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Review: "The Dawn Patrol" (2008) by Don Winslow

# 41: The Dawn Patrol by Don Winslow:

"Sorry, I forgot," Hang Twelve says, "Like the moana was epic tasty this sesh and I slid over an ax of this gnarler and just foffed, totally shredded it, and I'm still amped from the ocean hit, so my bad, brah."

Cheerful looks at Petra and says, "Sometimes we have entire fascinating conversations in which I don't understand a word that is said." He turns back to Hang Twelve. "You're what I have instead of a cat. Don't make me get a cat."


Synopsis: Boone Daniels, half wronged good guy PI, half Lebowski, takes on a missing stripper case for an insurance company. All his friends on The Dawn Patrol, a group of dedicated early-morning So Cal surfers, take the hit.



Boone Daniels used to be a cop, now he surfs. His friends -- Sunny Day, Hang Twelve, High Tide and Johnny Banzai (still a cop) -- all surf too, and when an epic macking crunchy set of waves approaches, they're all puzzled when Boone takes on the case of a missing stripper. But what does that have to do with the girls who look like ghosts, the Japanese internment of World War II and the Samoan concept of the marai?

You really should read this book to find out.

I hate being coy about plot twists, I really do, but in Winslow's case it's worth it. It's like the last book of his I read, California Fire and Life, there are so many twists, and they're all so damn good that in this case it's worth being coy.

That's right, babies: the SpoilerPants are staying in the closet.

Things I will say:

--Loved it. (Obviously, right?) Winslow writes really great, strong, believable women in his books, women with agency, who exist outside of a need to nail the hero/PI. Sunny Day, the only woman on The Dawn Patrol, can outsurf all of them, Boone included, and a not-inconsiderable part of the narrative is devoted to Sunny's focus on making it as a pro surfer; it consumes her to a degree, we're shown, that her relationship with Boone does not. Petra, the hard-bitten lawyer from the insurance company, repeatedly pulls her weight, plotwise, as well as jumping in and using her brains and her skill as a lawyer to save the day. And let me talk for a minute about turning the cookie-cutter stripper character on its head. Do NOT mess with these ladies.

There's really not enough words I know to express my need for more characters like these. I am again reduced to eight minutes of squeaking noises.

--It only struck me while I was copying down quotes from the book into the ubiquitous quotes notebook (four pages worth, thanks for asking) that the whole novel is written in the present tense. Normally that annoys the socks off me, but in this case I could not put it down. That is hard to do. I like when hard to do is pulled off well and makes me want to run out and ravage my local bookstore like a well-read Viking.

It's hard to say what exactly makes this such a great book. I've been thinking about this a lot since I finished the book last week because a) I want more books to be like this and b) when it comes down to it, I want everything I write to be this compulsive, this deeply layered but with the appearance of ease. All the characters are well-defined, rounded and interesting. A lot of the book focuses on women and people of color, which, roll your eyes all you want, but that's the world I live in, so I want books that reflect this reality.

Also, Winslow gives great coastal California. He writes a lot about the history of development in Pacific Beach, CA in a way that's totally unlike the dry history books presented in schools all over this fine nation of ours. There's a certain unique talent in blending your own writing voice with history in, oh, for example, describing how the Beach Boys are responsible for most of what's wrong with the coast of Southern California today and pulling it off with a visceral edge:

Boone doesn't know the answer to that old Ethics 101 question from his freshman year in college -- if, knowing what you know now, you had a chance to strangle Adolf Hitler in the cradle -- but he's clear about the answer for Brian Wilson. You'd splatter his baby brains all over the bassinet before you'd let him make it to the recording studio to turn that 101 into a parking lot.


There are tons of small, fascinating digressions that take the form of stories told in flashback. Like when the group took Hang Twelve to a strip club for his birthday and he ate the shrimp at the buffet. Or how Boone came to live in Cheerful's pier-side bungalow. It's all magic, and I appreciate the time taken to stop the admittedly gunfire-happy action to tell these stories. They make the book deeper and more nuanced.

The plot is complicated, but simple when it gets all laid out end-to-end.

The ending is not simple at all. It's also not strictly legal, but it is right. And that's what counts.

So to recap: good stuff. Dark, textured, complicated and well thought-out.

Now if you'll excuse me, I'm off to celebrate July Fourth by ravaging a bookstore for Winslow's backlist.
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