The Kings Of Cool by Don Winslow (2012)
Ben, Chon and O are three surf-heads in Laguna Beach in 2005 California. They’re Bohemian stalwarts making their way as best they can in an unprincipled world. Chon is a Navy Seal, deployed on a regular basis to Afghanistan where he has little compunction about killing his enemy. Ben is the creator of the best pot to be found this side of the Gates of Heaven. Ben’s weed gets you so high that ET wants it to get home. As much as Ben is a pacifist businessman, so too is Chon the deadly muscle in their drug-dealing business.
O is a beautiful young woman in love with both of her men but only shagging Chon, even though they both suspect it’s not a good idea. Her wealthy mother is a nightmarish follower of whatever latest Californian fad is in play, which makes for a very hectic life for O. But she perseveres.
Life seems to be going reasonably well for the three until, that is, an approach from some heavy-hitters who want a piece of the action. These nasties have cops on their payroll who will stop at nothing to get the job done. With Chon on deployment, Ben is faced with some very tough decisions. As he’s a stubborn bugger, it’s sure to get tasty.
Let’s take a trip into the past. It’s the late sixties and John McAlister is a 17-year-old on the edge of the LA surfer scene. He becomes friendly with a surfing and folk legend known only as Doc who takes him under his wing. Doc’s wing has lots of drugs under it. He’s a marijuana king. John soon becomes a regular feature in the scene and makes a lot of money in the process.
Stan and Diane are hippies who open a bookstore that supplies acid to both novice and initiated alike. Doc is an acquaintance and, before long, a partnership is formed. Copious amounts of weed and acid are soon peddled from the innocuous bookstore as the local surfing fraternity becomes switched on as they drop out.
Kim is a little girl with a mother whose life choices are perhaps not the best. Kim lives in a cave in southern California with the rest of her mum’s hippy commune. Kim hates it there. She’s embarrassed by her life. Her mother is frequently humped by any manner of dandy, including Doc. John McAlister is there, a presence in the cave, but too busy shagging other member of the collective to notice little Kim.
But Kim is a very pretty child and soon to be a stunningly beautiful young woman. She quickly realises that her looks are her ticket out of the chaos of her mother’s madness, and she plans (and schemes) her path to riches and freedom. But that’s not without its troubles as any planner and schemer will tell you.
The Kings of Cool is one of the hippest books you will ever read. It’s the prequel to the massive hit, Savages, and brings us to meet Ben, Chon and O before they reach the top of their homegrown world. There are two separate but ultimately intertwined story-lines, as we learn of how the parents of our three anti-heroes were themselves immersed in the criminal underworld of southern California. But whilst the apples may not have fallen far from the trees, they are of a much sweeter variety. The dawning comparison between the youthful idealism of Ben, Chon and O, as opposed to that of their jaded parents, is dramatic.
The story becomes a beautiful exploration of friends, families and loyalties, both in the sixties and seventies, right up to 2005 when events from the past explode into the present. There is action aplenty. There are drugs. There is sex. There is humour. And there is a wonderful selection of quirky ripostes that will surely bring a smile to your face. It’s difficult not to like the three young adventurers as they search for the easy life, in the same way as it’s easy to feel distaste for their parents.
Don Winslow is one of the best novelists around, and Rebel Voice is a big fan. His plots are about as cleverly interwoven with intrigue and unknowns as you will find anywhere. With The Kings of Cool, Winslow has carried on his proud tradition of making California a place where you would want to live and surf and grow weed. The settings are gloriously depicted, even with the sparse descriptions provided. The character list is highly varied, never boring and uncannily consistent. The pace is unrelenting and the story-line sublime. This is a very good book.
Sult scale rating: 8.5 out of 10. Typically wonderful piece of penmanship from one of the best writers around. The two-strand plot weaves perfectly together to bring about a great ending to this prequel to Savages. This novel is highly recommended.