The Kings of Cool is a prequel to Don Winslow’s 2010 Savages, one of the most excitingly original crime novels of the new century. Savages is the book that I recommend to any and everyone, whether they read one or one-hundred books a year. Its voice is so assured and badass, its storytelling so lean and fast-paced, and its tone is so funny yet so fucking dark.
Basically, I love the shit out of it and, to be honest, I was worried when I heard that Winslow was continuing the story with a prequel. It’s not that I wasn’t eager to go back into that world or hang with those characters again or that I didn’t think Winslow didn’t have it in him to step back into that voice, but I was just…nervous. Would he be able to capture what is essentially lightning in a bottle again?
Having just finished this fucker I’m happy to say The Kings of Cool doesn’t disappoint. All the things I loved about Savages are alive and well in this book ten-fucking-fold. Is it a modern classic like Savages? Doesn’t quite feel like it, but that may just be because the shock of the new is hard to replicate. Is it pretty fucking fantastic? You bet your ass it is.
The Kings of Cool takes place a few years before the events of Savages. Chon is still serving overseas, O is just out of high school and Ben only has a few grow houses under his belt. As with Savages, the story is about the big-time players edging in on our heroes, the threat this time being the Association, a group that, instead of dealing or growing, just takes a healthy cut of every operator in the Laguna Beach area. When they come to collect on Ben he tells them to fuck themselves. Not long after his choice words he gets fucked by them while his enforcer Chon is halfway across the globe.
As Ben learns of the reach and power of the Association, we also get hefty stretches of the novel detailing how the Association came to power in Laguna, starting back in the sixties and going forward from there. As we read more about this baby boomer crime syndicate we come to learn that Ben, Chon and O have more connections to this dark past of their hometown than they ever knew.
Where Savages hit hard and kept running, The Kings of Cool hits hard and sticks around from time to time, deepening our characters and this world. While the book is snappy as hell, with hundreds of micro-chapters and crazy tight prose, the scope of the novel is much larger. This is still an action-packed, violent crime story, but it’s also about the failures of the children of the sixties, about youthful idealism giving way to greed and apathy as the years fly by.
One of the best storylines of the novel that exemplifies this theme involves Ben and Chon’s DEA agent on their payroll Dennis who, once a hot-shot up-and-comer in the agency, takes his first bribe to find that…nothing happens. At one point he thought corruption wasn’t going to be a part of his career and then it just is. No god comes down to smite him, the blue and whites don’t roll up on him, a rival cartel doesn’t cut off his head. He just continues to exist and, eventually, is on the take 24-7.
But though a novel where nearly every character is in the process of slowly losing their soul may sound bleak, The Kings of Cool is too hip and fun to really harsh your buzz. After all, though Ben and Chon may have to make some nasty choices as they fight for their lives, they live in sunny Laguna with the foxiest chick of all time at their elbow and a spliff always at hand. It takes a lot of effort to sulk when you’re one of the (say it with me!) kings of cool.