The Dawn Patrol by Don Winslow (Knopf, 2008).
Categories: Mystery/Thriller; Private Eye; Surfing
San Diego mysthery/thriller writer Don Winslow (The Winter of Frankie Machine; Savages; The Cartel) offers up a fresh take on the private eye novel with The Dawn Patrol, the first of two (so far) mysteries featuring surfer/P.I. Boone Daniels, and it's a blast. An epic macking crunchy (that's "Surfbonics" for awesome, for you newbies), semi-hard-boiled mystery that takes place in San Diego and environs, aka surf country, U.S.A.
On the surface, the book may look like a breezy summer beach read, but it's more substantial than that, like its hero, the surf-slang talkin', ten-hangin' Daniels. Boone may seem like your typical lazy, laid-back SoCal beach bum, concerned only with catching the next wave or grilling some fish tacos on the beach with his group of likewise laid-back surf buddies, who call themselves The Dawn Patrol (because of their early morning surfing get-togethers). But Daniels -- and the rest of the colorfully nicknamed Dawn Patrol, go deeper than that. For one thing, they have jobs. One, Johnny Banzai, is a cop, and Daniels, himself, is an ex-cop turned private eye, with unsuspected depth of heart, character, and intellect (when he's not hanging ten or crackin' cases he reads the Russian classics). Boone's latest case involves a stripper who fell to her death (or was she pushed?) from a hotel balcony, another stripper who's gone missing, and a captive multitude of trafficked Mexican girls, which echoes a case that haunts Boone from his police days. Can Boone get to the bottom of this sordid affair and sort out his budding romance with the beautiful high-powered lawyer Petra in time to catch the big wave that's heading his way? It's definitely worth your time to find out.
There are real horrors in these pages, tucked in between the surfing stories and splashy beach mystery, and Winslow, who spent years as a real-life private eye and arson investigator in southern California, knows the territory -- the dark, seedy places that exist beneath the shiny gloss of paradise -- and the characters who inhabit those places. The drug dealers and skinheads, gangsters and killers, pimps and johns, exploiters -- and worse -- of women and children. Beautifully interwoven with the darker elements of the mystery are some terrific historical reflections on the culture and history of surfing, and Winslow's wistful ruminations on the good ol' days of surfing, before, in his estimation, The Beach Boys came along and made it popular.
The Dawn Patrol -- anything by Winslow, really -- will appeal to readers of Elmore Leonard. Like Leonard, Winslow is darkly funny, writes laconic, razor-sharp dialog, and fills his pages with pop culture riffs galore. I've also seen Winslow compared to a California version of Carl Hiassen, and there's something to that comparison. But while fans of Hiassen's breezy, hilarious Florida mysteries should definitely enjoy Winslow's surfin' shamus mysteries, The Dawn Patrol is darker stuff, lighter on the humor. Winslow is more willing to plumb the depths of human depravity than Hiassen, who is, to my way of thinking, primarily a humorist working in the mystery/thriller genre. Winslow, on the other hand, isn't as interested in making you laugh. The humor is there, in smaller doses, but he's got more serious fish to grill. And, while his Boone Daniels mysteries (The Dawn Patrol's equally impressive sequel is titled The Gentlemen's Hour) are, perhaps, a bit lighter in tone than, say, his two Mexican cartel novels, The Power of the Dog and its new sequel, Cartel, they still deal with some pretty serious topics -- like sex trafficking of children.
A couple of excerpts from The Dawn Patrol:
The marine layer wraps a soft silver blanket over the coast. The sun is just coming over the hills to the east, and Pacific Beach is still asleep. The ocean is a color that is not quite blue, not quite green, not quite black, but something somewhere between all three. Out on the line, Boone Daniels straddles his old longboard like a cowboy on a pony. He's on The Dawn Patrol.
'Epic macking crunchy.'
That's how Hang Twelve describes the imminent big swell to Boone Daniels, who actually understands what Hang Twelve is saying, because Boone speaks fluent Surfbonics. Indeed, off to Boone's right, just to the south, waves are smacking the pilings beneath Crystal Pier. The ocean feels heavy, swollen, pregnant with promise. The Dawn Patrol -- Boone, Hang Twelve, Dave the Love God, Johnny Banzai, High Tide and Sunny Day -- sits out there on the line, talking while they wait for the next set to come in. They all wear black winter wet suits that cover them from their wrists to their ankles, because the early-morning water is cold, especially now that it's stirred up by the approaching storm.
This morning's interstitial conversation revolves around the big swell, a once-every-twenty-years burgeoning of the surf now rolling toward the San Diego coast like an out-of-control freight train. It's due in two days, and with it the grey winter sky, some rain, and the biggest waves that any of the Dawn Patrol have seen in their adult lives.
It's going to be, as Hang Twelve puts it, 'epic macking crunchy.'
Which, roughly translated from Surfbonics, is a term of approbation.
It's going to be good, Boone knows. They might even see twenty-foot peaks coming in every thirty seconds or so. Double overheads, tubes like tunnels, real thunder crushers that could easily take you over the falls and dump you into the washing machine.
Only the best surfers need apply.
While it's an exaggeration to say that Boone could surf before he could walk, it's the dead flat truth that he could surf before he could run. Boone is the ultimate 'locie' -- he was conceived on the beach, born half a mile away, and raised three blocks from where the surf breaks at high tide. His dad surfed; his mom surfed well into the sixth month of her pregnancy, so maybe it isn't an exaggeration to say that Boone could surf before he could walk.
Find this title in our catalog: The Dawn Patrol
Recommended by: Greg