The Dawn Patrol
Don Winslow is the kind of talent who comes along once every
generation. Like Elmore Leonard and Carl Hiaasen before him,
Winslow walks the line between zany fun and hardboiled mystery. He
has embraced the culture of southern California the same way
Hiaasen has adopted the Florida coast. His writing sparkles with
authentic dialogue, and he keeps the plot moving at a breakneck
Of course, plenty of authors share his gift for the written
word. We've all been wowed by a mystery novel that starts off so
strongly, only to taper off as the writer delivers an unconvincing
and nonsensical finale. This is not the case with Winslow. After
solid early efforts like CALIFORNIA FIRE AND LIFE and THE DEATH AND
LIFE OF BOBBY Z, Winslow finally delivered a star turn with THE
WINTER OF FRANKIE MACHINE. He has topped that here, presenting the
story of a place and the people who populate it.
In THE DAWN PATROL, Winslow tells the story of private
investigator/surfer Boone Daniels and the crew of eccentric surfers
who join him every morning to cleanse body and soul in the ocean.
The Dawn Patrol, as they affectionately call themselves, are
immediately among the all-time great supporting casts. Each loves
to surf almost as much as Boone. Almost, because the others have
what Boone calls "j-o-b-s." He, in turn, works only when the spirit
(or his landlord) moves him. A former cop, he works part time as a
private investigator. But mostly he surfs, searching for that epic
Of course, this wouldn't be genre fiction if Boone wasn't
haunted by a case he just couldn't let go. When he was on the
police force, one of his decisions may have cost a young girl her
life. Years later, he still obsesses about the case and punishes
himself for his failures.
Winslow is not afraid to embrace these genre clichés. He
uses them effectively to move the plot along, while at the same
time transcending them. While Winslow is telling the reader about
Boone's story, Boone is sharing the story of San Diego and the surf
scene that evolved there. It's a unique subculture, a slice of
Americana that Winslow, a native New Englander, has embraced with
As The Dawn Patrol is eagerly awaiting the biggest wave to hit
southern California in a decade, Boone gets caught up in a
metaphorical wave that could sweep up his entire easy life and
crush it on the ocean floor. When a beautiful and sardonic lawyer
asks for Boone's help finding a witness to arson, it seems like a
case he can be done with in plenty of time to ride the big wave.
Soon, however, it becomes apparent that arson is just the prelude
to murder and the revelation of a much more sinister Dawn
With THE DAWN PATROL, Winslow has crafted a true masterpiece.
Still hidden from the spotlight and a relative unknown, this could
be the book that sees him take his rightful place alongside George
Pelecanos, Michael Connelly, T. Jefferson Parker and other masters
of modern mystery.
Reviewed by Jonathan Snowden on December 29, 2010