Written by Don Winslow

Review written by LJ Hurst

Initially, L. J. Hurst worked in the backrooms of the media industry. He now divides his time between work for an international scientific publisher and a rather more British independent bookseller. In years past he was a regular attendee at the Shots on the Page Festivals from whence Shots Mag sprung

William Heinemann
RRP: £12.99
Released: 9th August 2012

Don Winslow’s new novel is a prequel to 2010’s SAVAGES, due out as an Oliver Stone movie soon. Basically, it deals with four things: Ben and Chon, drug dealers, and ‘O’phelia their mutual girlfriend. They are the first three. The fourth is drugs, drugs and more drugs. Except that drugs all the time would be boring, so we also get shakedowns, cartels, murders, disappearances, searches for parents, different drugs, planted drugs, drug mules, corrupt lawyers, corrupt cops and corrupt agents of the DEA. In Laguna Beach, California, you cannot even trust your own father. That is, if you can tell who he is. Knowing your mother is not much easier. So Chon, Ben and O find it easier to trust each other.

Twisting between stories of Ben and Chon’s maturity in 2005, Winslow takes us back to 1967 and the arrival of the drug culture among the surfers, at least one of whom is to be a father to one of the trio, but not a fortunate father. There’s a reason why part of the story is set in 1976 – father John has done nearly a decade in the slammer, emerging early with a little help from the greenbacks that slide out of the drugs, to discover that the marijuana trade has given way to the white powder that runs all around a man’s brain and leaves death and disappearance in its wake.

If you liked Winslow’s chopped style in SAVAGES you’ll get more of it here. Let me tell you that the two word single sentence/first chapter that began SAVAGES (second word “you”) echoes in the two word first sentence/first chapter of KINGS OF COOL (not “you” but “me” this time). The prose is abrupt, broken, rhapsodic and swept me along so that I finished the book at a single sitting. On the other hand, as critics of the earlier book have said, he leaves characters only thinly drawn, and their motivation even thinner. It makes it difficult to work out who is putting the frighteners on who, and Winslow makes the beginner’s mistake of having lots of characters with names starting with the same letter (mainly “D”), which makes distinguishing them – especially in a fast read – difficult.

If you want to know what the surf was like before the drugs started coming across the border read Frederick Kohner’s 1957 novel GIDGET. If you want to know what the amorality became then take any one of Charles Willeford’s late Miami novels and move it across the continent. Mainly, though, if you want to stay alive then start running, because thinking is not enough.

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