Don Winslow knows a thing or two about riding waves.
Not the lazy SoCal curls that buoy San Diego's surfing private eye Boone Daniels and the colorful supporting cast in The Dawn Patrol and its new sequel, The Gentlemen's Hour, but the swells of incipient fame that have inexplicably failed to yield Oprah-level notoriety for one of America's great mystery stylists.
That's OK with Winslow, a gracious guy with an easy laugh and the patience of a surfer. He is familiar with the downs, having already quit this writing gig once and returned to his private-eye career after his critically acclaimed Neal Carey PI series failed to connect with readers in the early 1990s.
Besides, his wave is finally coming in, big-time.
Over a period of 15 months, Winslow has essentially created his own legend by writing three novels that share almost nothing in common besides their author. Savages, his darkly comic Paso Doble involving three Cali dreamers and a nasty Mexican drug cartel, garnered rave reviews. The film version, with Oliver Stone directing Pulp Ficton co-stars John Travolta and Uma Thurman, began shooting in July.
Satori, his authorized sequel to Trevanian's Shibumi, was an expertly crafted, pitch-perfect, left hook of a spy novel set in China and Vietnam that knocked out the critics.
The Gentlemen's Hour is an endless summer love letter to surfing culture.
Now, to complete the trifecta, comes The Gentlemen's Hour, which reunites Boone Daniels with his Dawn Patrol buddies Johnny Banzai, High Tide, Hang Twelve, Dave the Love God and a new addition, the properly sexy British lawyer Petra "Pete" Hall.
On this wave, Hawaiian surfing legend Kelly "K2" Kuhio is brutally murdered outside The Sundowner surfer bar by a gang of surf punks. The Dawn Patrol is outraged when Petra enlists Boone to work on behalf of the accused, the son of a wealthy mover and shaker, to solve the murder.
Like its predecessor, The Gentlemen's Hour is an endless summer love letter to surfing culture, overflowing with musical polyglot surfer slang, a Mexicali soundtrack and enough twists and cutbacks to make it an epic ride.
Winslow's not exactly one of those writers who returns to the ocean to recharge. He admits he's not much of a surfer and lives 40 miles inland on an old ranch in the high desert above San Diego, "east of the five" (as in Interstate 5) in surfer lingo. But the imagery and bebop language of the surf community are flavors he likes, tools that allow him to explore the mystery that lies beneath.
"I think when you live in these sunny climes, there's a lot of beauty, which is real, but underneath that, there's some ugly. And sometimes it's the ugly that funds the pretty," he says. "As a writer, you can have it all. To me, crime fiction is a lot like the ocean: there's always something happening on the surface, and that's real, but there's always something happening underneath that you don't see that's driving what you see on the surface."
Winslow learned to create a community on page from palm trees, sand and driftwood by reading the Travis McGee novels of John D. MacDonald, the guy who virtually invented the modern beach bum detective.
"What we learn from John D. and those cats is that place is a character," he says. "Readers like to not only hang out with people; they like to hang out with people in a place. For me, the location is just one of the major characters. It informs who everybody is."
In the sequel, Boone subtly moves from the Dawn Patrol, which is made up of early risers who squeeze their surfing in before work, to the Gentlemen's Club, professionals and others who gather after the Dawn Patrol has departed. Could it mean Boone is actually growing up?
"You didn't think it would happen, did you?" Winslow laughs. "The surf culture in many ways is a perpetually adolescent state because, at its core, it's irresponsible; it's about freedom from obligations. But I think reality hits and, at a certain age, that's harder and harder to do."
Would Winslow consider another outing with Trevanian's charismatic spy Nicholai Hel?
"It was a blast to do but I don't know; we'll see," he says. "I've got three or four books of my own that I want to do right now. It was a lot of fun but one's enough."