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on December 4, 2000
I was looking through my library for something to battle the "blahs" and found this gem. Don Winslow's book is excellent with a clever and tightly constructed plot. The story is written from the point of view of an observer who describes what the colorful and believable characters say, do and think. The realistic dialogue reveals the thought processes of the main characters in a way that cleverly allows the reader to anticipate and follow the action.
Jack Wade is an ex-cop, arson investigator who is employed as a claims adjuster-arson specialist for a large insurance company, California Fire and Life. He investigates a fire claim submitted by Daziatnik Valeshin,aka Nicky Vale, a Russian KGB military officer in the U.S. to investigate/infiltrate/use the Russian Mafia. He uses his connections to make money and put himself in a position of power. Jack's investigation of Vale's claim uncovers arson and murder. Jack stands up against his insurance co. which wants to pay the claim. Why? It is all inter-related, clever and very, very entertaining. It is funny, easy to relate to and would be a movie hit if done right. Highly Recommended!
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on July 28, 2000
California Fire and Life Don Winslow Knopf 1999 ISBN 0676549705 H.C. Mystery
I had never heard of Don Winslow before I was sent this book to review, now he is a favorite.
Jack Wade an arson adjuster for California Fire and Life Mutual, understands fires, its the people that he doesn't understand. Wade is a very engaging character, who really knows what he is doing. Jack must investigate a fire that he knows is arson, but others believe is accidental, his own company starts to pressure him to settle the case, but he cant and he breaks his own cardinal rule, "You don't get emotional and what ever you do don't get involved. As Jack gets further and further involved the situation becomes more dangerous. Soon arson is the least of Jacks worry, as the case grows to involve the Russian mob and Vietnamese gangs and much more. This book is a wild ride through the world of fire and insurance. The characters are cool and real life. I especially liked the details of the fire investagationing.
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on October 29, 1999
I had never heard of Don Winslow before I picked up this book at the bookstore (prior to my first-ever internet order), but I am now a devoted fan. Unlike some of the people who reviewed this book, I wondered during the first 3 pages whether I would like the book because I didn't understand the significance of the first few chapters, but I kept reading and am VERY glad I did. I have loaned it to a coworker (who loved it as much as I did) and to 2 family members so far (both of whom stayed up all night reading it - one of whom RARELY does without her sleep!) and am recommending it to anyone I know who likes mystery/thrillers. I am even ordering another hardback copy through AMAZON.COM so that I can have a copy to loan to others. Some may balk at the language used with regard to the main character (in fact it seems that "Colorado" was unable to get past it in order to enjoy the book), but unless you are unusually sensitive it shouldn't matter as it really took me into the character's head (my coworker, in fact, had warned me that she didn't like "bad language" but reported that it didn't affect her enjoyment of the book). Midway through the book, I realized that I didn't want it to end....I just wanted to keep reading and reading. Immediately after reaching the thrilling conclusion, I read it again; then I ordered his first book, "Life and Death of Bobby Z," which I have not yet read but my coworker borrowed it and didn't enjoy it as much as "California Fire & Life." Like the reader from Phoenix, I cannot IMAGINE this book in audio form, but the printed book provides a "must read" which will keep you up all night! I am giving at least 2 copies as Christmas presents. Like "furiousmail," I never thought arson investigation could be so interesting...I cannot WAIT for Mr. Winslow's next book!!!!!
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The first smashing three pages of "California Fire and Life" set the tone of the book and launch action that never flags. Jack Ward is a claims investigator for the firm of the title, and is called to examine the case of a very pricey fire in which a woman died. Nothing rings true to him about this claim, which his old adversary "Accidently Bentley" has ruled to be-that's right - accidental. The whole setup is fishy, and the fire scenario frankly phony, but why is Jack headed off at every turn, even by his own company? Maybe he's wrong. Maybe the Russian mafia un-broken-up husband is telling the truth. Maybe all those witnesses who have now disappeared really are on vacation. By the time author Don Winslow is finished, not only are the Russians involved, so are the Vietnamese, land developers, bikers, surfers, a parrot, and an elderly lady with a missing set of spoons. Everything pays off in this book and pays off in just about the least expected way. Winslow, creates characters we enjoy and care about, and struts an unusual and quirky literary voice You'll learn a lot abut fire in this book, the kind of stuff only a former fire investigator like Winslow could flash convincingly. A smart read so cool it's hot.
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on May 15, 1999
In California, fire investigator Jack Wade works claims for an insurance company. His current case involves the death of Pamela Vale, who died in her home. Jack's most acrimonious rival immediately declares was an accident. However, after a thorough search of the place, Jack believes that someone deliberately set the fire to murder the fund-raiser.
Jack believes Pam's spouse Nicky is the arsonist-killer even though the suspect has an alibi provided by his mother. Instead, Jack sees a developer near bankrupt who suddenly has money within his grasp. Unbeknownst to Jack is the Russian connection. However, he and his former lover (Pam's half-sister) will soon find out about that and more as they continue to make inquiries into the fire that left one person dead. Perhaps the afterglow will burn Jack too once he learns the truth.
CALIFORNIA FIRE AND LIFE is a hot who-done-it that will leave readers laughing from the most puns fired on this side of Mundania and excited from the fast-paced story line. The tale never cools off as Jack digs himself deeper into trouble. As he did with THE DEATH AND LIFE OF BOBBY Z, Don Winslow provides his audience with an entertaining tale that is the ultimate l(arson)y investigation.

Harriet Klausner
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on August 9, 2001
Okay, so maybe my title for this review isn't all that interesting and original, but (and trust me on this one) CALIFORNIA FIRE & LIFE is. Jack Wade, a down-on-his-luck fire insurance investigator, becomes the novel's unlikely hero in this technically-filled thriller (think Crichton meets Ellroy) that combines the science of fire and arson with a slick writing style that often felt like was being read aloud to me. Never was I let down by any of the surprises, flashbacks or characters while reading CA FIRE & LIFE and found myself nearly begging for more. The dialogue was quick and often very witty. The depth of deceit was very believable and never confusing (despite what other reviewers may say). Honestly, I can't say enough good things about this book. Just read it. In CALIFORNIA FIRE & LIFE, Don Winslow has proven himself a great mystery writer.
Now, how about bringing Jack back?
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on July 23, 2001
A totally excellent read. Don Winslow's style is fresh, forthright and very readable. The plot for this novel is fascinatingly local to the California coast, yet reaches out to effortlessly call on international intrigue also. Don Winslow's detail on the mechanics of fire and arson are as good as anything the (early) efforts of Patricia Cornwell and Thomas Harris brought us in the world of forensics.
Jack wade is a likable main character with just enough flaws to get you on his side for the whole ride, and what a ride. This plot twists and turns constantly, believably and enthrallingly. This book will take you to the last page quicker than you think and definitely quicker than you want. Don Winslow knows his stuff and can write.
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on June 29, 1999
This novel establishes Don Winslow as a worthy peer of Thomas Harris, Dennis Lehane, Robert Crais, Elmore Leonard, Brian Hodge and both Parkers: Robert B. and T. Jefferson. As much as I loved his The Life and Times of Bobby Z, I enjoyed California Fire and Life more. Winslow has a unique comic voice that blends well with the fast pace of the plot. Although I thought some of the plot coincidences near the end of the book were a stretch, Winslow's characterization and pseudo-courtroom drama more than made up for that minor flaw. Of the 42 novels I've read, reviewed and ranked this year, California Fire and Life ranks second only to Harris' Hannibal.
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on March 13, 2000
"~Jack Wade is an arson investigator (tossed off the police force for perjury, brutality and framing a guilty man), and a really smart claims adjuster. Poor guy, he's also swimming with the sharks, and you have to read this book to the very end to understand the magnitude of betrayal that is the theme of this book. to find. And then the really good stuff begins. There is no extraneous detail in this book, and Winslow tells this story of massive deceit and betrayal with bone-dry wit. I've read many of Winslow's books, and they just keep getting better. After this book, you'll never look at insurance companies the same way again!
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on May 18, 2001
Jack Wade knows fire. A former arson investigator, and now claims adjuster for the California Fire and Life Mutual, Jack Wade is the best in the business. Jack Wade also knows when an accidental fire is really arson, as he investigates the house-fire death of Pamela Vale, a wealthy, young mother. CALIFORNIA FIRE AND LIFE is a thinking person's thriller that not only offers up an incredibly exciting story authentic enough to make you feel the scorching heat and smell the smoke of the fires it describes, but is also a fascinating exploration of the science of fire and forensic investigation. This is one book you should not miss!
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