There was a television program that was born, lived and died in 2010 called “Terriers.” The show concerned the professional and personal lives of a couple of scruffy private investigators in San Diego. It seemed vaguely familiar to me, even from the first few minutes; it wasn’t until I started reading THE GENTLEMEN’S HOUR, Don Winslow’s new novel, that I was able to remember why. “Terriers” shared certain elements with Winslow’s book THE DAWN PATROL, and fans of both will rejoice in the publication of his latest, a sequel of sorts to his fine, disturbing work of the dark current of commerce that runs beneath the ocean of money on California’s southern coast.
"Winslow’s matter-of-fact but dark narration is the key to this plot-driven work about the fragility and strength of friendships and principles."
Boone Daniels, underemployed private eye and obsessive surfer, returns in THE GENTLEMEN’S HOUR, continuing his search for a simple life that he nonetheless complicates at every turn. Narrated in an omniscient third-person voice that is both smart-alecky and world-weary, the book finds Daniels in a conundrum when he is hired by a law firm to attempt to obtain mitigating evidence for the defense in a murder case. The problem is that the late victim, Kelly Kuhio, is a local surfing icon revered by the community, including Daniels and his surfer buddies.
The fact that Daniels agrees to take the case, albeit with some reluctance, does not sit well at all with his friends, most particularly Johnny Banzai, the San Diego homicide detective who made the arrest and obtained Corey Blasingame’s confession. A waste of skin whose conviction for the murder is all but assured, Blasingame has ties to the local martial arts and White Power community, and his status with the latter has increased hundredfold following Kuhio’s murder. Making things worse is the fact that Blasingame’s father is a local real estate tycoon who has extreme personality issues of his own.
Then, of course, there’s the problem of Petra Hall, an associate of the firm representing Blasingame. Hall and Daniels have been in a three-month holding pattern in the relationship stage between “dating” and “intimate,” a fact that has Daniels’s friends questioning his motives for undertaking the hunt for exculpatory evidence in the case. If that isn’t bad enough, Daniels is also retained by a wealthy entrepreneur --- a member of a group of older surfers whose daily morning meetings are known as The Gentlemen’s Club --- to determine if he’s being cuckolded. The answer is both very simple and extremely complicated, one that dovetails unexpectedly with the investigation before spinning off in a dangerous and deadly direction that by book’s end brings Daniels, and those he cares about most, up against a chilling, deadly and unforgettable psychopath who enjoys his work just a bit too much.
Winslow’s matter-of-fact but dark narration is the key to this plot-driven work about the fragility and strength of friendships and principles. While Daniels is not the strongest protagonist you will encounter this year, he is the glue connecting a host of extremely interesting characters --- bad, good and indifferent --- to a plot that slides in and out amongst the elements of commerce --- legal, illegal and in-between --- and that in turn puts an entirely new spin on an area not necessarily known for its dark underbelly.
Requests for another volume in the series were being made even as THE GENTLEMEN’S HOUR was first hitting publication. While the book is complete within itself, there is certainly enough unresolved for Daniels professionally and personally to provide grist for however many more tales Winslow is ready to tell.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on August 4, 2011