Review: The Dawn Patrol by Don Winslow


Boone Daniels is a surfer, a beach bum, a PI, and probably the most unlikely character to make me sit up and take notice. Working out of a surf shop that doubles as his office, Boone reminds me much of a friend who, in college, called me at 2 a.m. to drive from Texas to California. When I asked him where we would sleep, his answer was “the boards, covered with a blanket in the sand.” I passed. Boone would love this. He’s got a van that doubles as a changing room; instead of one loyal sidekick who drinks a bit too much and says “bloody” an awful lot, Boone is surrounded by The Dawn Patrol: Sunny Day, High Tide, Johnny Banzai, Hang Twelve, and Dave the Love God. This gang surfs together and is always watching the others’ backs. To be honest, my mystery reads trend to British, Irish, and Scottish detectives where the weather often fits the nature of the crime. I’m no California girl. I’ve been to L.A. and didn’t particularly like it. But PCN recommended this book, and after following her the last few months, I take her advice seriously.

The book opens as a wave Winslow describes in surfer lingo as “epic macking crunchy” makes its way toward the California coastline. Surfing careers are made and broken with these waves, and The Dawn Patrol is ready for the action, but even more trouble is looming in the form of attorney Petra, who brings a case to Boone at the most inopportune time. He wants to catch that wave, damn it, but he also needs to eat, as his friend-cum-accountant chides him. He takes the case, and Boone’s assignment is to find Tammy, a stripper who was witness to arson. No biggie, right? Wrong. Petra needs Tammy to testify for the insurance company against a local thug, Dan Silver. There’s just one problem: Tammy doesn’t want to be found. Soon, Boone is chasing after a killer and a missing little girl, still haunted by his time on the force where he messed up big time, and as the story develops, Boone must come face to face with his own past as The Dawn Patrol’s ties thin and each must look out for him or herself.

In the background, the wave builds, and it’s no wading pool:

[This] kind of wave is the subsurface wave, which starts, duh, under the water. If surface waves are your middleweight boxers, dancing and shooting jabs, the subsurface wave is your heavyweight, coming in flatfooted, throwing knockout punches from the (ocean) floor. This wave is the superstar, the genuine badass, the take-your-lunch money, walk-off-with-your-girlfriend, give-me-those-fucking-sneakers, thank you for playing and now what parting gifts do we have for our contestant, Vanna wave…. It’s heavy, my friend; it ain’t your brother.

Normally, I’m turned off by this no-holds-barred, newfangled sort of writing. Charlie Huston’s writing was absolutely unbearable (for me), but Winslow’s good. He’s on top of his game, and the more I read, the more I admired his style. As the action built, the chapters were shorter and shorter, to the point that the last 50 pages had me, literally, breathless. With any good mystery, I want that buildup. I want to have a good idea of what’s going on (which I did), but I loved the way Winslow brought me there. At the end, I was washed up on the shore, tired and breathless, but ready to read more about the adventures of The Dawn Patrol.

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6 responses to “Review: The Dawn Patrol by Don Winslow

  • Elyse/Pop Culture Nerd

    Hooray! I’m ecstatic you liked this! As you can see in my review (thanks for linking to it), I was initially hesitant to read about surfers, too. I love it when a book expands my horizons a bit. The sequel, The Gentleman’s Hour, is also very good but is only available in the UK for some reason. At a recent signing in L.A., Winslow says he’s planning a couple more installments about the Patrol, which made me very happy.

  • Natalie @ Coffee and a Book Chick

    I love a good mystery/thriller that keeps you pushing through eagerly until the last page. And an interesting combo of surfer/private eye — something about the beach doesn’t always need to bring about images of quiet solitude and reflection, you know? It can certainly bring up good ole mysteries — Carl Hiassen sets all of his quirky mysteries (with good snarky commentary on social issues) in South Florida. Must be the alligators in the Everglades that get the mystery going.

    By the way, it’s only because of you that I’m heading to the library this weekend — wish me luck that my library in the North Florida beaches area is as good as yours…!

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