Don Winslow is one of the most fearless writers out there. He pushes the stylistic side of the genre. While others play with point of view, he will switch form from his tight prose, to poetry, screenplay, he’ll even give dictionary definitions for chapters. This practice and his short, punchy chapters could be tossed off as MTV writing, but it expresses a lot. This is where genre fiction and experimental novel meet. What is even more amazing is how accessible his writing is. His latest, The Kings Of Cool, is no exception.
Some of us were apprehensive about him doing a prequel to his break-out book Savages, the story of high-end marijuana dealers Ben and Chon trying to get their mutual girlfriend, O, back from a Mexican cartel that wants to take them over. On the surface the prequel seemed like an attempt to cash in on previous success and the film version of Savages. We forgot Don always goes beyond the surface. Here he uses the origin story for something grander.
Not only do we learn how the three bonded when some gangsters and crooked cops set out to take them out of business in 2005, we meet their parents in the ’60s. As revelations from each time build, the stories merge not only as a microcosm of forty years of Southern California history, but also as a meditation on how a generation who protested the Vietnam War ended up sending their offspring to Iraq. As Ben’s father ponders in a long soliloquy:
“…we saw a dream turn into a nightmare we saw love and peace turn into endless war and violence our idealism into realism our realism into cynicism our cynicism into apathy our apathy into selfishness our selfishness into greed and then greed was good…”
He even connects the greed to being parents. Then Winslow goes further. No generation is safe.
This is crime fiction as social examination, even social conscience. The novel’s style prevents the book from getting bogged down in self importance or preaching.
It also gives us hope. Society may have gone to pot smoke, but Ben, Chon, and O prove that footing and a possible future can be found in honor, trust, and love. In fact The Kings Of Cool makes an argument that the bond of friendship is stronger than blood.
Don Winslow has created a perfect mix for a virtuoso crime novel. The Kings of Cool has an unnerving eye for violence, sharp dialogue, heroes trying to find honor in dishonorable business and an even more dishonorable world, true emotion, and balls to spare.
And style, lots of style.