‘The San Diego Zoo’ a novella by Don Winslow in the collection ‘Broken’- a ray of sunshine in a dark world.

‘Free Billy’ was my first encounter with Don Winslow’s writing. It was a surprise. Through an unconscious process of cultural osmosis, I’d picked up the impression that Don Winslow wrote hard-boiled crime novels. I’d expected something slightly seedy and with a hint of violence. What I got was a clever, nuanced, original story full of compassion for the, mostly slightly strange, characters in the story. I knew then that I’d be back for more.

A few days ago, I read a post on H C Newton’s blog, The Irresponsible Reader, that quoted the opening lines on two of six Don Winslow novellas collected in ‘Broken’ and I knew I had to read ‘The San Diego Zoo’.

These were the opening lines:

No one knows how the chimp got the revolver. 

Only that it’s a problem.

From ‘The San Diego Zoo’ in ‘Broken’ by Don Winslow

That was enough to get me to download an audiobook copy of ‘Broken’ and jump straight to the third novella, ‘The San Diego Zoo’. The next two hours kept me smiling as they drew into the life of Chris Shea, a fundamentally nice guy who is a cop because he wants to help people. He’d like to be a robbery detective one day but right now he rides a radio car for the San Diego Police Department. The great thing about being a radio car cop is that every day is different. We join him when different means dealing with an escaped chimpanzee in Balboa Park carrying a revolver.

This is a charming, hopeful story that might count as a fairy tale if it wasn’t so firmly grounded in real life. As we follow Chris Shea as he navigates an internal politics minefield to find the answer to how the chimp got the gun, we see a good man doing his best in a complicated situation. There’s a lot of humour, sprinkled with moments of tension and violence, wrapped around Chris Shea’s central dilemma, how to solve a case that isn’t his without getting everyone mad at him and ruining his career.

Each of the novellas in ‘Broken’ is dedicated to a writer. ‘The San Diego Zoo’ is dedicated to Elmore Leonard. It’s not hard to see why.

I’m treating ‘Broken’ like a box full of my favourite biscuits. I’m going to try and eat one of them a week. The only problem is, my biscuits rarely survive the day.

The novellas in ‘Broken’ are narrated by Ray Porter, who seems to me to be the perfect choice. Click on the SoundCloud link below to hear a sample.

Don Winslow has published twenty-two novels, including The Force, The Cartel, The Power of the Dog, Savages, and The Winter of Frankie Machine

7 thoughts on “‘The San Diego Zoo’ a novella by Don Winslow in the collection ‘Broken’- a ray of sunshine in a dark world.

  1. I had never heard of this author before, I very much live under a rock. This sounds epic, and very different. I am partial to crime thrillers, obsessed with them actually… but it is always nice to slip out of my comfort zone. I am going to have to check this one out soon. Thank you for sharing.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I’d been thinking about buying the audiobook solely to listen to this story. Sure, I’d have listened to them all, but it’s this one that’d get me to spend the money. But if Porter did the reading, I’m no longer thinking about doing it…it’s done.


    • Ray Porter is remarkable. His range is as wide as Don Winslow’s. In ‘The San Diego Zoo’ he matches the light, hopeful, slightly bemused by events tone of the story. I’ve just listened to him narrate ‘Broken’ where he delivers something brutal and physical and fatalistic with complete conviction.


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