Remember the thrill of first love? That inexplicable, special something deep down in the pit of your stomach that feels like it's left earth's gravity and is caroming off into outer space? It happens with your significant other or spouse, but it also happens with books, too. The first time you discover an author, the special ways the prose is styled, the particular nuance of storytelling, it's magical. That's how I felt when I read Don Winslow's 2008 book, The Dawn Patrol. It was, by far, the best book I read that year and, had The Dark Knight not premiered in July of that year, Winslow's book would have been the best thing I consumed all year.
Finally, three long years later, the sequel arrives. The Gentlemen's Hour does exactly what a sequel is supposed to do: return you to the place you discovered, to the fictional people with whom you have a bond, in prose that breathes life into nonexistent folks. Boone Daniels is a man's man, the kind of guy someone like me pines to emulate but knows, in reality, could never be. He likes to surf with his friends. That's kind of about it. Whereas Anthony Bourdain has the mantra "I write, I travel, I eat, and I'm hungry for more," Boone Daniels would probably say "I surf, with my friends, and watch the sunset, what more do I need?" He's a PI only so far as to keep the lights on and pay for food. As bohemian as that sounds, it's not a lifestyle to be admired.
Which is why he basically takes almost any job that comes his way, seeing as he doesn't have a line of potential customers outside his door. Unfortunately for Daniels, the job that comes his way is with the defense attorney for Corey Blasingame. You see, Blasingame stands accused of killing one Kelly Kuhio, the absolute zen master of surfdom in SoCal, the kind of man all sides admire. This doesn't sit well with Boone's core group of friends: Hang Twelve, Hide Tide, Dave the Love God, and Johnny Banzai. They all think Corey should just be lynched. As does the rest of the SoCal surfing community. Heck, Johnny, a San Diego cop, was the detective on Blasingame's case, so any headway Boone can make on the case, he has to take on Johnny and take him down a peg or two. Not a good way to keep your friends.
Then there's Petra Hall. Hot British chick, lawyer for Blasingame's attorney, uppity, and definitely not a surfer. She's basically the one main female character in a book populated by macho men, so she has to hold her own. She and Boone have a thing, but neither know precisely what it is. Sunny Day, the one female surfer from The Dawn Patrol, is absent from this one save for a scene. For most of the book, Petra and Boone struggle with determining what, if anything, they have together. There's the professional sides of both of them, and then there's that magnetism where opposites attract.
As you can imagine, the deeper Boone digs into the case, the deeper the fractures become among the Dawn Patrol. Friendship hang by a thread and loyalties are questioned. I'm not as versed in PI literature as other people are, but I know enough to know that many PIs are loners. Not Boone. He relies on his friends and hates to pursue this case. But he does it because that's what the dead Kuhio would want him to do. It's almost as if Kuhio is the Obi Wan Kenobi to Boone's Luke Skywalker.
For as powerful a writer as Winslow is, as completely as he controls the pace, the prose, and the scope of this book, if you don't have a good ending, the entire book could be tarnished. Have no fear. He delivers an ending that completely satisfied all that I wanted in this book. And he does it in a language so "of the area" that it makes me want to hope on a board and surf...even though I can't surf. Winslow's sense of place is that palpable.
The number one problem most of us have with sequels (or series titles) is the sameness of it all. Meh, we might say, I've seen that before. Or, whatever, there was just too much. Not so with The Gentlemen's Hour. Here, we have character progression in Boone, but his core remains the same. He still possesses that which we fell in love with back in The Dawn Patrol, but this is clearly not The Dawn Patrol II. That's what makes a good sequel.
To quoth the sage of surfdom, it was epic macking crunchy.
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