Pulp Noir Meets Modern-Day L.A.: Savages, by Don Winslow
Pulp noir has landed in Los Angeles. The year is 2010. We are introduced to Don Winslow’s Savages with an expletive directed at the reader. And so the tone is set.
We first meet Ben, Chon, and O in Ben’s condo, situated on a bluff overlooking Table Rock Beach in Laguna. Chon, semi-retired Navy Seal; Ben, child of two hippie shrinks, graduate of Berkeley with a double major in marketing and botany, hell-bent on saving the world one developing country at a time; O (short for Ophelia), daughter of a woman who is living the high life, on husband number six, and more of a mother than O ever cared for. They’re one motley crew. The men have been buddies since pre-school; the female component of the trio is intimately involved with both of them, depending on their mood. The guys run a marijuana operation to rival any other in the world. Ben’s botany degree has helped him cultivate the most sought-after weed on the west coast and his business sense helps keep their clients happy and the money clean; Chon’s SEAL training makes him a natural fit as the brawn of the operation, brawn that’s rarely needed as their business is kept relatively tame.
Enter the Baja Cartel, led by Elena Sanchez Lauter. This new cartel wants to move up from Mexico into Orange County – into Ben and Chon’s territory – and so they offer the men a distribution deal. But Ben and Chon aren’t buying – until the cartel, whose history of violence of the decapitation sort would make the strongest shudder, kidnaps O. The deal is set. O will remain in the custody of the Mexican cartel for three years while Ben and Chon work with them, providing distribution of their high-grade hydro while taking a cut of the sales – or until they come up with twenty million dollars. The men feign cooperation in a plan that results in shootouts, thefts, lies – and suddenly things are near out of control.
Savages is a fast-paced thrill ride of a story, true. But how best to describe the tone? If Quentin Tarantino and Bret Easton Ellis got together to write a book, it might read something like Savages. It’s not for the faint of heart or the weak of stomach. Keep that in mind, too, when the movie hits theaters this summer. Oliver Stone has adapted the book for the big screen, with a screenplay co-written by Winslow and Shane Salerno of “Armageddon” and “Shaft” fame. The film stars Blake Lively, Taylor Kitsch, Aaron Johnson, Salma Hayek, Benicio Del Toro, and John Travolta.
Bonus: If after reading Savages you want more, Winslow’s prequel to the story, Kings of Cool, has just arrived.