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don winslow

Movie Review: SAVAGES

If you’ve seen Oliver Stone’s U-Turn or Natural Born Killers, and/or have read the Don Winslow novel on which this movie is based, Savages is pretty much what you’d expect it to be—violent, in your face, with strong acting, dark humor, and overly saturated sun-soaked images.

Stone’s style is a good match for the story of pot growers/dealers Ben (Aaron Johnson) and Chon (Taylor Kitsch), living the high life in Laguna Beach, CA, with their mutual girlfriend O (short for Ophelia, played by Blake Lively). Things get ugly when a Mexican cartel led by the ruthless Elena (Salma Hayek) wants a piece of their business and kidnaps O to make sure the guys cooperate. But instead of rolling over and playing nice, Ben and Chon get mad and risk everything to get O back.

The three leads do an adequate job—Lively is most effective in captivity when her face is scrubbed clean of makeup and she shows her vulnerable side—but they can’t hold a candle to the veteran supporting cast. Hayek is fierce as the cartel’s leader, and just as convincing as a mother desperately trying to connect with her daughter. Benicio Del Toro seems to have really enjoyed playing Elena’s enforcer, Lado, managing to get some laughs despite his character being terrifying (think Javier Bardem’s Anton Chiguhr in No Country for Old Men). As a dirty DEA agent, John Travolta sinks his teeth into his role and chews up the scenery, too.

A couple things were less successful. First was the voice-over narration done by Lively in languid, SoCal mode; Winslow’s language is snappy and kinetic in the book. The second thing…

**SPOILER AHEAD IF YOU’VE READ THE BOOK; SAFE IF YOU HAVEN’T**

 

…was the ending was changed. It’s still in the movie, but it’s not the same. What made the novel memorable were its beginning and ending; the revision here is too safe, taking the claws out of something called Savages. Next to me in the theater, though, was a woman who had not read the book (based on her reactions) and she seemed to prefer the movie’s conclusion, so I guess it was altered for viewers like her.

**END OF SPOILER**

Moviegoers attracted to Savages because of Stone and the cast will enjoy a solid thriller. For fans of the novel—Winslow co-wrote the screenplay with Stone and Shane Salerno—it’s a kick seeing it on screen until it gets compromised, which is ironic since Ben and Chon are all about not compromising.

Nerd verdict: Faithful Savages ’til the end

Photos: Universal

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Book Review: THE KINGS OF COOL by Don Winslow

My review appeared in Shelf Awareness for Readers last week and is reprinted here with permission.

After Savages became a breakout hit and Hollywood movie (directed by Oliver Stone, out July 6), Don Winslow is back with the origin stories for his renegade pot growers Ben and Chon and their friend O, including how the latter two met and how Chon got his nickname. Winslow delves into their parents’ backstories, giving dimensions to O’s mom, previously known only as Paqu—Passive Aggressive Queen of the Universe—and showing how the boys were almost fated to do what they ended up doing. It’s about choosing your family, but this is no warm and fuzzy (drug) trip into the past. Bullets fly and people die, as Ben and Chon discover that they “make up a collective pacifist. Ben is the paci Chon is the fist.”

As with Savages, this novel has a profane two-word first chapter, and unfolds in a combination of prose, free verse, and screenplay format. This might have resulted in a disjointed mess, but Winslow already proved with the previous book (which can be read before or after this one) that he’s a master storyteller who knows how to use whatever style best serves each scene. He keeps his dialogue hip and his prose lean, landing each word like one of Chon’s roundhouse kicks. Throw in his trademark wit, blistering violence, razor-sharp social commentary, and cameos from characters from his non-Savages-related novels, and this is one summer read that’s as scorching hot as it is cool.

Nerd verdict: A Cool read for the hot days of summer

Buy it now from Amazon| Buy from an indie bookstore

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First Impressions 5.4.12

May the Fourth be with you! You know I had to get that out of the way.

Now, for this week’s First Impressions, let’s add something new. After reading the following opening passages, leave a comment saying which ones would compel you to read more, but also guess where you think the stories are headed. I love seeing people’s different interpretations, and how we pick up on different details. I don’t have any idea what the real plots are because I’ve read only these openers, so we’re all in this game together.

Here goes:

Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein, Hyperion, out May 15

I AM A COWARD.

I wanted to be heroic and I pretended I was. I have always been good at pretending. I spent the first twelve years of my life playing at the Battle of Stirling Bridge with my five big brothers—and even though I am a girl they let me be William Wallace, who is supposed to be one of our ancestors, because I did the most rousing battle speeches. God, I tried hard last week. My God, I tried. But now I know I am a coward. After the ridiculous deal I made with SS-Hauptsturmführer von Loewe, I know I am a coward. And I’m going to give you anything you ask, everything I can remember. Absolutely Every Last Detail.

 

The Demands by Mark Billingham, Mulholland Books, June 12

Chewing gum and chocolate, maybe a bottle of water on those hen’s teeth days when the sun was shining. A paper for the journey into work and half a minute of meaningless chat while she was waiting for her change.

Nothing there worth dying for.

Helen Weeks would tell herself much the same thing many times before it was over. In the hours spent staring at the small black hole from which death could emerge in less time than it took for her heart to beat. Or stop beating. In those slow-motion moments of terror that measured out each day and in the sleepless nights that followed. While the man who might kill her at any moment was shouting at himself just a few feet away, or crying in the next room.

It is not my time to die.

Or my baby’s time to lose his mother…

 

The Kings of Cool by Don Winslow, Simon & Schuster, June 19

[The numbers denote chapters.]

1.

Fuck me.

2. Laguna Beach, California

2005

Is what O is thinking as she sits between Chon and Ben on a bench at Main Beach and picks out potential mates for them.

That one?” she asks, pointing at a classic BB (Basically Baywatch) strolling down the boardwalk.

Chon shakes his head.

A little dismissively, O thinks. Chon is pretty choosy for a guy who spends most of his time in Afghanistan or Iraq and doesn’t see much in the way of anything outside cammies or a burqa.

Actually, she can see how the burqa thing could be pretty hot if you played it right.

Did, you know, the harem thing.

Yeah, no.

OK, have at ’em!

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And the Stalker Nominees Are…

For the past three weeks, to coincide with May being mystery month, I took nominations for the inaugural Stalker Awards, given to authors and mysteries/thrillers published in 2010 that you’re obsessed about. Today, as the month wraps up, I’m pleased to reveal the nominees, determined by crime fiction readers everywhere.

You can now vote for one winner in each category. I’ll keep the poll open for one week only, until June 7, 9 p.m. PST, and reveal the results next week.

Thanks to all who took time to send in your ballots, and to those who helped spread the word. Hope you see some of your favorites here!

*Poll is now closed. Click here for winners.*

[SURVEYS 1]

Nominated covers

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Book Review: Don Winslow’s SATORI

If I hadn’t already been a huge Don Winslow fan before I read Satori, I think this review would be different. But since I revere his other books, my opinions are, fairly or not, weighted by the expectations I brought to this one, which he wrote “in the tradition” of another author.

Satori is the prequel to 1979’s Shibumi (which I haven’t read), an international sensation written by Rodney Whitaker under the pseudonym of Trevanian. Both are about the singular assassin Nicholai Hel, the son of a Russian mother and German father but raised in the Far East. It’s 1951 in Tokyo and Nicholai is twenty-six when we meet him in Satori as he’s being released from an American-run prison after committing an honor killing. His freedom has a price—he must impersonate a French arms dealer and assassinate a Soviet commissioner in Beijing, an almost certain suicide mission. The assignment and its fallout take him to Laos and then Saigon, where he in turn becomes the target for assassination.

The international elements and narrative style of this book remind me of old-school thrillers like Leslie Charteris’s The Saint series and Patricia Highsmith’s Ripley novels. Which is fine, except I’ve become hooked on Winslow’s lean, blistering prose (e.g. his famous two-word first chapter in Savages) and wanted to see some of that here, despite realizing that Nicholai is a period character who is much more internal than, say, Boone from The Dawn Patrol, and requires the more meditative style. I just had to get used to this different voice coming from one of my favorite authors.

Winslow transports readers to exotic places with his sumptuous details, immersing us in different cultural traditions. We get to experience a Japanese tea ceremony and a Beijing opera, learn about the Zen notion of sudden awakening called satori, we’re instructed deadly fighting methods such as the leopard paw and hoda korosu, and taught how to play a strategic board game called Go, whose concept Nicholai relies on for survival. Seeing how Go helps Nicholai always stay one step ahead of his opponents made me want to try playing it myself.

Winslow’s descriptions of Saigon also made me long for the place I once called home. The city in the early ’50s is different from the one I knew twenty years later, but some things remained the same—Cholon, the Notre Dame Cathedral, and the following scene:

Vietnamese police, in their distinctive white uniforms, stoically struggled to manage the swirling Citroën and Renault autos, cyclo-pousses, Vespa scooters, and swarms of bicycles that competed for the right-of-way in a chaos that was a true mixture of the French and Asian styles of driving. Honking horns, jingling bells, and shouts of good-natured abuse in French, Vietnamese, and Chinese contributed to an urban cacophony.

Child street vendors darted and dodged through the traffic to sell newspapers, bottles of orange soda, or cigarettes to customers momentarily stuck in a jam, or sitting at a café table, or just walking down the busy sidewalks.

Winslow has clearly done meticulous research but made one mistake regarding Vietnamese cuisine. A cook makes something called nouc mom, described as “the Vietnamese fish soup that was a staple of the peasant diet.” This soup is mentioned several times and sounds delicious but there’s no such thing as nuoc mom. There is something called nuoc mam but it’s just fish sauce, a condiment like soy sauce. I think Winslow is referring instead to the soup called cháo cá.

My Vietnamese nitpickiness aside, Satori is something to experience, with Nicholai an intriguing guide to take us through it all. At the end, I had a flash of sudden awareness that told me I now have to read Shibumi.

Nerd verdict: Culturally rich Satori

Buy Satori from Amazon| B&N| Indie Bookstore

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It’s a Savage World: Don Winslow’s SAVAGES & Carl Hiaasen’s STAR ISLAND

We’ve had gorgeous weather here in SoCal so you’d think I’d be outside doing outdoorsy stuff, right? Wrong. OK, maybe I spent a couple days outside. Rest of the time, I’ve been a good little nerd, catching up on reading while sitting at my window seat, basking in some secondhand rays. Here’s a couple I finished:

Savages by Don Winslow

Ben, a “Baddhist” (bad Buddhist), and Chon, a vet of two tours in our current war, have gotten rich doing what they love: get high. Chon brought home premium seeds from “Stanland” (Afghanistan) which Ben cultivated into potent blends sold by happy dealers for whom the benevolent Ben even provides health care. Life is good until the Baja Cartel decides to muscle in on their business and kidnaps O, their mutual gal pal, to make sure the boys obey. Big mistake, because Ben and Chon, who suffers from PTLOSD (Post-Traumatic Lack of Stress Disorder), show they can be David to the Goliathan cartel, igniting an explosive series of events that leave more than a few people dead.

If you’re thinking “Drug dealers? No, thanks,” consider this: Winslow is expert at making you care for people you probably wouldn’t want to know in real life. A theme that pops up in many of his books is brotherhood, the unbreakable bond between friends. Ben, O (short for Ophelia), and Chon might do questionable things but what you do unto one, you do unto all. I like books that challenge my worldview and make me a little less judgmental, if only towards fictional characters and situations.

Winslow has a distinctive rhythmic style I find lean, mean, compelling. Here’s how he tells about a lesson Chon (Little Johnny) learned when he was three:

Big John lifted Little Johnny up to the living room fireplace mantel, held his arms out, and told him to jump. “I’ll catch you.”

Delighted, smiling, the little boy launched himself off the mantel, at which point Big John lowered his arms, did an ole, and Little Johnny crashed face-first on the floor. Dazed, hurt, bleeding from the mouth where a front tooth had gone into his lip, Chon learned the lesson his father had intended about trust:

Don’t.

Ever.

Anyone.

Did I mention the book is also funny? It’s dark humor, sure, but there’s levity among the violence. And the dialogue is so hip, you feel a little more gangsta after reading.

It’s no surprise Oliver Stone snapped up the movie rights since the action is cinematic and some of the scenes are actually written in script format. Stone had better not eff it up or I’ll get all Chonny on his ass.

Nerd verdict: Fierce Savages

(For more on Winslow, including coverage of a recent SoCal appearance, check out my friend le0pard13’s three-part article here.)

Buy Savages from Amazon| B&N| Powell’s| IndieBound

Star Island by Carl Hiaasen

Cherry Pye is a spoiled pop star whose penchant for partying and drugs forces her management team, which includes her mother, to hire a double to make the public think Cherry is out and about whenever she’s actually unconscious or getting her stomach pumped at a hospital. A tenacious paparazzo, Bang Abbott, accidentally kidnaps Ann the stand-in then tries to negotiate her release in exchange for getting an exclusive one-on-one photo session with Cherry. When Cherry’s mom doesn’t call the cops, fearing her stunt-double scheme would be exposed, Ann calls a homeless man named Skink to come rescue her. A recurring character in Hiaasen’s books, Skink is a former Florida governor now determined to keep greedy developers from ruining the “cherished wild places of his childhood.” He’d also previously held Ann hostage for a short time but long enough to become smitten with her. He sets off to rescue Ann in Miami, Cherry continues her destructive ways, the hapless Bang thinks he’s getting what he wants but in the end, everyone gets what they pretty much deserve.

From that synopsis alone, you can probably tell this is an over-the-top story with wacky characters. Besides the aforementioned ones, there’s a bodyguard named Chemo with a weed whacker for a hand, a manager with a taste for jailbait, and chain-smoking twin publicists who have had so much plastic surgery their faces don’t move. None of these people have ethics or any other redeeming qualities; this book could have also been called Savages. But unlike Winslow’s characters, there’s no one here to really root for. Ann is probably the most relatable but considering the cast of crazies, she’s in that position by default. She seems decent enough but too passive and ambivalent to be the hero.

Hiassen is a gifted writer capable of combining wicked satire and topical issues. His previous novels have often provoked thought while making me laugh out loud. This time the targets of his parody—fame whores, their grubby hangers-on, greedy lying bastards, unethical politicians—have become so ridiculous in real life, the author can’t outdo them in outrageousness. As I read about Cherry’s sordid adventures involving pills, booze and impulsive tattoos, it felt like reading a tabloid about all of Paris/Lindsay/Britney’s bad behavior. It’s not funny or even satire when it’s too close to reality. I found Cherry’s life and much of the book sad, which was probably not Hiaasen’s intention.

Nerd verdict: Star lacks power

Buy Star Island from Amazon| B&N| Powell’s| IndieBound

What are you reading this weekend? Anything you recommend?

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Crais, Parker, Winslow & Wambaugh discuss “Cops & Crooks in California” — Conclusion

This is part two of my report on the “Cops & Crooks in California” panel held this past Saturday, April 25, as part of the L.A. Times Festival of Books. (Click here for part one.) The participants were crime novelists T. Jefferson Parker (The Renegades), Don Winslow (The Dawn Patrol), Joseph Wambaugh (Hollywood Crows) with Robert Crais (The Watchman) as moderator.

Crais had asked the panelists why they write crime fiction. Parker launched into a story about a signing he did in Norwalk, CA, where a woman asked what his book was about.

“It’s about friendship, love and hate, crime and betrayal,” Parker responded. The woman asked, “What’d you want to write about that stuff for?” Parker said he found those subjects compelling. The woman then said she could afford only one hardcover book a month and had already bought it but wanted Parker to sign it. She proceeded to pull out a copy of a Robert James Waller bestseller, which Parker dutifully signed. “Somewhere out there, there’s a copy of Bridges of Madison County with my name on it!”

Wambaugh had his own funny anecdote about a signing he did at the East Ambassador Hotel in Chicago. A woman came looking for the writer Irving Stone and was disappointed to find Wambaugh there. “You’re not Irving Stone,” she said. “No, lady, I’m Truman Capote,” Wambaugh quipped. The woman looked him over and said, “But, Mr. Capote, on television you look so much more masculine!”

Crais chimed in with his story about a signing he did with four other writers. A man came sniffing around the table, looking over everybody’s books. “Me being me, I said, ‘Are you gonna buy something?’ ” Crais said. The man asked, “Whose book is the cheapest?”

Not to be outdone, Winslow shared details of one of his bizarre signing experiences. “The lady who owned the store had me come in and there was a flood that day…there were sandbags in front of the store. I had to take off my shoes and wade…nobody came. It was a two-hour signing. After an hour ten minutes into it, the lady said, ‘Just lock up for me.’ Irish-Catholic boy that I am, I sat there, robbed the till, then left.”

After the laughter died down, Crais asked, “So, you’ve been on tour, you’ve met the fans. Have you ever been frightened?”

Winslow went first with a story about a signing in Greenwich Village where a woman showed up dressed in full S & M garb. She wanted him to sign a book called Slave Girls of Rome [when Crais mentioned this title during introductions, Winslow said it was another Don Winslow, an 82-year-old man, who wrote it]. This woman approached the author, “her voice dropped an octave and she said, ‘I love your other stuff, too.’ Mine went up two or three octaves. ‘No, you don’t! No, you don’t!'” Winslow said.

“I think she came to one of my signings in D.C. She said, ‘You should read Don Winslow,'” Crais said. He then talked about a Philadelphia appearance where a woman came up to him with a toddler. “She plopped that boy on the table and said, ‘Here’s your daddy!'”

“What was your comeback, Bob?” Parker asked.

“I said, ‘Looks just like Jeff Parker!'” Crais answered.

At this point, Crais opened the floor to audience members and invited questions. The first person up asked whether or not the authors have any control over who reads their audio books.

Wambaugh said he had no control and the others agreed. “I’ve never listened to one of my books. I don’t know why. Can’t bring myself to read them, either,” Wambaugh said.

Crais said he finds it hard to listen to audio versions of his novels because he hears them in his voice so it’s jarring to hear them in someone else’s voice. “Most I can listen to is eight to ten minutes. I did do the abridged version of Hostage. That, I can listen to over and over.”

Next, someone asked whether the authors create outlines or just start writing and let the plot write itself (!).

“I do both,” Parker said. “I once started with a bar napkin with four character names circled on it. That was Little Saigon.” But he’s learned to outline because “I can’t hold a 500-page manuscript in my brain.”

“I’m an outliner,” Crais said. “I figure eighty percent of the stuff out beforehand. I’m a fan of notecards. I’m a very visual person and actually like to see the continuity of it. I actually believe that it helps me to balance and pace my books because if a lot of the scenes and stuff where nothing is really happening—if that’s all jammed to one side—I think, ‘Man, I’d better have something happening there’ so then I start moving cards around.”

“James Ellroy does 350-page outlines before he starts writing,” Wambaugh said.

A woman in the audience asked why in his books, Crais refers to the good guys by their last names but the bad guys by their first. She wondered if it was an intimacy issue.

“I never thought about it before. Now, I’ll obsess about it and never write again,” Crais said.

Another audience member asked how the writers felt about the Kindle.

“I’ve never seen one before,” Crais said, but added he’d be open to it if someone wants to send him one. Winslow said, “I don’t care, as long as people are reading.” He said he likes the tactile feel of books and how he can drop them in the tub and it’d be okay.

At this point, a woman behind me asked, “Can you explain what a Kindle is?”

Wambaugh threw up his hands and said, “I have no idea!” Another woman behind me helpfully held one up for all to see.

The last question was something about characters [how they’re created? Sorry, my handwriting was illegible here after an hour of scribbling].

“All writers are cannibals. You eat up your life,” Crais said. He explained that he infuses his characters with a lot of his worldview.

“I think characters are everything. If people don’t like them, they’re not going to care what happens to them,” Winslow said.

Parker said, “You pull from everything, little pastiches, combinations of everyone I’ve ever known. They represent something, an extreme of some kind, traits you recognize.”

“You guys have said it,” Wambaugh said. “I think I have one thing to offer. When you’re dealing with an audience like this that can be agenda-driven, ready to skewer you with political questions, give them a very brief two-word response to everything. Example: ‘Are you a Republican?’ Not yet!…’Are you Jewish?’ Not yet! ‘Are you gay?’ Same answer!”

On this note, the discussion ended, the authors hugged it out before fans swarmed them for photo ops.

I hope you’ve enjoyed reading about it!
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From L: Winslow, Wambaugh, Parker, Crais

Crais with my friend Betsy

Crais with my friend Betsy

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"Cops & Crooks in California" Panel at L.A. Festival of Books with Crais, Winslow, Parker & Wambaugh

Remember in the ’70s when you bought K-Tel compilation albums because you didn’t want to buy a bunch of albums by different bands where most cuts were just filler? This past Saturday, at the annual L.A. Festival of Books, the “Cops & Crooks in California” panel was like a K-Tel collection, with Don Winslow (The Dawn Patrol), T. Jefferson Parker (The Renegades), Joseph Wambaugh (Hollywood Crows) and Robert Crais (The Watchman) as moderator. Everyone was a hit and you got them all in one place.

Apparently this panel sold out quickly so for those of you who couldn’t get in or don’t live in the area, I took notes and thought I’d post the highlights. There’s no way I can capture all the hilarity but there’s still plenty of juicy info to be had. Many thanks to Debbie DeNice, who helped me recall quotes in parts where my memory was foggy and my scribbles illegible. I’ll publish this in two parts so be sure and come back for all the good stuff.

*****************************

After introducing the panelists, Crais’s first question was whether there was “something about Southern California that’s particularly identifying” to the other writers. He addressed Parker first.

“I was born here. I don’t have to go to a new place and ask questions and learn anything because it’s right in front of me,” Parker said. “You know, it’d be very hard to go set up a story in Boston and have the same sort of casualness to the story. I’d have to work really hard.” He equated being a native Californian to Nicholson having floor seats at Lakers games.

“I came out on a case [as a P.I.], went down the PCH, saw Laguna Beach, called my wife and said, ‘We’re moving out here,'” Winslow said.

Wambaugh said he came out here when he was 14. “Would it have been the same if I’d written East Pittsburgh noir?”

“I’d be terrified to go somewhere else and set a novel,” Parker added. “I lived in Orange County for 45 years. My big move was from Orange County to Fallbrook. It was 34 miles but I felt like Magellan.”

Crais next asked the writers how they felt about writing standalones vs. a series.

wambaugh_hollywoodcrowsWambaugh said, “I wrote a sequel to Hollywood Station because I thought maybe it’d be easier since I had some of the characters…But I found some of the characters didn’t want to come back…They didn’t help me plot. Plotting’s the hardest thing.” He added that on his tombstone, it’ll probably say “At Last, a Plot.”

“I didn’t know better,” Winslow said. “I thought all P.I. novels had to be series [he wrote the Neal Carey series].” He stopped writing about Carey when the detective became a “whiny, petulant, little bastard” and the author got tired of him. Winslow told a funny anecdote about a fan asking at a signing if he was anything like Carey and he denied it while his wife nodded vigorously. He then mentioned that the Dawn Patrol gang will be back in his next novel, The Gentleman’s Hour, which made me squeal internally. Hour will be released in the U.K. in June but won’t be out in the U.S. until next year.

Parker said he didn’t look at it as writing a series, more like “writing one big book that’s 2,000 pages.” He mentioned that Charlie Hood from L.A. Outlaws and The Renegades will be back for his third adventure next year called Iron River.

Crais next asked the other writers to share their Hollywood experiences. “Is screenwriting work as important as your prose work?”

“Screenwriting—adapting, I should say, a novel—is the only writing that’s actually fun. It’s like a crossword puzzle,” Wambaugh said.

fallen“I have a guy turning The Fallen into a series…Maybe I can learn something new. Can’t wait,” Parker said. He then added, “Don’t hold your breath, though.”

Winslow had considerably less enthusiasm for Hollywood. He told a story about having a meeting at a studio “that shall remain nameless.” But then he said when he arrived, the guard told him to “go up Mickey Street then left on Dopey Lane.”

“So this was at Paramount?” Crais joked.

Winslow continued, “I told the guard, ‘I took a left on Dopey Lane back in ’89 and didn’t make it back onto Mickey Street until ’92!’ ” The guard said, “Don’t repeat that upstairs.” When Winslow finally got in to see the movie exec, who had several books on his desk, Winslow asked if he’d read them all. The exec answered, “I don’t read. I have people who read.”

monkeysraincoatCrais then told his own story about the “studio that shall remain nameless.” He said when The Monkey’s Raincoat first came out, he received a call from Michael Eisner’s office saying the then-CEO of Disney liked his work and wanted Crais to write a movie based on an original idea Eisner had. When Crais arrived for the meeting, he was met by an exec who said Eisner couldn’t make it. The man then asked Crais if he’d heard of Beverly Hills Cop. When Crais said yes, the exec said that Eisner felt “Beverly Hills as a location hasn’t been exhausted yet at the box office.” Crais said, “Great. What’s the idea?” The exec looked confused and said, “That’s it.”

Crais’s next question was why the men chose to write crime fiction. He said he does it because “I love this stuff” and he’d be reading it if he weren’t writing it.

“I guess if I knew anything about ballet, I’d write about ballet. I was a cop,” Wambaugh said, shrugging.”I went to CalTech to do some research and did end up writing a crime that took place at CalTech. The answer is: What else can I do?”

“Who do you like?” Crais asked.

“I like Tom Wolfe…that’s a guy you can learn something from. For those of you who are novelists or journalists, whatever—he can really put it together. I highly recommend him,” Wambaugh said.

Next, Winslow shared why he writes crime novels. “Same answer—you write what you know and frankly, I grew up around criminals…I always loved the genre, I love reading it. I think as a writer it gives you everything. I’m really greedy as a writer, I want it all. With the crime novel, you can take everyday life if you want drama, then you can also do murder and mayhem and political issues, the nexus of government…so for me, it just gives me that whole world. Any of that piece you want, you can do it in a crime novel.”

Come back tomorrow for the conclusion, when the panelists discuss scary tour experiences, their plotting techniques and how they feel about the Kindle.

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One Cool Ride with Don Winslow’s THE DAWN PATROL

My friend Betsy had been recommending Don Winslow’s The Dawn Patrol to me for a few months but I’d resisted ’cause I found out it was about surfing. I’ve never surfed, don’t know anything about it, am afraid of big waves and didn’t think I’d want to read about a bunch of surfer dudes. Boy, was I wrong. I finally picked up the book and, like a big wave, it slammed into me, rolled me a few times and didn’t let me up for air until two days later.

Boone Daniels and his five friends make up the Dawn Patrol, a group of surfers (five guys, one girl) who meet every morning at dawn to tackle the waves at Pacific Beach in San Diego. Then the others go off to “real” jobs while Boone moonlights as a private investigator, but only enough to afford fish tacos on flour tortillas because “everything tastes better on a tortilla.” He takes a supposedly easy case—locating a missing stripper who was supposed to testify in a major trial—but finds out a little girl has also gone missing. This brings back memories of the case which resulted in Boone’s quitting the San Diego Police Department, one involving a missing little girl he was unable to find. Boone is determined not to fail this time and as he gets farther into the investigation, it forces him to choose sides and do things that might ruin the brotherhood of the Dawn Patrol.

Though the subject matter turns out to be heart shattering, the book has many hilarious moments. The scene where the gang takes one of its members, Hang Twelve, to a strip club for his birthday made me laugh out loud. “Naked asses” and “buffet” really should never be in the same sentence. Everyone in the patrol is funny, compelling and cooler than cool but their easy, jokey banter belies the fact they would fiercely watch each other’s back.

My friend Betsy with Winslow

My friend Betsy with Winslow

The thing I love about Winslow’s breezy style is that he paints clear pictures in succinct strokes. In describing a man about to be attacked by thugs in his home, Winslow writes, “He’s on his third Corona when the door comes in.” He also pulls off something I’ve never seen before—a complete sentence consisting only of the same word repeated three times as subject-verb-object, as in the final sentence here: “Now he drives his truck…with his best friend in the back, a man who is like family to him. But like ain’t is. Is is is.”

Winslow is so good with his prose, he even makes the history behind the surf culture interesting. Normally, I would’ve skipped over these sections to get to the whodunit but with Winslow, you don’t want to miss a word because none is wasted.

Rating: Brilliant

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