Friday, August 13, 2010

"The baby is dead in his mother's arms..."


By Russel D McLean

Quick precursor note: as this post was going to press, Russel was nominated for a Shamus Award by the Private Eye Writers of America. He is hugely honoured to be shortlisted among such talented company. For more info, the full shortlist can be found over here: We now return you to your scheduled ramblings:

The book was,

California Fire and Life.

It blew me away. I think it was the first time I consciously remember being stunned by voice more than anything else.

The problem was, I found the book – by accident – pre-internet. I kept checking for its author on the shelves of my local. Never saw him again. For a few years, Don Winslow became something of an aberration in my reading. A joyous one off I’d probably never re-discover.

And then came Power of the Dog.

I started to see it on the shelves. I saw this blurb by no less than Ian Rankin saying this guy was so good you almost wanted to keep him to yourself.

And, yeah, I thought, he was that good. So that having read California Fire and Life, I almost wanted him to be my secret. I was cooler than the other kids because I’d read that book and no one else seemed to know what I was talking about. The guys I lent the book to were specially chosen because I knew they’d dig it.

Question was, would this new book be as good?

Oh, man, it was better.

It was tight. Controlled. Epic. A modern-day James Ellroy in its sparse prose, over-arching themes and densely compacted history. This book sung in a way no other book had sung to me.

After Power of the Dog I made a concerted effort to reach out and discover the rest of Winslow. And what I found made me weep with joy. It wasn’t just that he evolved with every book, its that he experiments every time, finds himself a new way of telling stories that he either hasn’t tried before or that feels substantially different to the last book.

In a genre where many bestselling writers rely on formula for success, Winslow bucks that trend beautifully by reinventing himself every once in a while. By doing almost the last thing you expect. It’s the same reason I fell in love with Pelecanos. Pelecanos tends to stick to a few books following the same them or characters and then jumps ship to try something else. Winslow’s the same. After Power of the Dog, nothing could have prepared you for The Winter of Frankie Machine or The Dawn Patrol, but that’s the joy of a writer like Winslow: you’re absolutely willing to follow him wherever he takes you.

The reason I’m writing about Winslow, of course, is that I just got through reading this live chat transcript with the man himself. I came home from work to find an email telling me about it, and how I could ask the man some questions, but was sadly too late to do anything about. All the same, there are some real smart questions here and Winslow is always worth reading in interview.

This means, of course, that your prescribed reading for this week is Winslow. If you ain't read him, I reccomend either California Fire and Life or Power of the Dog as the starting point. If you have, dig his new one Savages or check out the marvellous Busted Flush Press's upcoming reprint of his first novel, A Cool Breeze on the Underground.

4 comments:

Ray said...

That's weird - I came to Winslow through CF&L without having heard anything about it, too. The voice just blew me away. And POWER is one of the all-time great drug novels.

Naomi Johnson said...

Savages is SO good, and as you point out, stylistically it's like nothing Winslow has done before.

My bro-in-law swiped my copy of CF&L before I could finish it. Okay, he didn't really swipe it. I encouraged him to take it. He doesn't generally read anything in the crime fic genre, and he was giving off this strange vibe as though he was enjoying the book against his will.

John McFetridge said...

For me it was The Death and Life of Bobby Z ("I've got a problem with impulse control,") and then the Neal Carey PI novels.

Great stuff.

Michael Malone said...

Nice to see Don getting some blog space. The man is genius.