Break out your Surfbonics-to-English Dictionary and chill with Don Winslow in "Dawn Patrol", a slick novel of SoCal's surf culture cleverly wrapped in an engaging mystery.
Boone Daniels is the ultimate California surfer stereotype: lean and athletic, laid back, unflappable, and not ready to let trivial "civilian" interests like job, family, or typical responsibilities associated with adulthood interfere with mother ocean and the perfect wave. With his colorful "dawn patrol" posse of Dave "the God to Women", kid "Hang Twelve", the massive Samoan "High Tide", San Diego cop Johnny Banzai, and his female alter ego and sometimes sex partner Sunny Day, Boone and the crew are in the surf each morning at daybreak passing time - like compiling lists of the best things in life - while waiting for the next big ride. Boone is a former SDPD cop himself with some demons of his own lurking beneath his chill exterior - now a private investigator of sorts, content with working enough to only keep him in adequately stocked in fish tacos and board wax. When the foxy but uptight aspiring lawyer Petra shows up with an insurance company gig, Boone is conflicted: he could use the "jangle", but an underwater disturbance in the Aleutians is sending a freight train of monster waves to the Southern Cal coast unlike anything that's been seen in decades, and certainly not an event that a hardcore surfer like Boone would even consider missing. But Petra is persistent, not to mention alluring in an annoyingly buttoned down way, and Boone agrees to find the stripper pivotal in catching San Diego's sex sleaze king in an insurance scam.
Nobody can capture Southern California's beaches and bimbos better than the talented Don Winslow, and "Dawn Patrol" is a terrific example of the artist at his most righteous. Winslow's seemingly mismatched cast of characters is brilliant - he captures a credible cast in staccato chapters shredding across the pages in dialog that is authentic, witty and cynically funny - all of Carl Hiaasen's black humor, but where Hiaasen has a tendency to dis his denizens of south Florida, Winslow's playful barbs reflects a deep and sincere passion for those still carrying the torch of the original California surfing subculture. Indeed, the Boone/Winslow chapter which detours down Route 101, the famous Pacific Coast Highway, is a short, poignant, and illuminating slice of American culture too often capsulized only in the 60's music of the Beach Boys.
But aside from surfing and surfer culture, "Dawn Patrol" is a serious and thoughtful crime novel, and at a deeper level, an insightful coming of age story - albeit an atypically late passage from adolescence to adulthood. As a second "dawn patrol" emerges, the story takes a despicably sinister turn, and while the climax is mostly predictable, it takes nothing away from a engaging storyline. But make no mistake: the plot is secondarly here, as Winslow's real stars are his characters and their banter, set against a vivid and authoritative SoCal backdrop. Winslow is the real deal, and if you haven't got to know him yet, this is a great place to start. If you do, I'm sure you'll be back for "California Fire and Life", "The Winter of Franky Machine", "The Death and Life of Bobby Z", and Winslow's epic masterpiece, "The Power of the Dog."
So great stuff, Mr. Winslow - keep 'em coming. And for those of you - like me - bummed with Lee Child's disappointing "Nothing to Lose", you'll find some instant redemption right here.