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Book Review Savages

Several years ago I was lucky enough to interview acclaimed writer/artist Howard Chaykin for the first time and one of the things we got to chatting about was our mutual love of crime fiction. He recommended an author named Don Winslow to me and I’m glad he did. I picked up Winslow’s latest book at the time “The Power of the Dog” and was blown away by it. To this day it remains one of my favorite books I ever read.

So needles to say I quickly devoured any other Winslow novels I could get my hand on and yes some are better than others, but all of his books have been entertaining. I was very excited to get my hands on his latest novel, “Savages.” It didn’t disappoint me.

Turns out “Power of the Dog” was a different kind of novel for Winslow. “Dog” was about the drug war in North and South America from the late ’70s to the ’90s and filtered through the perspective of several different and distinct characters. So it was a dark and epic novel. Winslow’s other novels usually operate on a much smaller scale and involve quite a bit of humor as well as darkness. “Savages” is one of those types of novels.

At the heart of “Savages” is a love triangle between three characters. Best friends Ben and Chon, and the woman they both love and who loves them both, Ophelia. Ben and Chon are successful southern California pot dealers. They sell several different blends of high end marijuana and cater to a very specific client base. Unfortunately for them the Mexican Mafia wants that client base and they plan on doing anything to get it.

That’s the plot of “Savages” which is an entertaining one, but where the novel succeeds is in it’s three lead characters. Ben is the brains of the pot operation. He comes up with the chemistry for the business and many of their strategies. He’s also a bleeding heart activist liberal and spends many of the profits from his business trying to help third world countries. Chon is the muscle of the group. He’s an ex Navy seal with no compunctions about killing. His friendship with Ben may seem like an unlikely one but Winslow really sells it. Ophelia is the freespirited daughter of a crazy and moderately wealth Orange County house wife. She’s also a really funny character with some interesting insights into what is going on in the world she inhabits.

Tonewise “Savages” feels like if Michael Mann made a modern day version of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. There’s plenty of humor. I particularly loved the sequence where Winslow described Ben and Chon’s speed fueled golf outing. You also got a great sense of the intimacy between the three main characters. Which made the explosively violent climax all the more heartbreaking.

The only thing I didnt care for in “Savages” was Winslow occasionally playing with how he told the narrative. From time to time things would be told in screenplay format. Also The words would be arranged in a particular pattern and one time even in haiku. I kept waiting for a reason why the author was doing these things and wondering if they were because the story had a particular narrator. It turns out those little flourishes were just there because Winslow wanted to include them. So they felt a little distracting to me. Overall though “Savages” was a funny, exciting, and pretty poignant book. I highly recommend it.

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