Tuesday, November 16, 2010

The Gentleman's Hour

By Jay Stringer

This week I want to talk about a book by Don Winslow. But first a small matter of housekeeping. As the Weddle alluded to yesterday, our very own collection of short stories is coming out this week. It's already available via the UK amazon and the US amazon, and we'll keep you posted as it hits other stores.

It contains a story by each of us, and each is themed around the crazy hoopla that can go down in an airport. Some are loosely linked through theme or setting, others are directly linked through characters, actions or settings. Think of it as a concept album -there is a larger story there if you want it.

We enjoyed putting this together, and we'd love to do another so please go buy a copy and spread the word.

Anyway, on with the show.

I'm a recent convert to Don Winslow, through the world of Boone Daniels and his Dawn Patrol. I wrote a review of the first book over at Stringerville a few weeks back. The short version is 'loved it'. (The longer version would be 'i really loved it.')

I was drawn into this SoCal world that I've never known or seen, by the collection of surf bums, cops, hookers and criminals. Most of all I was drawn in by the way Winslow structured the book. 

Like the novels' running motif of the wave, the story starts slow and subtle, before it begins to build to a crescendo of water and violence that won't let you go. As soon as I finished the book I wanted to read more, and I hunted down (Do imagine; an epic quest across many deserts and battles with a multitude of legendary beasties in order to win the heart of the fair book. Don't imagine; I clicked a button on a website and it was delivered to me.)

The follow up is called The Gentleman's Hour. Everything about the book is structured again very cleverly. The name The Gentleman's Hour comes from the hour of surf that follows The Dawn Patrol, when the older and more connected surfers come out to play. Likewise the plot follows Boone Daniels as he struggles over whether or not it's time for him to graduate from the Patrol to the Hour, and whether his old friendships can endure. He's going through something of a mid-surf crisis.

If the first novel was one wave, picking up pace and speed, then the sequel is more like a stretch of choppy water. Things change, people get mixed up and old ties get broken. In many ways TGH feels more like a 'mystery novel' than the first book. It has more of a structured mystery plot, with twists, turns and red herrings. This too seems to follow on the theme of graduation.

Whereas the first book took on illegal activities that happened beneath the noses of the law and local community -the grime beneath the glossy surface- TGH looks at the institutionalised corruption that maintains that glossy surface. It steps off the beach and into boardrooms, businesses and bedrooms. Everybody is using everybody else, and it's all nicely fucked up.

The dawn patrol themselves are slowly drifting apart; Sunny Day is now a world-traveller, Johnny B is giving serious though to his career and Boone can see a choice looming between his girlfriends ambition and his own lack thereof.

There are far more layers to peel away second time around, and overall it feels like a far more ambitious book. It takes the brave step of forcing the 'hero' to question his own beliefs, and that is sadly all too rare in PI fiction.

I had a blast reading the book. It was both tight and ambitious in all the right places, and it built upon the characters from the first book. None of them start book 2 in quite the same place they ended book 1, and each of them is in a different place again by the end of it all. That's good character progression, and I hope there is a third story on the horizon so that I can see where this all leads.

Even for a book that I loved so much, I do have a few constructive criticisms. There's often a gap between ambition and success, and in some areas I think the book struggled with it's grand intentions. The Dawn Patrol never faltered in delivering a ripping great story, it knew when to be complex and when t go for the gut. Perhaps in the final third of TGH there is one too many twists, a little too much effort to mark it out as a mystery novel. There is also a rousing emotional (and physical) contest near the end that doesn't quite feel earned, as much fun as that scene is on it's own. I would wonder -unusually for me- if the book perhaps needed an extra ten pages to let the final third breathe a little more.

But really, these are minor quibbles and I only raise them to qualify what otherwise is a love letter; Go and get these books.


Steve Weddle said...

sounds good
tbr pile about to topple

Naomi Johnson said...

Loved the Boone Daniels books. Have you read SAVAGES yet?