Friday, October 17, 2014

Flashback Friday :: A Cool Breeze On The Underground

Flashback Fridays are set aside for a few words about a book, movie, television show, album or other favorite thing from my past I think may be worthy of your time.

On this inaugural Friday, that favorite thing is a book from the long ago and very recent past. I read Don Winslow's A Cool Breeze on the Underground when it came out in 1991, coming across it fortuitously while perusing a bookstore mystery section (remember those days?). That's when I first fell in love with the Neal Carey series and the writing of Don Winslow.

Last week I started to revisit the series, of which there are five entries, this time on audiobook. I was pleased, though not really surprised, that it held up incredibly well after 24 years. There's not much an author can do when language changes and phone booths become obsolete. But progress can't change the fact that the book is smart, funny as hell, and engaging from start to finish. Winslow's self-assured, kickass writing was definitely a portent of the excellence to come in the decades that followed Cool Breeze. In addition, Winslow brings obvious authenticity to the private investigation details, having worked in the profession himself.

Cool Breeze presents both a real time (i.e., 1976 in this case) mystery and flashbacks to tell the story of how Neal came to be...well, Neal. At age 11 he is semi-orphaned by a junkie mother and non-present father, picking New York pockets to survive. Ultimately mentored by one of his marks, Joe Graham, a diminutive one-armed PI, Neal learns the tricks of the trade.

An astute student, Neal is brought into the fold of Joe's employer, "Friends of the Family," a discreet private investigation agency started by a wealthy, bank-owning New England family. A 23-year-old 18th Century English Lit major at Columbia when Cool Breeze takes place, Neal would rather spend his time in school than taking on Family business.

Given little choice in the matter after he is hand-picked for a job by the head of the Family, Neal travels to London to track down the runaway daughter of Senator John Chase. The case is complicated by the requirement that Neal have Allie home in time to appear at the Democratic National Convention, as her father hopes to be tapped as the Vice-Presidential nominee.

Of course, things aren't all they appear to be, either within the Chase family or the Family itself, and Neal has to dig deep into his bag of tricks to get the job done.

Once you've read and devoured the Neal Carey series, you're going to want to check out the rest of Don's work, which includes:

• Isle of Joy
• The Death and Life of Bobby Z
• California Fire and Life
• The Power of the Dog
• The Winter of Frankie Machine
• The Dawn Patrol (Boone Daniels)
• The Gentlemen's Hour (Boone Daniels)
• Savages (Ben, Chon & O)
• Satori
• The Kings of Cool (Ben, Chon & O prequel)

The Power of the Dog is one of my favorite books of all time and I'd highly recommend you read it before the much-anticipated sequel comes out next year.

Also, if you ever get a chance to attend one of Don's events, do so. You won't be disappointed.

To get a newcomer started, and as a bonus for hanging with me through these "few" words, I'll buy the ebook of A Cool Breeze on the Underground for the first "new to Winslow" reader to request one in the comments.



Chris said...

I haven't read nearly enough Winslow for as much as I've liked what I HAVE read (The Dawn Patrol and Savages is all). I also have a used mass market copy of The Death and Life of Bobby Z as well, but haven't read it. Damn!

Malcolm Avenue Review said...

You have some good stuff waiting if you keep going. On top of Power of the Dog, I think you'd really like The Winter of Frankie Machine. Thanks for stopping by, Chris!

About Malcolm Avenue Review

I was lucky enough to be born and raised in a nifty, oak-shaded ranch house on Malcolm Avenue, a wide-laned residential street with little through traffic, located amid the foothills of Northern California. It was on that street and in that house I learned most of my adolescent life lessons, and many grown-up ones to boot. Malcolm Avenue was "home" for more than thirty years.

It was on Malcolm Avenue, through and with my family and the other families that made up our neighborhood of characters, that I first learned about and gained an appreciation for the things I continue to love the most to this day: music, animals, photography, sports, television/movies and, of course, books.

I owe a debt of gratitude to that life on Malcolm Avenue. It gave me a sense of community and friendship, support and adventure. For better and worse, life on that street likely had the biggest impact on the person I've become. So this blog, and the things I write here, are all, at their base level, a little bit of a love letter to Malcolm Avenue.


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