Don Winslow

"The Dawn Patrol"

(Reviewed by Guy Savage MAR 16, 2008)

"Behind the pool are the four floors of the Crest Motel, built in two angular wings, one of a dozen ugly, indistinct hotels thrown up in the early eighties, catering to budget-minded tourist, economy-priced hookers, and anonymity-seeking adulterers."

I discovered Don Winslow last year when I read two of his novels: The Winter of Frankie Machine (with a film adaptation starring Robert De Niro scheduled for release in 2010) and California Fire and Life. While both books are good, California Fire and Life is one of the best thrillers I have ever read. So when I saw that Winslow had a new novel out, I had to read it. Don Winslow’s exciting new thriller, The Dawn Patrol takes the reader on a journey to the gorgeous beaches of Southern California, but behind this story of sun, sand, and surfing, Winslow also exposes a lurid, hidden world of organized crime, strippers, and child prostitution. These worlds collide for Winslow’s protagonist, former cop turned PI Boone Daniels when he’s hired to find a missing woman who’s scheduled to testify in an upcoming insurance trial.

Boone doesn’t work out of a typical PI office--he works out of a surf shop, and this makes him hard to take seriously--especially since he drives a tatty old surfer van and makes it perfectly clear to his clients that he works just enough to support his surfing habit. To Boone, surfing comes first and foremost in his life, and work follows somewhere in the distance. Boone wasn’t always this laid back about work. Years before as a cop in the San Diego PD, he covered a child abduction case. The case ended badly—so badly that Boone left the force. Years later, this unresolved case continues to plague him, and he “never really came back” to the person he was before. His one-time lover, Sunny acknowledges that the experience contributed to the break-up.

When the novel begins, Boone leads an idyllic existence--surfing and hanging out with friends at Pacific Beach, and working just enough to pay the bills. Boone and a group of like-minded locals form something called The Dawn Patrol--dedicated friends and surfers who meet and surf on a daily basis. The Dawn Patrol is composed of a motley assortment of surfers: Boone, the gorgeous blonde Sunny, Hang Twelve, Dave the Love God, High Tide, and Johnny Banzai. With some killer waves expected, the members of the Dawn Patrol anticipate some spectacular surfing, but then along comes a complication in the form of a PI case that Boone can’t turn down.

Author Don Winslow is a former PI--a profession that demands observation and understanding of the darker side of human nature. Perhaps that partially explains the fact that Winslow’s PI protagonists tend to be loners who have chosen to isolate themselves from society--usually for their own mental health. In The Dawn Patrol, Boone is sucked into a PI case, back into society, and away from his primary love for surfing by an intriguing case. When Boone is first approached to find a missing stripper, it seems as though this is an uncomplicated dispute between a stripper and her boss--possibly instigated by sour grapes. But Boone’s assumptions are ripped apart as his search continues. Caught in a web of deceit and intrigue, Boone finds himself pursuing a corrupt plastic surgeon who specializes in boob jobs for pole-twirling strippers, and it seems that the good doctor offers “special rates” for some of his patients in return for services rendered. Everywhere Boone turns in this lurid world, he discovers corruption, bribery, and death.

If you are a Winslow fan (like me), then you will not be disappointed in The Dawn Patrol. Once again, Winslow delivers a hell-of-a-good, escapist read while creating his usual strong and well-defined characters. I particularly enjoy Winslow’s escapist novels because he doesn’t stoop to descriptions of excessive violence and gore. Instead he offers intelligent, character-driven thrillers that guarantee a solid, entertaining read.

  • Amazon readers rating: starsfrom 43 reviews

Read a chapter excerpt from The Dawn Patrol at publsiher

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"California Fire and Life"

(Reviewed by Guy Savage MAR 16, 2008)

Some say the world will end in fire;
Some say in ice.
From what I've tasted of desire
I hold with those who favor fire.
But if it had to perish twice,
I think I know enough of hate
To know that for destruction ice
Is also great
And would suffice - Robert Frost

It’s rare for me to read a book that leaves me wondering if I missed my calling in life, but Don Winslow’s terrific thriller California Fire and Life did just that. Who would have thought that being an insurance claims investigator specializing in fires would be so interesting and so damn sexy? But that’s just how it is in Winslow’s gripping novel, and there’s no other way to describe it.

Jack Wade is the protagonist in Winslow’s exciting novel, and he’s so sharply drawn and so real, that as the novel develops, I began to anticipate the moral choices Wade would make when he was faced with corruption, blackmail and betrayal. Jack Wade’s complex character is explored through his career path—once a top-notch investigator in the Orange County Sheriff Department’s arson unit, Wade falls into disgrace when he’s faced with sacrificing a witness in an arson case. Accepting no compromise, and determined to catch his arsonist, Wade’s unorthodox methods land him in hot water and out of the sheriff’s department. At this point, Wade hits rock bottom, and he sabotages his relationship with girlfriend, Letty. In time, Wade becomes an arson investigator for the insurance company California Fire and Life--thanks mainly to the head of the Claims Department, Goddamn Billy. Goddamn Billy believes in Wade and wants to give him another chance.

When the novel begins, Wade has built a life without Letty, and his new philosophy is: “you don’t get personal, you don’t get emotional. Whatever you do, you don’t get involved.” And this creed seems to work. Although Wade’s life is solitary, he seems to be content. He lives in his hometown, Dana Point, works hard, and “the rest of the time” he surfs. To Wade, surfing is an essential part of his life—offering time for reflection, healing and cleansing of his soul. And it’s while Wade is surfing one day that he notices black smoke on the horizon, so he’s not particularly surprised when he’s called out to investigate a fire at a home near Dana Strand beach.

The fire occurred at the home of Pamela Vale, the estranged (and now deceased) wife of real estate millionaire, Nicky Vale. Since the house was loaded with antiques, the home was more than adequately insured. Wade begins investigating the claim, and almost immediately, he uncovers some basic facts about the case that don’t add up. Wade’s first clue is the fire’s survivor--Pamela’s tiny Yorkshire terrier. The dog, Leo was locked outside of the house, and although the sheriff’s arson unit decides that Pamela’s death was accidental, Wade soon has cause to believe she was the victim of an arson fire. Wade’s investigation isn’t even underway when the "grieving" widower, dressed like a "GC mourning edition" indicates that he can’t wait to get his hands on the cash from the insurance settlement.

Before long, Wade finds himself up to his neck in intrigue and corruption. With millions of dollars at stake, he’s locking horns with the Russian mafia, Vietnamese Triads and the FBI. And the reader is left guessing just how who will win and who will lose in this high stakes game of cat-and-mouse.

California Fire and Life is loaded with technical information about fires: the C&O (Cause and Origin), motives for arson, fuel load, the Smoldering Phase, the Free-Burning Phase, and the Flashover Phase. After reading this novel, I feel as though I enrolled in a fire technology course, but the really interesting thing is that Winslow, to his credit, manages to weave all this information into his plot seamlessly. Winslow’s hero, Wade respects the power of fire, and by the time you turn the last page of this white-knuckle read, you will too. This is very much a California novel, and that’s not too surprising since author Don Winslow, whose varied career includes PI work and working with witnesses in arson trials, is a California transplant.

  • Amazon readers rating: from 53 reviews

Read a chapter excerpt from California Fire and Life at Vintage Crime

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Bibliography: (with links to

Neil Carey Series:

Movies from Books:

  • Bobby Z (2006)
  • A Cool Breeze on the Underground
  • The Winter of Frankie Machine


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Book Marks:


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About the Author:

Don WinslowDon Winslow was born in 1953 in New York City but raised in South Kingstown, Rhode Island. As a kid, he acted in plays and did radio commercials.

Don went to college at the University of Nebraska in Lincoln, majoring first in journalism (even as a student he had the crime beat) and then in African History. He went to South Africa in his junior year and worked as a researcher at the University of Cape Town and as a free lance newspaper reporter. His other role was to smuggle in money that had been raised in the States for an organization called TEACH, which helped build and equip classrooms in Soweto. The funds had been banned by the government, so Don was eventually arrested and asked to leave. He bummed around southern Africa for a few months, then headed home via Nairobi.

After college, Don continued directing the Historical Theatre Company for two more years, then moved to Beyond Hope, Idaho, lived in an isolated cabin and worked herding cattle, riding fence, and delivering salad dressing to towns in Montana and eastern Washington. From there he moved to New York City and spent three years managing movie theaters. From there he became a private investigator working various gigs in London and Amsterdam. He returned to grad school and received his MA in Military History and continued to do freelance PI work.

His first novel, A Cool Breeze On The Underground, was nominated for an Edgar, and a later book, California Fire and Life, received the Shamus Award. The Death And Life Of Bobby Z will come out as a feature film in March of 2007, starring Paul Walker and Laurence Fishburne. His novel, The Winter Of Frankie Machine, has been purchased for Robert DeNiro to play the lead role.

Don lives on an old ranch in the San Diego area with his wife, Jean, and son, Thomas. About Us | Subscribe | Review Team | History | ©1998-2014