Don Winslow has a journalistís eye for detail and a satiristís view of the world, devoid of all its fancy trimmings and false fronts. Southern California is the landscape, the world of beautiful people who embrace an iconic existence where reality is held at bay and a good plastic surgeon is as important as an impressive guest list. In Laguna Beach, Ben and Chon live the good life, enjoying a friendship with the very eccentric and spoiled Ophelia (AKA ďOĒ), their incredibly lucrative pot business allowing entrepreneur Ben time and well-being to invest in Third-World countries and Chon the luxury of holding down their multi-million dollar home in Laguna Beach prime real estate, where Ophelia often tarries.
All that changes with the arrival of an email from the Baja Cartel: severed heads float across the screen, newly separated from their bodies, a not-so-subtle hint that it would behoove the two wealthy pot dealers to cooperate. More violence is in store if Ben and Chon donít knuckle down and give in to the violent cartelís demands. Of course, being Ben and Chon and used to calling the shots, they balk at such a brutally-delivered suggestionÖ and things take a turn for the worse.
Dedicated to non-violence, Ben is reluctant, immediately making plans to abdicate the business and move on. But Chon, an ex-Navy SEAL, understands the laws of commerce, and such a threat can only be taken one way. Chon is ready to plunge into all-out war. But before a decision has been made, the guys receive an incentive to cooperate, and ďOĒ isnít too happy either about the change in fortunes. Once the retaliation is unleashed, itís too late to take another tack, and things escalate from one confrontation to another.
With pithy observations about the state of politics and the far reach of the criminal drug network, Winslow leaves no stone unscorched. Compared to Elmore Leonard for his short, staccato dialogue and sense of timing, it would be a mistake to take this writer lightly or underestimate the depths of his talents. Power of the Dog proved Winslow has paid his dues. And, while often hilarious, Savages is ultimately a tragedy, a testament to the marginalization of a society too concerned with the moment and ignorant of the cost of luxury. But in sunny California, where the good life beckons on the time payment plan, itís hard to remember the carnage that exists across the Mexican border or the casual value of a human life.
As a local author, it is delightful to read Winslowís send-up of my neighborhood and surrounding areas, violent as it is, his acerbic wit as accurate as ever and as scathingly honest when it comes to the so-called War on Drugs, politics and the greed of mankind. Winslow isnít really a cynic though he often sounds like one, especially in this novel. Heís a realist and a man unafraid to call out what he sees, even if itís couched in humor and shock: Southern California in all its decadent beauty, the glitter peeling and the horizon peopled with savages ready to conquer.