There are more than a few surfer PIs in mystery fiction, from Richard
Barre's Wil Hardesty, Jeff Shelby's Noah Braddock to TV's Magnum. Now
we can add Boone Daniels, Don Winslow's engaging, laconic protagonist
and central figure of the dawn patrol, a group of 6 buddies (5 men and
one woman) who regularly surf the early morning hours north of San Diego.
Boone, a former cop turned PI who works just enough to support his surfing
lifestyle, is hired by a beautiful attorney, Petra Hall, to investigate
suspected arson-insurance fraud, but soon uncovers far darker, more
deadly goings on beyond the sunny shores of the Pacific.
'The Dawn Patrol' begins with breezy, palsy camaraderie among the six
surfing buddies. There's Dave the Love God, a beach life guard; Hang
Twelve, so named because he has six toes on each foot; High Tide, the
300-plus pound Samoan; Johnny Banzai, a Japanese cop and hard-charging
surfer; and Sunny Day, the lone female and eponymous blond, beautiful
California surfer girl. Surfbonics, the unique slanguage of surfers,
provides both vivid descriptive imagery and laugh out loud characterizations
of the life and loves of die hard surfers.
Loaded with interesting San Diego
history and abundant surfing lore, the narrative moves swiftly to fill-in
the back stories of the dawn patrol regulars while laying out an increasingly
complex mystery involving murder, child abduction and human trafficking.
The breezy beginning turns ever darker as the action moves away from
the surf and on to the evil doings of powerful local gangsters, greedy
sex club owners, and the people they use and, more often, abuse in their
quest for dominance.
Winslow fleshes out the lives of the six dawn patrol
surfers, weaving in the pieces of their past that showcase the roots
of their identities, and then adeptly intertwines all these personal
stories with the unfolding crime story, to the benefit of both. Each
character plays some key role in the way the crime narrative unfolds
and each undergoes a personal epiphany, some modest, some more significant,
that leaves them substantively changed at the novel's end. That this
rich characterization doesn't diminish the mystery, and, in fact, enhances
it, is proof of Winslow's ability to tell exceptionally deep stories
that are nuanced but tightly focused.
With an expansive cast of supporting
characters, a well-balanced mix of violence, action and introspection,
'The Dawn Patrol' is a top rate crime story. But, it succeeds, too,
as a story about human interaction and the inevitability of change –
in relationships, in interests, and in the face of progress. There's
a pleasing symmetry to this tale; justice is done, valued traditions
are upheld and characters' lives move forward in ways that ring true
and feel right. Winslow delivers yet another satisfying hit and leaves
us to hope that Boone Daniels and his surfing buddies will re-appear
in future novels.