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Posted: January 24, 2021

Winslow takes readers to new levels of possibility

Book Review

By Derryll White

Winslow, Don (2010).  Savages.

‘Savages’ is Don Winslow moving from his strong but whimsical view of the world – ‘The Kings of Cool’, ‘Way Down on the High Lonely’ and ‘The Gentlemen’s Way’ – into the maniacal, violent, bloodied world of ‘The Cartel’ and ‘The Power of the Dog.’

This novel is an exploration of Southern California – specifically Orange County – culture, loaded with money, ennui and self-absorption and moving into the emerging drug culture.  Caring and gentleness lock horns with terror, chainsaws and bloodlust.

The three central characters are Ben, Chon and O (Ophelia).  Ben is a genius botanist who has perfected the production of the ultimate marijuana strains.  Chon is a former SEAL who is life-long friends with Ben, a partner in the grow-op business, who possesses a hard, steely edge and cannot be pushed or threatened.  O loves them both and makes them the centre of her world.

Winslow maintains the humour in his story as he moves it forward into chaos and oblivion.  Human values shift, intellectual certainties flutter and change as the Baja Cartel grows into a real and imperative monster.  The author is very observant and brings the reader into an acceptance of the belief that all things change.  The motives are believable and the consequences are understandable although removed from the realities of most readers.

I like Don Winslow. In each novel he asks the reader to engage and then transports him/her to new levels of possibility. ‘Savages’ is very readable.


Excerpts from the novel:

BASICS – The wine world is basically divided into red and white.  (We ain’t gonna go far with this – wine types are almost as hateful as tweekers.  Every great wine-tasting session should end with arsenic.)

The cannabis world is basically divided into indica and sativa.

Not to put too fine a point on it, indicas basically have a higher dose of CBDs than THCs and sativas have the reverse ratio.

Got it?

POLITICS – Chon used to hate Democrats as weak-kneed yuppie hypocrites, a party of closeted gay men too gutless to come out and stand up for who they are.  He still does, but since Iraq – since the Sock Puppet got his leash yanked by Mr. Wilson – who Chon really hates are Republican politicians.  Not to put too fine a point on it, Chon thinks they should be hunted down like rabid dogs, shot, and tossed into a common pit, with lime poured over their rotting corpses so they don’t emerge some Hallowe’en night like the zombies they would otherwise become.


SAVAGE – Chon has always known that there are two worlds:

The savage.

The less savage.

The savage is the world of pure raw power, survival of the fittest, drug cartels and death squads, dictators and strongmen, terrorist attacks, gang wars, tribal hatreds, mass murder, mass rape.

The less savage is the world of pure civilized power, governments and armies, multinationals and banks, oil companies, shock-and-awe, death-from-the-sky, genocide, mass economic rape.  And Chon knows – they’re the same world.

– Derryll White once wrote books but now chooses to read and write about them.  When not reading he writes history for the web at www.basininstitute.org.

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