I remember when Don Winslow's Savages came out. It was kind of a publishing event, and a lot of people were excited about it. I was aware of Winslow, and some of my crime-reading friends admired his work. I was mildly interested, but I suspected that he was an average bestselling author along the lines of Patterson and Sandford. I figured he would be competent at the very least, though there was a good chance the work was pretty standard.

Then there is Oliver Stone. As a director Stone is responsible for some of the most important and gripping films of the '80s and '90s. But something happened along the way. It happens to a lot of filmmakers. I wasn't particularly fond of anything after U-Turn.

Oliver Stone adapted Don Winlsow's Savages for the screen. Critical reaction was mixed and the trailer looked unappealing to me. I wrote the whole thing off.

Cut to seven years later. Don Winslow published a novel called The Force in 2017. As always I was looking for something to break the horror tedium. Yes, I still love horror, but I need a break now and then. I saw Stephen King gushing over The Force, so I took a chance and borrowed a copy from the library.

And was blown away. The Force is, please forgive me, a tour-de-force. It's an operatic story of the fall from grace of a hero NYC police detective. Rarely have I ever read a novel that is as rich and thought-provoking. I considered The Force to be one of the very best books I have ever, ever, read.

I went back to my usual horror, occasional science fiction, literary, but I made a point to get back to Winslow. I read and greatly enjoyed his two novels about surfer-private dick Boone Daniels. I didn't think it was possible, but I loved The Dawn Patrol and The Gentlemen's Hour even more than The Force. Don Winslow became one of my favorite writers.

I still had Savages in the back of my mind, despite harboring some misgivings. The plot sounded like typical cartel crime fiction. When I nabbed a copy of the Savages hardcover at a library sale for fifty cents a few weeks ago, I didn't hesitate to put it near the top of my reading stack.

Thank God I only paid fifty cents. Honestly, had I started with Savages, I would not have finished the book, and I never would have picked up another Winslow title.

I know a lot of people loved Savages, and it was Don Winslow's breakout book. To me it is grotesquely overwritten. Winslow tries so hard to be cool and hip that my teeth started to hurt while reading it. I was shuddering with revulsion at parts.

You have three filthy rich stoner slackers. One guy is a warrior and a certified killing machine. He has "baditude". If you didn't catch that clever piece of wordplay the first time, don't worry. Winslow reminds the reader of it again. And again. And again.

The other guy is a peacenik. Don't expect anything as entertaining or emotionally resonant as a Hap and Leonard story. These guys are boring. They are profoundly unlikable. They are not credible characters. I didn't believe in them for a minute.

Then there is a girl to complete the threesome. I think we are supposed to be charmed by her free spirit. She dreams of being a reality TV star. She loves "spanking" her mother's credit card at boutiques. To drive the point home, an entire chapter is devoted to listing the stores she loves.

The girl is kidnapped by a generic drug cartel. Her boy toys will go to any length to get her back. I'd have let them keep her.

By the way, this prime specimen of womanhood is named Ophelia, but usually shortened to "O". At one point the baditude guy is swimming as part of a rescue maneuver, and he is working toward an "O-lympic gold medal". Cute little ditties like that pepper the book.

These three soulless creations are evidently supposed to be the epitome of cool. I was vaguely repulsed by them.

It isn't all bad. There are some sharp observations in Savages, and some of the secondary characters are well-developed. The end is very nicely done. I kept reading, but the very short chapters helped. It was kind of like stress eating bad junk food. You know you should stop, but you barrel on.

A lot of people love Savages, so I dunno. No novel is for everyone, and this one is emphatically not my kind of book. I'll certainly read Winslow again. One I won't waste my time on is a prequel to Savages, called, yeah, The Kings of Cool.

I hate to be so hard on any book, but I can't remember the last time I disliked one so acutely.

Written by Mark Sieber

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