Don Winslow’s brash 2010 novel Savages finally moved this talented author from a cult-like status to the mainstream. Winslow’s 13th novel featured an action-packed plot loaded with fringe characters, brutality and gallows humor; each multi-dimensional character was hero and a villain.
With director Oliver Stone’s film version in theaters, Winslow returns to his three main characters — independent marijuana millionaires Ben and Chon and their mutual girlfriend Ophelia — in a prequel, delving into the threesome’s eccentric family history, showing how they settled into a happy, almost normal, ménage à trois.
The book smoothly moves from 2005, when Ben, Chon and O were settling in, then back to 1967, their parents’ time, when several independent, nonviolent drug dealers were setting up a business called the Association. The Kings of Cool also highlights the Association’s activities through the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s.
Family history plays an important part in The Kings of Cool from Chon’s fractious relationship with his father, John McAlister, a roofer turned drug kingpin, to Ben’s parents, Stan and Diane Leonard, former bookstore owners turned psychotherapists. The Kings of Cool also chronicles how Elena Sanchez changed from devoted mother and wife to a ruthless leader of a drug cartel, recruiting former cop Lado as her henchman. And upstanding DEA agent Dennis Cain is seduced to the dark side by a home improvement project and the thrill of granite counters.
As he did in Savages, Winslow pushes the boundaries of prose, supplementing a conventional story with haiku-like paragraphs, the occasional script and a stream of consciousness approach. He has always been an inventive writer; The Kings of Cool reinforces just how cool Winslow is.
Caught in a web
Despite a couple of stumbles, Andrew Gross’ sixth novel moves at lightning speed with believable action and realistic characters.
Henry Steadman has a successful Fort Lauderdale medical practice that brings in a good income. But Henry gains more satisfaction from his work with Doctors Without Borders. He’s on his way to a conference in Jacksonville where he is to deliver the keynote speech when he is stopped for a minor traffic violation. The conversation with the cop escalates, and Henry is thrown in the back of a police car. It’s a case of mistaken identity, but then the cop who arrested Henry is killed in a drive-by shooting. Fearing he will be accused, Henry panics and flees.
A nationwide manhunt targets Henry, who finds one ally: Carrie Holmes, a community outreach officer who finds Henry’s conspiracy theory credible, especially since no one is willing to look at the evidence.
The first few chapters of 15 Seconds don’t seem believable, But the shaky start doesn’t mar the story as Gross, who lives part-time in West Palm Beach, quickly adds a twist that makes the novel a chilling and believable tale of revenge.
Oline H. Cogdill reviewed these books for The Sun Sentinel.