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Onyx reviews: The Dawn Patrol
by Don Winslow
The Dawn Patrol is the name a group of early morning surfers gives to
themselves. They are a motley crew: a cop, a former-cop-turned-PI, a lifeguard,
a Samoan-American built like a sumo wrestler (he works for the Department of
Public Works), and Sunny Day, the only female in the group, who works the morning shift at a restaurant and is
the best surfer of the lot. When they aren't on
the water, they discuss mundane things like waves and whether female canoe teams
rank above or below fish tacos on the List of Things That Are Good.
The surfers all have nicknames, of course. The lifeguard is Dave the Love
God, as much a tourist stop for young ladies from colder climes as Sea World.
Hang Twelve has two extra toes—they give him better board grip, he claims. The
enormous Samoan is called High Tide, because of his effect on the water level
when he gets in.
The ex-cop is Boone Daniels. His departure from the police force was less
than amicable, and his PI shingle is almost a token gesture. He works only
enough to keep himself alive, in the water, and in fish tacos—because everything
tastes good on a taco. He's reminiscent of John D. MacDonald's Travis McGee, a
beach bum taking his retirement in installments. Boone likes to pretend he's
a devil-may-care rogue, but he is haunted by the case that got away—the kidnapping of a young girl named Rain that went south
after he refused to let Harrington, his partner at the time, torture the pedophile who was their prime
suspect. Every day, Boone wonders if he'll ever find out what happened to the girl.
An underwater earthquake near Alaska has generated a deepwater wave that will
arrive in a few days. Waves like these come only once in a generation. For most
of the Dawn Patrol, it means an epic ride. If Sunny catches the big wave and is
captured on film, though, it means she can go pro. What that means for her
on-again/off-again relationship with Boone is never discussed.
Boone isn't interested in taking on a new case when Petra Hall, a lawyer from
a firm he often works for, shows up at his office two days before the waves
arrive. The firm wants him to track down a stripper who is supposed to testify
the next day on behalf of an insurance company challenging a claim filed by a
local gangster whose warehouse burned down. However, Petra is an up-and-comer in
the firm, not the kind of woman who
takes no for an answer, and Boone is getting behind on his rent and other bills.
Besides, though she's kind of annoying, Boone is begrudgingly attracted to
Tamara Roddick has good reason to disappear, as Boone discovers when one of
her colleagues from the strip club is escorted over the balcony to her death at a fleabag
hotel in a probable case of mistaken identity. Tamara is doing a good job of
making herself scarce, and she has an unlikely ally: a plastic surgeon named
Teddy D-Cup Cole who is apparently interested in more than implanting saline in her chest.
Though Johnny "Banzai" Kodani, the Japanese-American cop, and Boone share
waves every morning, they
sometimes find themselves on opposite sides of Boone's cases. As Winslow says, "They inhabit roughly the same
professional sphere, and there are times when the Venn diagram intersects."
They try to keep business and pleasure separate, but it's not always easy,
especially when Boone withholds evidence. The have a special
surfer rule to cover situations like this, the "jump-in rule." If
Boone and Johnny find themselves on the same wave—or on the same case—it's on.
You do what you have to do and it's nothing personal.
Boone and his former partner, Harrington, are like cats and dogs, Hatfields
and McCoys. This leads to increased friction between Boone and Johnny,
especially at crime scenes. Boone doesn't always keep the best company, either.
He has an uneasy friendship with a Hawaiian drug dealer named Red Eddie he once
did a solid favor for. When Eddie suggests that Boone drop his search for Tamara,
Boone realizes there's more going on than insurance fraud. Unbeknownst to
him, there's a second Dawn Patrol operating in the strawberry fields up the
coast that is up to something far more nefarious than
The Dawn Patrol compares favorably with the Florida novels of Hiaasen and
features scintillating dialog reminiscent of Elmore Leonard. Chapters average about two
with some only a few lines in length. The narrative voice Winslow adopts is casual,
almost conversational, littered with surfer speak (surfbonics, Winslow calls it)
and deep insight into surfer culture, and the history and evolution of San Diego
and its environs. Each member of the Dawn Patrol has an interesting side story
that exposes the truth behind the superficial bliss of their lives. Temptations
that threaten to seduce them away from their lives of apparent ease.
Storms are often used as metaphors for change. Boone's case threatens to tear
apart the Dawn Patrol as the awesome waves bear down on the coast. While the
epic surfing experience was once the only thing on Boone's mind, he thinks about
it less and less as he becomes involved in his investigation because he's much more than a beach bum—he's a guy with a
conscience and a moral compass that always seems to point him in the right
direction, even if he doesn't always play by the rules to get there.
Winslow, a former PI himself, clearly loves his characters and everything
about surfing and SoCal. He loves the smell of the wax, the easy-going lifestyle
and the music, though he blames the Beach Boys for bringing about the downfall
of the pure beach culture by attracting everyone to the coast—the Eagles song
"The Last Resort" resonates more strongly with him. Calling a place Paradise
is its death knell.
The actual plot of The Dawn Patrol has some nice twists and turns, but
it's mostly an "epic crunching macky" wave, carrying the characters along and allowing them to show
their colors as they attempt feats of daring and display. Though it is a
standalone novel, the characters have the kind of legs that would do well in a
series, and it would be a shame if Winslow decided to retire them after just a
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