A few months back when I reviewed Don Winslow’s Savages, easily one of the most exciting books to drop all year, I mentioned that I’ve been asleep when it comes to Don Winslow’s shit, that until Savages I hadn’t read one of his books since The Death and Life of Bobby Z back when I was a kid. Well, in recent weeks I’ve been making up for my past mistakes, dear reader, righting an egregious fucking wrong by going back and reading some of his previous works. Happy to say, dear reader, that it has been a pain-free process indeed. So without much more adieu-ifying, let’s kick off the Nerd’s mini-marathon of Winslow with my review of The Dawn Patrol.
The Dawn Patrol is the story of Boone Daniels, a Pacific Beach surfer and occasional private eye on a collision course with some local gangsters and the biggest wave to hit the southern California coast in years (jesus, with cheesy prose like that I should be writing fucking book jacket plot descriptions). Since leaving the San Diego PD following a preventable tragedy, Boone has been surfing with his buddies on “the Dawn Patrol” every morning (obviously) and doing PI work only when the bank account screams to be fed. As a massive, unmissable wave careens toward PB, Boone is stuck working an insurance fraud case with a super-hot-but-bitchy lawyer, and he’s hoping to wrap shit up toot-sweet to ride that fucker. But when the guns come out and the bodies start piling up, suddenly beach blanket fucking bingo Boone’s life sure as shit ain’t.
Of what I’ve thus far read of Winslow’s shit (and you’ll find out in the coming days which books those are), this is by far the most traditional mystery-ish book of the whole nasty bunch. Long-time readers know that straight-up mystery ain’t exactly my favorite flavor, but this shit is done with Lehane levels of craft and care – and you know the Nerd loves him some fucking Kenzie/Gennaro-style PI shit.
Winslow starts out The Dawn Patrol with a cool, lazy style that sets up his world of surf bums and babes beautifully, introducing us to a massive cast of cool characters to hang out and have a beer with. Then the sexy lawyer client drops by Boone’s office, classic Marlowe-style, and the investigation starts going down. It’s all witty banter and chill cats in a cool, specific world for a good goddamn while when fucking bang! things go good and dark on your ass and you’re flying through the rest of the pages like it’s a fucking Swierczynski novel or some shit.
Like the best of the genre, Winslow makes sure it’s about the characters first and the plot second – and it’s a solid fucking story at that. Winslow can certainly muster up a PI plot with the best of them, but he thankfully keeps the twists and turns as organic as possible, making shit complex but not ridiculously so, avoiding the “this shit goes all the way to governor’s mansion” bullshit that plagues many mysteries. The climax is not so much surprising in a “I thought the butler was dead but turns out he was the mastermind” sort of way but in a “I didn’t think shit would get that fucking dark” kinda way.
As you’ll learn (if you’re not already hip to his shit) over my next couple reviews, Don Winslow lets you have your cake and eat it with fucking relish too. Not with, like, hot dog relish or anything – that shit’d be gross. I mean like “relish” in the sense that, oh, you know what I fucking mean. Anyway, Winslow, like the aforementioned Dennis Lehane, is one of those writers that delivers the solid thrills and twists that the average crime reader demands while also managing to keep shit challenging and dark enough for the discerning basement crazy as well. In other words: unless church basement cozies are your speed, you can’t fucking lose with The Dawn Patrol.