI, and then later I did it out in California, out here, on a much higher kind of level. But it got me in that world. I got to know cops and crooks and street people and lawyers and judges and courtrooms and all of that. But I think the most important influence it had on my work was in terms of investigation itself. I learned how to do research. I learned how to interview people. And the same skills that I would have used as an investigator are the skills that I brought to researching the novels.

SIMON: All of this steers us to asking about your goodbye. The acknowledgments you write include hundreds of people, parents...

WINSLOW: Yes.

SIMON: ...readers, old teachers...

WINSLOW: Sure.

SIMON: ...Even your agent.

WINSLOW: Especially my agent. Yeah.

SIMON: And as you say, goodbyes are hard. So why are you retiring?

WINSLOW: It's the confluence of two streams, if you will. One is that having finished this trilogy felt like an ending to me. It felt like, yeah, kind of my life's work. The second, though, major stream, and probably more important one, is that I just think that we're at a time in this country of crisis and a time where democracy is under a severe threat. And I think that the response to that needs to be more immediate than one can do in a novel, you know? You know, I'm not young. I'm 70. And I think whatever energies and time I have are better spent in that fight.

SIMON: Don Winslow, his new and insists his last novel, "City In Ruins." Thanks so much for being with us, and thanks for everything.

WINSLOW: Thank you very much. That's gracious of you to say.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "CASCADE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.