Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Book Review: Savages (2010) by Don Winslow

Savages by Don Winslow

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Blurb: The smash hit thriller about two young marijuana dealers who are blackmailed into a partnership with a Mexican cartel."Baditude." Bad attitude. Ben, Chon, and O have a bad case of it, but so would you if you were the twenty-something, Laguna-cool producers of the best hydro on the Left Coast and now a powerful and vicious Mexican cartel wants in on your business. Ben's a genius botanist out to save the world. Chon's a former SEAL with a "Lack Of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder." O is a South Orange County slacker girl who loves them both. When the cartel kidnaps O to keep the boys in line, serious baditude breaks out in this twenty-first century thriller that blasts through all the old rules and blows the lid off the genre. But that's baditude for you.

Thoughts: F*ck you.
That is the entire first chpater of this book. And the baditude doesn't let up for a moment.

I really had no idea what to expect with this book. It's been recommended to me for months by Goodreads as something similar to James Ellroy but if that is the case then it is a stripped back raw Ellroy for the 21st Century. The closest comparison I had was Nobody Move which had the same urgent feel and post Tarantino dialogue to it but none of the subtleties that leaves Savages as fantastic unputdownable achievement. I literally hated putting this book down for even a second.

In theory I couldn't care less for reading about drug cartels and turf wars but what Winslow does so well is to tell that story through the lives of such incredibly well written and interesting characters as Chon, Ben and O. They're not fully fleshed out people who share their life stories (as in some of those really tedious popular novels that seem to get churned out) but they are recognisable as people we all know with all the hallmarks of humanity and very unique voices. The same can also be said of Don Winslow. He just rips up the rule book for writing a black as night crime novel.
"Whatever happened to morality?"
"Same thing that happened to CD's, replaced by newer, faster, easier technology."
It's not just the snappy believable dialogue that makes the ride so much fun it is the constant playing with words, formatting, the justification on the page, that increases the enjoyment. To know that every word is placed in it's exact position for a reason gives the text an extra layer of subtlety and meaning and the pleasure that Don Winslow takes in words (even adding a love of words as a character trait for Chon) is infectious. Should you really be laughing out loud in a book that features mass killings, hostage taking and beheadings? For these reasons I might suggest that Savages shares a lot of it's attitude (amongst other things) with another of my recent loves Shoplifting from American Apparel.

This is an American novel that analyses post 9/11, post Obama America in such a way as to bathe it in bright flourescent light, all it's failings and weaknesses shown as plain as day. It is a bold move for an American to write this stuff, almost constantly bashing every little detail of the 21st century American dream gone wrong.

Click here for my review of the movie adaptation.

Additional reading:
The Blonde by Duane Swierczynski
Pariah by Dave Zeltserman
Money Shot by Christa Faust

View all my book reviews


  1. Will you be doing a review of the terrible movie?

  2. In the process of getting screenshots for it. Im sure itll be ready by tomorrow. Whether its too late to really warn people to avoid it i dont know.

  3. OK I'm convinced. But I think after reading the book, I'll be forced to watch the film just to see how bad it is.

    1. Oh shit. Catch 22. Don't do it then. Don Winslow is a great author. I'm sure you'll enjoy his other stuff just as much. Nothing is worth the tedium of the movie, not even a good book.

  4. I have the film to watch. Shall I read this first or after?

    1. The movie's a stinker, you probably won't want to read the book afterwards.

      I've reviewed some other books, they've all been pretty good but this is definitely the most accessible. If i had to pick one t'd be this or The Death of Grass