From the bestselling author of Savages (now an Oliver Stone film).
As cool as its California surfer heroes, Don Winslow delivers a high velocity, darkly comic, and totally righteous crime novel.
Every morning Boone Daniels catches waves with the other members of The Dawn Patrol: four men and one woman as single-minded about surfing as he is. Or nearly. They have "real j-o-b-s"; Boone, however, works as a PI just enough to keep himself afloat. But Boone's most recent gig-investigating an insurance scam—has unexpectedly led him to a ghost from his past. And while he may have to miss the biggest swell of his surfing career, this job is about to give him a wilder ride than anything he's ever encountered. Filled with killer waves and a coast line to break your heart, The Dawn Patrol will leave you gasping for air.
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
1The marine layer wraps a soft silver blanket over the coast.The sun is just coming over the hills to the east, and Pacific Beach is still asleep.The ocean is a color that is not quite blue, not quite green, not quite black, but something somewhere between all three.Out on the line, Boone Daniels straddles his old longboard like a cowboy on his pony.He’s on The Dawn Patrol.2The girls look like ghosts.Coming out of the early-morning mist, their silver forms emerge from a thin line of trees as the girls pad through the wet grass that edges the field. The dampness muffles their footsteps, so they approach silently, and the mist that wraps around their legs makes them look as if they’re floating. Like spirits who died as children.There are eight of them and they are children; the oldest is fourteen, the youngest ten. They walk toward the waiting men in unconscious lockstep.The men bend over the mist like giants over clouds, peering down into their universe. But the men aren’t giants; they’re workers, and their universe is the seemingly endless strawberry field that they do not rule, but that rules them. They’re glad for the cool mist—it will burn off soon enough and leave them to the sun’s indifferent mercy.The men are stoop laborers, bent at the waist for hours at a time, tending to the plants. They’ve made the dangerous odyssey up from Mexico to work in these fields, to send money back to their families south of the border.They live in primitive camps of corrugated tin shacks, jerry-rigged tents, and lean-tos hidden deep in the narrow canyons above the fields. There are no women in the camps, and the men are lonely. Now they look up to sneak guilty glances at the wraithlike girls coming out of the mist. Glances of need, even though many of these men are fathers, with daughters the ages of these girls.Between the edge of the field and the banks of the river stands a thick bed of reeds, into which the men have hacked little dugouts, almost caves. Now some of the men go into the reeds and pray that the dawn will not come too soon or burn too brightly and expose their shame to the eyes of God.3It’s dawn at the Crest Motel, too.Sunrise isn’t a sight that a lot of the residents see, unless it’s from the other side—unless they’re just going to bed instead of just getting up.Only two people are awake now, and neither of them is the desk clerk, who’s catching forty in the office, his butt settled into the chair, his feet propped on the counter. Doesn’t matter. Even if he were awake, he couldn’t see the little balcony of room 342, where the woman is going over the railing.Her nightgown flutters above her.An inadequate parachute.She misses the pool by a couple of feet and her body lands on the concrete with a dull thump.Not loud enough to wake anyone up.The guy who tossed her looks down just long enough to make sure she’s dead. He sees her neck at the funny angle, like a broken doll. Watches her blood, black in the faint light, spread toward the pool.Water seeking water.4“Epic macking crunchy.”That’s how Hang Twelve describes the imminent big swell to Boone Daniels, who actually understands what Hang Twelve is saying, because Boone speaks fluent Surfbonics. Indeed, off to Boone’s right, just to the south, waves are smacking the pilings beneath Crystal Pier. The ocean feels heavy, swollen, pregnant with promise.The Dawn Patrol—Boone, Hang Twelve, Dave the Love God, Johnny Banzai, High Tide, and Sunny Day—sits out there on the line, talking while they wait for the next set to come in. They all wear black winter wet suits that cover them from their wrists to their ankles, because the earlymorning water is cold, especially now that it’s stirred up by the approaching storm.This morning’s interstitial conversation revolves around the big swell, a once-every-twenty-years burgeoning of the surf now rolling toward the San Diego coast like an out-of-control freight train. It’s due in two days, and with it the gray winter sky, some rain, and the biggest waves that any of The Dawn Patrol have seen in their adult lives.It’s going to be, as Hang Twelve puts it, “epic macking crunchy.”Which, roughly translated from Surfbonics, is a term of approbation.It’s going to be good, Boone knows. They might even see twenty-foot peaks coming in every thirty seconds or so. Double overheads, tubes like tunnels, real thunder crushers that could easily take you over the falls and dump you into the washing machine.Only the best surfers need apply.Boone qualifies.While it’s an exaggeration to say that Boone could surf before he could walk, it’s the dead flat truth that he could surf before he could run. Boone is the ultimate “locie”—he was conceived on the beach, born half a mile away, and raised three blocks from where the surf breaks at high tide. His dad surfed; his mom surfed—hence the conceptual session on the sand. In fact, his mom surfed well into the sixth month of her pregnancy, so maybe it isn’t an exaggeration to say that Boone could surf before he could walk.So Boone’s been a waterman all his life, and then some.The ocean is his backyard, his haven, his playground, his refuge, his church. He goes into the ocean to get well, to get clean, to remind himself that life is a ride. Boone believes that a wave is God’s tangible message that all the great things in life are free. Boone gets free every day, usually two or three times a day, but always, always, out on The Dawn Patrol.Boone Daniels lives to surf.He doesn’t want to talk about the big swell right now, because talking about it might jinx it, cause the swell to lie down and die into the deep recesses of the north Pacific. So even though Hang Twelve is looking at him with his usual expression of unabashed hero worship, Boone changes the subject to an old standard out on the Pacific Beach Dawn Patrol line.The List of Things That Are Good.They started the List of Things That Are Good about fifteen years ago, back when they were in high school, when Boone and Dave’s social studies teacher challenged them to “get their priorities straight.”The list is flexible—items are added or deleted; the rankings change—but the current List of Things That Are Good would read as follows, if, that is, it were written down, which it isn’t:1. Double overheads.2. Reef break.3. The tube.4. Girls who will sit on the beach and watch you ride double overheads, reef break, and the tube. (Inspiring Sunny’s remark that “Girls watch—women ride.”)5. Free stuff.6. Longboards.7. Anything made by O’Neill.8. All-female outrigger canoe teams.9. Fish tacos.10. Big Wednesday.“I propose,” Boone says to the line at large, “moving fish tacos over all-female outrigger canoe teams.”“From ninth to eighth?” Johnny Banzai asks, his broad, generally serious face breaking into a smile. Johnny Banzai’s real name isn’t Banzai, of course. It’s Kodani, but if you’re a Japanese-American and a seriously radical, nose-first, balls-out, hard-charging surfer, you’re just going to get glossed either “Kamikaze” or “Banzai,” you just are. But as Boone and Dave the Love God decided that Johnny is just too rational to be suicidal, they decided on Banzai.When Johnny Banzai isn’t banzaiing, he’s a homicide detective with the San Diego Police Department, and Boone knows that he welcomes the opportunity to argue about things that aren’t grim. So he’s on it. “Basically flip-flopping them?” Johnny Banzai asks. “Based on what?” “Deep thought and careful consideration,” Boone replies.Hang Twelve is shocked. The young soul surfer stares at Boone with a look of hurt innocence, his wet goatee dropping to the black neoprene of his winter wet suit, his light brown dreadlocks falling on his shoulder as he cocks his head. “But, Boone—all-female outrigger canoe teams?”Hang Twelve loves the women of the all-female outrigger canoe teams. Whenever they paddle by, he just sits on his board and stares.“Listen,” Boone says, “most of those women play for the other team.”“What other team?” Hang Twelve asks.“He’s so young,” Johnny observes, and as usual, his observation is accurate. Hang Twelve is a dozen years younger than the rest of The Dawn Patrol. They tolerate him because he’s such an enthusiastic surfer and sort of Boone’s puppy; plus, he gives them the locals’ discount at the surf shop he works at.“What other team?” Hang Twelve asks urgently.Sunny Day leans over her board and whispers to him.Sunny looks just like her name. Her blond hair glows like sunshine. A force of nature—tall, long-legged—Sunny is exactly what Brian Wilson meant when he wrote that he wished they all could be California girls.Except that Brian’s dream girl usually sat on the beach, whereas Sunny surfs. She’s the best surfer on The Dawn Patrol, better than Boone, and the coming big swell could lift her from waitress to full-time professional surfer. One good photo of Sunny shredding a big wave could get her a sponsorship from one of the major surf-clothing companies, and then there’ll be no stopping her. Now she takes it upon herself to explain to Hang Twelve that most of the females on the all-female outrigger canoe teams are rigged out for females.Hang Twelve lets out a devastated groan.“You just ripped a boy’s dreams,” Boone tells Sunny.“Not necessarily,” Dave the Love God says with a smug smile.“Don’t even start,” Sunny says.“Is it my bad,” Dave asks, “that women love me?”It’s not, really. Dave the Love God has a face and physique that would have caused a run on marble in ancient Greece. But it’s not even so much Dave’s body that gets him sex as it is his confidence. Dave is confident that he’s going to get laid, and he’s in a profession that puts him in a perfect position to have a shot at every snow-zone turista who comes to San Diego to get tanned. He’s a lifeguard, and this is how he got his moniker, because Johnny Banzai, who completes the New York Times crossword in ink, said, “You’re not a ‘life guard’; you’re a ‘love god.’ Get it?”Yeah, the whole Dawn Patrol got it, because they have all seen Dave the Love Guard crawl up to his lifeguard tower while guzzling handfuls of vitamin E to replace the depletion from the night before and get ready for the night ahead.“They actually give me binoculars,” he marveled to Boone one day, “with the explicit expectation that I will use them to look at scantily clad women. And some people say there’s no God.”So if any hominid with a package could get an all-female outrigger canoe team member (or several of them) to issue a gender exemption for a night or two, it would be Dave, and judging by the self-satisfied lascivious smile on his grille right now, he probably has.Hang Twelve is still not convinced. “Yeah, but, fish tacos?”“It depends on the kind of fish in the taco,” says High Tide, né Josiah Pamavatuu, weighing in on the subject. Literally weighing in, because the Samoan crashes the scales at well over three and a half bills. Hence the tag“High Tide,” because the ocean level rises anytime he gets in the water. So High Tide’s opinion on food commands respect, because he obviously knows what he’s talking about. The whole crew is aware that your Pacific Island types know their fish. “Are you talking about yellowtail, ono, opah, mahimahi, shark, or what? It makes a difference, ranking-wise.”“Everything,” Boone says, “tastes better on a tortilla.”This is an article of faith with Boone. He’s lived his life with it and believes it to be true. You take anything—fish, chicken, beef, cheese, eggs, even peanut butter and jelly—and fold them in the motherly embrace of a warm flour tortilla and all those foods respond to the love by upping their game.Everything does taste better on a tortilla.“Outside!” High Tide yells.Boone looks over his shoulder to see the first wave of what looks to be a tasty set coming in.“Party wave!” hollers Dave the Love God, and he, High Tide, Johnny, and Hang Twelve get on it, sharing the ride into shore. Boone and Sunny hang back for the second wave, which is a little bigger, a little fuller, and has a better shape.“Your wave!” Boone yells to her.“Chivalrous or patronizing, you decide!” Sunny yells back, but she paddles in. Boone gets on the wave right behind her and they ride the shoulder in together, a skillful pas de deux on the white water.Boone and Sunny walk up onto the beach, because the morning session is over and The Dawn Patrol is coming in. This is because, with the exception of Boone, they all have real j-o-b-s.So Johnny’s already stepping out of the outdoor shower and sitting in the front seat of his car putting on his detective clothes—blue shirt, brown tweed jacket, khaki slacks—when his cell phone goes off. Johnny listens to the call, then says, “A woman took a header off a motel balcony. Another day in paradise.”“I don’t miss that,” Boone says.“And it doesn’t miss you,” Johnny replies.This is true. When Boone pulled the pin at SDPD, his lieutenant’s only regret was that it hadn’t been attached to a grenade. Despite his remark, Johnny disagrees—Boone was a good cop. Avery good cop.It was a shame what happened.But now Boone is following High Tide’s eyes back out to the ocean, at which the big man is gazing with an almost reverential intensity.“It’s coming,” High Tide says. “The swell.”“Big?” Boone asks.“Not big,” says High Tide. “Huge.”Areal thunder crusher.Like, ka-boom.
A Conversation with Don Winslow, author of THE DAWN PATROL
Q: Okay the first and most obvious, do you surf and are you any good? I believe you once
described your surfing skills as limited to falling and swimming.
A: I do, but I pretty much suck. I’m awkward anyway – a friend once said that I walk like a broken duck – so balance isn’t my best thing. Also, we’ve moved an hour inland from the beach, to an old ranch, so I’m more into my ‘cowboy’ phase. But I do keep a wetsuit in the trunk of my car, and if I’m near the coast, I usually pop in for at least a body-surfing session. I do love it.
Q: Surfing has featured in your previous novels but never as front and center as in THE
DAWN PATROL. Have you been thinking about writing a big surfing novel for a long
time? What made you want to do it now?
A: Yeah, I have been. You know that old adage, ‘Write what you know.’ I’d amend it to, ‘Write what you know and love,’ because you’re going to be spending a whole lot of time there. I’d spent years doing a pretty grim book about the drug trade, then a mob book, so going to the beach seemed like a nice break. But really I’ve always wanted to try to capture in words what had always been an ineffable fascination in my life. I was raised along the ocean and have been in the surf since I can remember. My dad took me out and taught me about waves. The ocean has always been my refuge and my catharsis, if that’s not overly pretentious. I walked to the beach after my father’s funeral. The sound of a wave going off still gets my heart pounding, and I never feel as good, or as much at peace, as when I come out of the ocean after a good, rough session. Food tastes better, I sleep great. . . I hope I captured some of that in the written word.
Q: Like your last novel, The Winter of Frankie Machine, THE DAWN PATROL follows
characters that live at the intersection of the laid-back surfing culture and the shadowy
underworld. What about these seemingly disparate subcultures brings them together so
seamlessly for you?
A: The contrast. You know, you stand up on a bluff, for instance, and look at that wonderful, sunny, blue southern California scene and it’s beautiful. But you know that simultaneously, there’s a whole lot of ugly stuff going on there. At first it seems dissonant, but on deeper inspection there’s a harmony, a yin-and-yang to it. Some of the beautiful houses were built with drug money; some of those drugs were brought in on that ocean you’re looking at, by some of the surfers who are in the break. So it is seamless. It’s kind of like the ocean itself – one moment it’s placid and benign, and then - WHAM - it tries to kill you. But it’s still the same ocean, yeah?
Q: There is a lot of colorful surfing jargon used in THE DAWN PATROL, like ‘epic
macking crunchy.’ Did you borrow these terms from the existing surfing lexicon or are they
your own creation?
A: No, it all comes from current surfbonics. Of course, it’s always changing. Which I love. I also love that mélange of Californo-American, Hawaiian, Samoan, Mexican that makes up surf jargon. There’s a sort of democracy, maybe anarchy, of speech that’s perfectly expressive. And funny. I like the humor of surfspeak, which is usually self-deprecating as a lot of it refers to common experiences of screwing up. Surf conversations are just funny.
Q: Most of your novels take place in Southern California, and in THE DAWN PATROL the
ocean and surfing are so important in your characters’ lives that they seem like characters
themselves. What is it about this specific place that you find so compelling as the setting
for your books?
A: Well, I think that characters are almost indistinguishable from place. We are where we live. So, to me, there’s little difference between the people and the locale, they’re all of a piece. And I’m in love with the place. Seriously, I can be driving between Laguna and Dana Point, for instance, and I literally ache. It’s so beautiful, so interesting, so crazy. I never get tired of it. I’m greedy for it. You drive from Newport Beach south to the border and it’s just one great place after another, all subtly different. Great beaches, great breaks, great towns, great little places. I still get a charge out of going into the Killer Dana Surf Shop. Papa’s Tacos. Jeff’s Burgers. I love having breakfast on the deck of the Coyote Grill, eating eggs machaca and looking at the impossibly blue water. Or just sitting out at ‘Shores’ and watching the slow sunset. Why is it compelling? I don’t know – why is love compelling? I could probably sit and list fifty-eight reasons why I’m in love with my wife, and they’d all be true, but they don’t get the totality. It’s just that sometimes I see her eyes and BAM – my heart stops.
Q: There are some serious issues underlying the exuberance and fast pace of the waves.
Boone takes on a case that involves not only murder and blackmail but, as he discovers,
also exposes a terrifying network of human trafficking. Where did this aspect of the novel
A: Shame. I mean, you drive around this beautiful part of the world and you’re having such a good time. You’re so spoiled, stunning views, nice place to live, great food, fantastic things to do (like surfing), and then you drive past some fields and you know that other people are suffering. In regard to the issues you mention, they’re happening to children and they’re suffering terribly. And if that doesn’t take some of the fun out of your day, if it doesn’t take that idiot, hedonistic grin off your face for at least a second, there’s something wrong with you. So maybe I felt that, as a writer who lives in (and off) this area, I had a responsibility to write about some of these issues – including human trafficking.
Q: Is where you live, close to the U.S. border, part of what informs your interest in
exploring the lives of those searching for a better life yet often falling into the hands of
those who prey on the vulnerable?
A: Sure. It’s a part of daily life here. I deal with it every day – on school boards, community committees, that kind of thing. I’ve seen the Border Patrol chase people across the back of my place. I’ve found the remnants of mojado camps out in the brush on our back acres. Everyone around here knows what corner you go to if you want to hire illegal day workers. Kids in school go ‘home’ on holidays and then don’t make it back on time because they can’t get back across the border. I’ve spent time with the Border Patrol and it was one of the most depressing experiences of my life.
Q: Boone Daniels and the rest of the crew that make up ‘The Dawn Patrol’ are a winning
bunch? Can we expect to see any of them again in the future?
A: Well, I’m glad you think so. Yeah, you’ll be seeing them again. I guess. If you want to.
Q: Are you excited about the upcoming movie of your last novel, The Winter of Frankie
Machine? Starring Robert De Niro and directed by Michael Mann it, would seem like it
has a lot in its favor.
A: I am. I mean, come on – Robert freaking De Niro?! I’d be stoked if he just read one of my books. And Mann’s a great guy – I had a long talk with him one time about ‘Heat,’ and the man is a freak for detail. SO, yeah, I’m excited.
Q: What’s next for you?
A: I’m hoping for breakfast. On the longer term, I’m working on a retelling of The Aeneid, set in the crime world – no, seriously – and also doing a sequel to THE DAWN PATROL, titled The Gentlemen’s Hour, which is the next session in the daily surf calendar.