Thursday, October 27, 2011

The Gentlemen’s Hour

Back in 2008 southern California crime writer Don Winslow published The Dawn Patrol and along with a bang up story, gave readers the ultimate in San Diego surfing culture and history. As much as James Lee Burke has made south Louisiana a vibrant, living and breathing character in his novels, Winslow has done the same for southern California and that stretch of ocean and beach around San Diego where American surfing was born. The Dawn Patrol also introduced a cast of characters that probably had most readers begging for a sequel. Chief among them was Boone Daniels, surf bum-ex-cop-private investigator, and the most laid back ultra California cool guy on the planet. The sequel wish came true for British readers in 2009 with publication of The Gentlemen’s Hour, but for mysterious reasons we here in the US had to wait until July 2011 to get the book. It was well worth the wait.


Winslow is possessed of a special idiom and style that embraces a story not a whit less than such well-known California crime writers as Raymond Chandler and Michael Connelly. In an earlier review of Winslow’s 2010 novel Savages, I described his economic prose as ‘short haiku-like paragraphs…a lesson in spare, lean prose rich enough to eat with a spoon.’—The impression is no different in The Gentlemen’s Hour. This is a writer who knows how to say everything needed in a stretch of three words, and leave nothing out. It is an impression that holds together even when Winslow is off his beat and aping the style of another writer, as he did earlier this year with a Trevanian remake called Satori, an effort that might have been better left unwritten. But looking at a cross-section of Winslow books, from California Fire and Life to this latest work proves that he is a master of different styles, able to switch them like the baseball caps he likes to wear.


Boone Daniels spends most of his time surfing and when the waves aren’t cooperating he does a little private investigating. This time he has two cases on his hands, neither one to his liking. A longtime buddy is looking to get the goods on a wife he thinks is cheating on him, and the possible results are not something Boone wants to discuss with a friend. Unrelated to that, he has been dragged into a murder investigation that crosses lines of friendship and threatens to isolate him, leaving him without all his lifelong friends. It has all the trademarks of an open-and-shut case. A local rich kid admits to killing a well-loved San Diego hero, a man much respected and admired by Boone and his Dawn Patrol surf buddies. One case threatens his life, the other a loss of all his oldest friends. Everything points to a partying wife in the first case, and everyone, including witnesses believe that a spoiled rich kid killed the local hero, but something about it all doesn’t smell right to Boone Daniels. Winslow has hung his hugely likeable protagonist up on a cross and every turn in the story winches his bonds tighter.


One of the most colorful characters in the book is another returning from The Dawn Patrol, a real bad dawg who goes by the name of Red Eddie (real name Julius) but a man with unbreakable loyalty to Boone for saving his son from drowning years back. Eddie has dyed red hair, a dozen or more tattoos, a degree from the Wharton School and a drug empire. He also entertains guests with crazed and unrestrained biting fights with his pit bull. But Red Eddie is not the only standout, The Gentlemen’s Hour has at least half a dozen other supporting characters, each with his or her distinctive style of cool.


All the ingredients are there: style, characterization, story, setting, tension, romance, action and suspense. Don Winslow at the very top of his game—The Gentlemen’s Hour.

1 comment:

  1. In the old bookstore days it was satisfying when asked by a patron for a book recommendation. Qualify them by asking what they read recently and liked. Go from there. The fun is having someone else share in the discovery of a writer, and Winslow is one writer I gladly tell folks about.

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Oak Hill, Florida, United States
A longtime expat relearning the footwork of life in America