Reality is finally setting in for Don Winslow.

The author of more than 20 novels, including Savages, The Life and Death of Bobby Z, and The Power of the Dog series, Winslow announced his retirement in 2022. The statement came at the same time as the publication of the first book in a new trilogy about an Irish crime family in Rhode Island.

His plan, Winslow said, was to focus on political activism and video creation on X as a response to Donald Trump. In the meantime, readers had three final books to enjoy in a series that follows the story of Danny Ryan, a low-level member of the Irish mob who fights on the losing side of a war (City on Fire); enters the movie business in Hollywood (City of Dreams); and finds success as a luxury hotel developer in Las Vegas (City in Ruins).

Now City in Ruins is out, and Winslow is officially done, minus a few interviews and a book tour. The series he started with a simple but evocative image (“Danny Ryan watches the woman come out of the water like a vision emerging from his dreams of the sea”) has come to a satisfying close. And he admits it’s all a little bittersweet.

“I don’t know how I’m going to feel until after this tour is over,” he says. “It still feels like I’m in the harness. We’ll see.”

For Winslow, 70, the Danny Ryan trilogy is a fitting literary exit, one he has wanted to write for a long time. He always knew Danny’s path would mirror The Iliad and The Aeneid, that Danny was a contemporary Aeneas, who survived the Trojan War, fled to Italy, and founded Rome.

The hard part was making each part of the journey work in a modern context, Winslow says. The easy part? Ending a long and celebrated career.

We recently spoke with Winslow by phone from his home in San Diego. Our conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

When did you start writing the trilogy?

I started the first one, City on Fire, 28 or 29 years ago. The first sentence hasn’t changed by a syllable, by the way. It was one of those projects where I would pick it up and set it down, depending on what else I was doing. I went through a long period of doubting it was going to work. I’ll bet I’ve thrown away easily 300 pages of that trilogy. It took me a while to develop the skills to complete it.

Did you always know it would be three books?

It was planned as a trilogy, unlike the drug books [The Power of the Dog, The Cartel, The Border,which follow the DEA’s war with the Sinaloa cartel]. After writing each one of those, I swore I wouldn’t go back to that world. I ended up breaking my word.

I knew where I was going to go for the spine of the story of Danny Ryan. I knew I was going to follow the life of Aeneas starting with The Iliad and ending with The Aeneid. There were going to be three very distinct phases. Fighting the losing war, that’s The Iliad. Part two is a refugee story, with Aeneas wandering the world looking for a place to set his feet. The third part is where he builds an empire. The struggle was finding the contemporary analogous events that would make sense in a modern crime story. Aeneas has to build an empire. What’s the contemporary equivalent to the founding of Rome? I just couldn’t find it. It’s embarrassing now, because it finally occurred to me: Where can you go to build everything you want if you have the money? Las Vegas.

How did you decide this would be your final work?

The way it worked out was a confluence of things. When I was rounding the home stretch [with] City in Ruins, I also recognized what was happening in this country. I came to the conclusion that if I finished this trilogy, which was a lifetime ambition, my energies would be best spent in a fight against what I consider a neofascist movement.

These books represented a homecoming for me. I left Rhode Island when I was 17, sort of like Danny. I wandered the world trying to find my place for a long time. Ten years ago my wife and I started to go back to Rhode Island for longer and longer periods of time, taking care of my mother, who needed help. As we spent longer amounts of time there, I began to fall in love with the place again and to see it in a more mature way.

Do most readers understand this is a retelling of the classics?

I’ve been amazed how little I’ve been asked about the classical origins, even by journalists. But I’m always aware I’m a crime fiction writer, and I’m proud of that. I’m not trying to be high-brow. At the end of the day, I just want to write a good story and have readers care about the characters.

You use organized crime as the basis for this trilogy. Why do readers and audiences respond so strongly to stories about the mob?

It’s wish fulfillment. It’s a power fantasy. Almost all of us have frustrations in our lives—problems with bureaucracy, problems getting a permit or with a troublesome neighbor, or more serious problems like domestic abuse or the threat of violence. We all look at The Godfather or The Sopranos, and those problems get taken care of. It just took us six months to get a permit to do work on our house in San Diego County! But if you call up Tony Soprano, Tony takes care of it. And this is largely a reality in Rhode Island. I joked somewhere in the books that this should be stitched on the state flag: I know a guy. I think it’d be nice to go to—or be—Brando with the white cat on his lap making things thus.

Why was Danny such an appealing character for you to write about?

I’ve known the Dannys of the world my whole life. I just instinctively knew him. I played hockey with 20 Dannys, surfed with them. The beach where the trilogy opens and closes—I’m there every day for six months of the year. So it was extremely familiar to me. I’m also attracted to the character of Aeneas because he’s a minor player in his story, which offers a special kind of perspective. [He’s] in the events but mentally commenting from an outsider’s point of view.

What happens down the road if you come up with a great idea for a novel?

I don’t know the answer yet. I’ve made this decision. I’m pretty confident. I’ve had this career that is so much bigger and better than I ever dreamed, and I’m grateful for that and for readers giving me the life I’ve had. I think, Be grateful for what you’ve been able to do and what you’ve received. I want to make a graceful exit.

Connie Ogle is a writer in Florida.