December 16, 2019

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Fast-paced prequel to Savages

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 22/6/2012 (2732 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Chon, Ben and O for Ophelia are best buds living the life in southern California, growing and dealing weed in surfer dude coastal idylls.

Life would be just perfect, were it not for the other drug dealers, the gangsters, the Mexican drug cartels, the straight cops, the crooked cops and the occasional need to come up with cash, a need that could push mellow folk into dealing cocaine and heroin.

Jerry Bauer 
Don Winslow: ripping great read.

Jerry Bauer Don Winslow: ripping great read.

American crime fiction writer Don Winslow introduced the trio two years ago in his bestseller Savages — the Oliver Stone-directed movie version opens July 6 — and in this prequel he tells the story of how the three came to be BFFs.

Kings of Cool alternates between 2005, when 20-somethings Chon, Ben and O are doing their thing, and the 1980s, when their parents ruled the beaches.

Winslow, who has written numerous crime novels prior to Savages, tells his story in rapid-fire dialogue, overflowing with hip attitude, lyrics from rock songs and popular cultural references — some of which readers over 30 may even recognize.

His chapters are short, his paragraphs and sentences even shorter, some just a word or two. Like Elmore Leonard, he leaves out the parts readers tend to skip.

At times he seems to be having a conversation with the reader, at other times with the characters. Once in a while he'll suddenly write a scene in screenplay fashion, and you'll hardly notice or care or think it's all too cute and artificial, so smoothly does the story flow.

Readers who snort cocaine may know better whether the Winslow's prose is meant to evoke the way people talk and see the world when high.

The plot, such as it is, has to do with how the contemporary drug world developed in southern California, which leads right into the back story of Chon, Ben and O.

One of the mysteries is figuring out which characters in the '80s flashbacks parented each of the three 20-somethings.

Things get complicated early on in Kings of Cool when peace-loving Ben finds himself in a sticky financial situation with some mob muscle.

Chon may be a laid-back dude who's a genius at developing grow ops, but he's also a navy SEAL who helps his friends out with the drug business between deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan.

In the context of the novel, this is nowhere near as ridiculous as it sounds, and sadly for the local drug mobs, Chon has a rather direct way of dealing with anyone who messes with his friends.

Kings of Cool deals harshly with decades of American politics and social change, depicting the lunacy of the war on drugs and the hypocrisy of the drug users without ever once hitting the reader over the head with polemics — or stopping for breath.

And, no, as fascinating as Chon, Ben, and O can be, Kings of Cool is neither a glamorization of drug dealing, nor a call to snort. It's just a ripping great read.

Free Press reporter Nick Martin enjoys a cold beer or two on the weekend.

Kings of Cool

By Don Winslow

Simon & Schuster, 320 pages, $25

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