Don Winslow hangs with ‘The Kings of Cool’

Have you seen the new Oliver Stone film “Savages”? The movie is based on Don Winslow’s best-selling novel of the same name. If you have caught the flick and/or read the book, then you know that it involves a couple of high-flying Southern California dope dealers and their girlfriend.

The dealers, Ben and Chon, have established a profitable illicit enterprise. They are cultivating potent marijuana inside secret grow houses then marketing the product in the San Diego area. In “Savages” a violent Mexican drug cartel wants to take over their business. When the guys refuse to cooperate the cartel kidnaps their girlfriend, O, and holds her hostage.

Universal Studios was apparently so high on this film that they moved up the release date from September in the hope of enticing more adults inside theaters this summer. This development must have been a pleasant surprise for Don Winslow and his publisher. Winslow’s prequel to “Savages,” “The Kings of Cool,” just came out.

This prequel provides readers with the foundation for what transpired in the first book. So I suppose that technically “Savages” is actually the sequel to this new book. It can get confusing.

In “The Kings of Cool” we are taken back to the year 1967. In Laguna Beach a budding entrepreneur named Raymond “Doc” Halliday has a lucrative business smuggling pot up from Baja in his 1954 Plymouth.

Doc followed that cliche’d progression into doing harder drugs. A young couple opened a book store in Laguna. They sold books and “incense, sandals, psychedelic posters, rock albums, tie-dyed T-shirts, macrame’ bracelets…” and LSD.

They gave Doc some acid: “Doc goes back into the water, gets into the wave, and discovers that the molecules that form the wave are the same molecules that form him.” You can probably see where this is heading.

Doc’s concept of philanthropy consists of giving away tacos to surfers, hippies, runaways, and druggies. Doc’s dope smuggling provides him the luxury of surfing all day and smoking all the weed he desires. One day Doc hands some tacos to a teenager, John McAlister.

This marks the beginning of their partnership. Young John gets involved with the criminal organization “The Association.” This shadowy group quickly recognized that far more money could be made by smuggling narcotics like cocaine.

Forty years pass. We encounter young Ben, Chon, and O, the nickname for Ophelia. As we decipher the underlying relationships that have brought them together it is quite a surprise. I won’t spoil this by enumerating their complicated family connections.

Ben and Chon are just getting rolling in the marijuana trade. Chon is still serving in the military in Afghanistan when a guy approaches Ben in Laguna Beach and attempts to intimidate him into paying out protection money.

There are no good guys here. Ben and Chon are drug dealers who are usually way too stoned. There’s a crooked DEA agent. Then there are those extremely bad dudes.

Winslow’s writing style in these books is punchy and pithy and so so cool. I interviewed the author last year. He told me that if I’m ever in his area that he would show me the best place to get a fish taco. After reading this book I’m convinced he knows that for certain.

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