I remember reading The Death and Life of Bobby Z as a kid and digging the shit out of it, but for some reason I never picked up another Don Winslow again. Don’t ask the Nerd why because he can’t tell you – them’s just the fucking breaks. After having just burned through Savages I feel like I’ve been eating at the same supper club every Saturday night for a decade and never bothered with the prime rib until today. Now that I’ve eaten said cut of awesomeness, I feel like an idiot for missing out all these years when it was always right there in front of me (Jesus, that was a bit tortured – plus now I’m fucking hungry as hell).
Savages is about O, Ben and Chon, trio of hip Laguna Beachers with a highly profitable pot growing operation. After having spent the last few years with only a minimum problems from true gangbangers trying to get a taste of their business, they are approached by the fearsome Baja Cartel and told that it’s join us or die time. Not having the man-power or stomach for a war, they decide to simply drop out of the drug game, quit while they’re ahead and run off to Indonesia with their millions. But before they can get away the BC boys kidnap O, forcing Ben and Chon into servitude. In order to get their girl back and get out from under the the thumb of the Cartel, the boys are now forced to do all the horrible things they’ve managed to keep out of their business for so long – and you better believe Winslow is unafraid to take this shit full-dark.
What grabs you first about this motherfucker is the prose style. Now, as any good basement crazy will tell you, there is some stiff fucking competition out there right now for the mayor of uber-tight-nutso-prose-ville. Ken Bruen. Charlie Huston. James Ellroy. Some other guy whose name presently escapes me. Those guys all kick some serious ass, but after reading Savages I think the awkwardly printed sash should be thrown over Don Winslow’s shoulder toot-fucking-sweet. That Winslow’s able to be funny, hip, meta, and practically fucking page-a-second readable, yet still make your heart bleed for these characters is fucking astounding.
But even if the prose wasn’t so ballsy and fresh (“fresh” and “balls” don’t really fit together for me right now as it’s raise-an-eye-brow-and-start-fucking-sweating-bullets August) it’d be hard not to love the characters he’s created. From the straight-up badass ex-Navy SEAL Chon to the idealistic activist/pot-growing genius Ben to their charmingly spoiled fuck buddy O, the reader can’t help but believe in and fear for these lovable, murderous mini-kingpins.
Winslow also soaks Savages in some of the most fascinating lore I’ve seen in who knows how long while never making the reader feel like they should be taking notes. There’s awesome shit in here about the different strands of marijuana, the history of drug trafficking in Mexico, money laundering, computer hacking, and an especially brilliant bit on how it’s the defense attorney who most often pays with his life when a Cartel employee tries to cut a deal with the cops.
All the other assholes at the cabin or on the beach can risk their lumbar region lugging the bloated new Larsson book in their Radiolab totebags, but for the Nerd Savages is the real crime entertainment of the summer. It reads fast as fuck, is consistently hilarious, goes full-dark, and is genuinely inventive without ever being pretentious or windy in the fucking slightest. But hey, if you’d rather read a mildly exotic and totally obvious mystery about raping punk chicks, shit, whatever floats your boat, dear reader.