Category Archives: Don Winslow

In The Spotlight: Don Winslow’s The Dawn Patrol

Hello, All,

Welcome to another edition of In The Spotlight. Some crime novels are as much about a particular culture or sub-culture as they are about the crime. It’s tricky to pull that off without losing the main plot thread – the crime and its solution. But when it’s done well, such a novel can evoke an atmosphere and culture quite effectively. As an example, let’s turn today’s spotlight on Don Winslow’s The Dawn Patrol.

Boone Daniels is a former San Diego Police Department officer who’s become a PI. But his real passion is surfing. He lives in San Diego’s Pacific Beach, and spends as much of his time surfing as he can. He’s got a group of friends called the Dawn Patrol who join him. Daniels’ friends Hang Twelve (usually called ‘Hang’), High Tide, Johnny Banzai, Dave the Love God (he is a legend among women, both locals and tourists), and Sunny Day almost always surf together before they go to their various jobs. Then, when they can, they get together after work, too, and surf. In fact, Daniels would rather surf than actually make a living at a regular job.

Everything changes when attorney Petra Hall, from the law firm Burke, Spitz, and Culliver, approaches Daniels about taking a case on behalf of Coastal Insurance Company. They’re being sued by Daniel ‘Dan Silver’ Silvieri. It seems a warehouse he owns in Vista (something like 45 miles/72 km north and east of San Diego) burned. Coastal investigated and believes that it’s a case of arson, so they won’t pay. Dan Silver’s now suing them for damages and bad faith to the tune of US$5 million. Hall wants Daniels to find a stripper named Tamera Roddick who is a witness to the fire, and whose testimony will be important. Daniels doesn’t want to take the case, as a major set of waves is due in the area in the next few days, and he doesn’t want to miss his chance. But he’s finally convinced.

Then, a young woman dies of a fall from the balcony of a cheap motel room. At first, it’s assumed that she is the missing Tamera, because she has Tamera’s ID. But it soon turns out that the dead woman is actually Tamera’s best friend, another stripper who calls herself Angela Hart. But why was Tamera’s ID found with the dead woman? And which woman was the killer actually targeting?

As Daniels and Hall try to find the missing woman, they learn bits and pieces about her life in the past few months. And Daniels, in particular, wants to know who killed Angela Hart. He’s driven in part by a case from years earlier, when he was on the police force. A six-year-old girl disappeared from her front lawn, and was never found. He’s been trying to learn what happened to her since, since he blames himself for not solving the case. Little by little, he and Hall find out what happened to Tamera Roddick, how it’s linked up with Angela Hall’s murder, and what it all has to do with the warehouse fire. And before they’re done, they turn up some truly ugly secrets that some people are keeping.

This novel takes place in San Diego County, and Winslow places the reader there in many ways. Winslow provides background information on how the area developed, what it’s like geographically and demographically, and so on. Each reader is different about how much of that sort of information is ‘too much,’ so your mileage, as the term goes, may vary. But it’s more than just the history. The various small towns in the county, the roads that connect them, and so on, are all a part of the story.

San Diego has many different cultures and sub-cultures. Winslow concentrates on the surfing life, including the mix of cultural influences on it. Surfing takes athletic ability and lots of practice to surf, even to surf a little. And these people know the water, the weather patterns, and the beaches. One of them, Sunny Day, is so skilled at surfing that she has a real chance at national and international coverage, endorsements, and more. What’s more, they all have other jobs (cop, PI, lifeguard, restaurant server, etc.). Winslow evokes surfing and the surfing life as the story unfolds, even in details such as the language and surfing customs (and yes, there are surfing customs).

The members of the Dawn Patrol figure heavily in the novel. They don’t join Daniels’ investigation, but all of them have a part to play in the way the mystery unfolds. So, we get to know each. We learn their backstories, how they got into surfing, their plans, and so on. And we see how close-knit the group is. They are close friends as well as surfing partners.

But that friendship is tested and changed by the mysteries at hand. And the truth about Tamera Roddick’s disappearance, Angela Hart’s death, and the warehouse fire, is ugly. It’s even harrowing. Readers who prefer light mysteries will want to know that. There’s violence, too, some of it also ugly. But it’s not gratuitous or extended.

That said, though, there is wit in the story. Here, for instance, is Daniels’ reflection on the explosion of interest in Southern California after the Beach Boys became popular:

‘So many people moved to the SoCal coast, it’s surprising it didn’t just tilt into the ocean. Well, it sort of did; the developers threw up quick-and-dirty condo complexes on the bluffs above the ocean, and now they’re sliding into the sea like toboggans.’

Daniels mourns the loss of the days before the surge of popularity, when not many people knew about the great Southern California surfing beaches.  

It’s also worth pointing out that this isn’t one of those stories where every question is answered. Readers learn the answers to the main mysteries, but there are some ‘loose ends.’ Things aren’t wrapped up neatly at the end.

The Dawn Patrol is the story of a group of surfers whose lives are changed when one of them takes a case that turns out to be gut-wrenching. It’s set against a distinctive San Diego backdrop, and features a PI who’d rather surf than fight, but has a strong sense of what’s right. But what’s your view? Have you read The Dawn Patrol? If you have, what elements do you see in it?


Coming Up On In The Spotlight

Monday, 18 September/Tuesday, 19 September – Another Margaret – Janice McDonald

Monday, 25 September/Tuesday, 26 September – Among Thieves – John Clarkson

Monday, 2 October/Tuesday,3 October – Crocodile on the Sandbank – Elizabeth Peters


Filed under Don Winslow, The Dawn Patrol

Wouldn’t You Like to Get Away*

If you think about it, most people have three major ‘places’ where they spend most of their time. That usually means three major social networks. One of them is, of course, home and family. Another is work.

It’s that third place that’s really interesting. It might be a pub or bar, or a sport club, or a religious group, or a group of people with a shared hobby or interest. Whatever it is, that ‘third place’ can help people unwind, and can put them in touch with others in a unique way. And, for the crime writer, the ‘third place’ offers all sorts of possibilities for plot threads, characters, tension, backstory, and more. So, it shouldn’t be surprising that we see a lot of ‘third places’ in the genre.

One of the classic ‘third places’ that people have is their local. Bars and pubs are often gathering places for ‘regulars.’ That makes sense, too. For plenty of people, there’s nothing like a drink and a chance to catch up with friends who go there, too. And, of course, they can be really effective places for character interactions, plot points, and more.

There are dozens of series with a bar or pub as the ‘third place.’ One of them is Peter Temple’s Jack Irish series. Irish is a sometimes-lawyer, who is also good at finding people. So, he does his share of PI work, too. Besides his work, Irish also has a ‘third place’ – the Prince of Prussia pub. His father’s ‘football friends’ all gather there, and they all know Irish. They may not help him solve mysteries, but that ‘third place’ is very important to Irish.

The focus of Ray Berard’s Inside the Black Horse is a pub on New Zealand’s North Island called the Black Horse Bar and Casino. It’s owned by Toni Bourke, a recently-widowed Māori who’s doing the best she can to support her children. She isn’t getting rich from the pub, but she makes ends meet, usually. It’s not an upmarket or famous place, but the local people gather there. Toni knows most of them, and they know her. Everything changes when a young man named Pio Morgan targets the Black Horse. He’s in debt to a ruthless local pot grower, and the only way he can think of to get money quickly is to rob the pub. Unfortunately, he picks a time when a drugs dealer, Rangi Wells, happens to be there, so that deal is interrupted, and there will be consequences for that. The robbery goes horribly wrong, and there’s a murder. Pio gets thousands, though, and flees, leaving Toni with a large debt she now owes to the betting authorities. Toni’s insurance company isn’t about to pay up without an investigation, so they send PI Brian Duncan to look into the matter. Little by little Brian and Toni get to the truth about the theft and murder, but they have to go up against two nasty gangs and an insurance company that suspects Toni of being a thief.

Another traditional ‘third place’ is the club. Club memberships are a major part of several cultures, and have been for a long time. Just ask Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes. His brother, Mycroft, is a member of the Diogenes Club, and rarely goes anywhere but there or his home. Everyone there knows him and vice versa. What’s interesting, too, is that he can put together clues and make solid deductions on cases without ever leaving his club.

In Dorothy L. Sayers, The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club, Lord Peter Wimsey investigates two murders, one of which takes place in his own club. Old General Fentimen dies while sitting in his usual chair at the club. His sister, wealthy Lady Dormer, also dies. The question of which died first becomes extremely important, because of the terms of Lady Dormer’s will. Under those terms, if Lady Dormer dies first, her considerable fortune passes to Fentimen’s grandson. If Fentimen dies first, the money goes to Lady Dormer’s distant cousin, Ann Dorland. Matters get complicated when it’s discovered that Fentimen was poisoned. Now, Lord Peter and his friend, Inspector Parker, have to discover not just which person died first, but also, who killed Fentimen. Among other things, it’s an interesting look at the club setting.

Agatha Christie used that setting in several of her novels and stories, too. For instance, in Taken at the Flood, Hercule Poirot first hears about the small town of Warmsley Vale, and the Cloade family that lives there, from a fellow club member named Major Porter. The story comes back to haunt, as it were, when a murder takes place in Warmsley Vale, and the Cloade family is involved in it.

For many people, their local church or other house of worship is that ‘third place.’ It’s not just a matter of religion. It’s also about social interaction. We see that, for instance, in Elizabeth Spann Craig’s Pretty is as Pretty Dies. In that novel, retired teacher Myrtle Clover is ‘volunteered’ by her son to volunteer at her church. She’s not happy about that, but she goes to the church. Then, she discovers the body of real estate developer Parke Stoddard in the church. Myrtle’s not ready to be ‘put out to pasture’ yet, and she decides to prove that by finding out who the murderer is.

A Toronto-area mosque serves as a ‘third place’ for the transplanted Bosnian Muslim community in Ausma Zehanat Khan’s The Unquiet Dead. In that novel, Inspector Esa Khattak and Sergeant Rachel Getty of the Community Policing Section (CPS) of the Canadian federal government investigate the death of Christopher Drayton. It comes out that he may have been Dražen Krstić, a notorious war criminal known as the butcher of Srebrenica. So Khattak and Getty have to consider those who might have known him in that capacity. They make contacts within the mosque, and get to know some of its members. But at the same time, they don’t overlook the victim’s family members. There are other possibilities, too, and this case becomes more complicated than either thought it would be.

Some ‘third places’ are sport or hobby groups. Just ask the surfers we meet in Don Winslow’s The Dawn Patrol. This group of San Diego surfers meets just about every morning for a pre-work surf session. And it’s much more than just fun for them. They are passionate and very knowledgeable about the water, about surfing, and about weather conditions, too. They have their differences, but surfing is part of the glue that holds them together. For former cop-turned-PI Boone Daniels, the Dawn Patrol is very much his ‘third place.’ In fact, he’d probably say that it’s more important than his work. That’s the impression we get when he’s hired to find a missing stripper named Tamera Roddick. Then, her best friend, who goes by the name of Angel Heart, is murdered. Daniels and his friends get drawn into the case, and Daniels is forced to face his own past.

Almost all of us have a ‘third place.’ Certainly, fictional characters do. What’s yours?


*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Gary Portnoy and Judy Hart Angelo’s Where Everybody Knows Your Name.


Filed under Agatha Christie, Arthur Conan Doyle, Ausma Zehanat Khan, Don Winslow, Dorothy L. Sayers, Elizabeth Spann Craig, Peter Temple, Ray Berard

We Could Ride the Surf Together*

Today is the 75th birthday of Brian Wilson, who’s perhaps best known for being a co-founder of the Beach Boys. So, it seems like a good time to take a look at crime fiction that takes place on the beach. And if you think about it, the beach can be an effective context for a crime story. There are plenty of disparate people, and they tend to be there for only short periods of time. That makes it harder to link a particular person to a particular crime. And that’s not to mention the water, which provides all sorts of opportunities for murder methods.

In Agatha Christie’s Evil Under the Sun, Hercule Poirot makes an interesting comment about the beach as a setting for a murder:

‘‘…here at the seaside it is necessary for no one to account for himself. You are at Leathercombe Bay, why? Parbleu! it is August – one goes to the seaside in August – one is on one’s holiday. It is quite natural, you see, for you to be here…’’

He’s got a well-taken point. There really isn’t much need to explain your presence at the beach. And that gives a fictional murderer all sorts of flexibility. And in this novel, the beach setting provides an effective ‘cover’ for the killer of famous actress Arlena Stuart Marshall. At first, her husband, Captain Kenneth Marshall, is the prime suspect. But when it’s proven that he is innocent, Hercule Poirot and the local police have to look elsewhere for the murderer.

In Phoebe Atwood Taylor’s The Cape Cod Mystery, we are introduced to Prudence Whitsby. She and her niece, Betsey, have decided to escape the heat of the city and go to their summer cottage at Cape Cod. The cabin next to theirs has been rented for the summer by famous writer Dale Sanborn. One night, Sanborn is murdered. When Prudence discovers the body, Sheriff Slough Sullivan begins to investigate. Soon enough, Sullivan settles on Whitsby family friend Bill Porter as the most likely suspect. There’s evidence against him, too. But Porter’s cook and ‘man of all work,’ Asey Mayo, doesn’t think his boss is guilty. Neither, for the matter of that, does Prudence. So, the two of them look into the matter more closely. And it’s not long before they find that more than one person wanted Sanborn dead. Among other things, this novel shows the way people tended to head to New England seaside towns in the days before there was air conditioning.

Even today, plenty of seaside towns make a living on the fact that the beach is a popular destination. Just ask Chris Grabenstein’s Danny Boyle. He’s a police officer in the fictional New Jersey beachside town of Sea Haven. It’s got a relatively small year-round population; during the summer months, though, the population swells considerably. Many people come in for just a week or two:

‘Saturday is changeover day. People who rented last week are leaving; people renting this week will show up later, after the maid brigades have vacuumed the sandy floors and tossed out the abandoned seashell collections.’

Others rent a place for the whole summer. Either way, Boyle and his boss, John Ceepak, have a lot to contend with during the ‘crunch months.’ And that makes for plenty of opportunity for a murderer to strike.

Minette Walters’ The Breaker takes place in the Chapman’s Pool area of Dorset. The Spender family is taking their holiday there when, one morning, brothers Daniel and Paul decide to go exploring. They ‘borrow’ their father’s expensive binoculars and set out. They’re shocked and frightened when they discover the body of a young woman on the beach, and give the alarm. PC Nick Ingram begins the investigation. It turns out that the victim is Kate Sumner, whose toddler daughter, Hannah, has just been discovered wandering along in the nearby town of Poole. Ingram works with WPC Sandra Griffiths, DI John Galbraith, and Superintendent Carpenter to find out who killed Kate Sumner, and to find out how Hannah ended up in town. The solution lies in Kate’s complicated personal life and history.

Angela Savage’s The Dying Beach takes place mostly at Krabi, on the Thai coast. Bangkok-based PI Jayne Keeney and her partner, Rajiv Patel, have decided to take a short holiday break there, and have been enjoying themselves. Then, they discover that their tour guide, Chanida Manakit ‘Miss Pla’ has been found dead. They’d grown to like her very much, so this is personally distressing to both of them. Miss Pla’s body washed up in a cave, and the official police account is that this was a tragic accident. But Keeney doesn’t think that’s true. After all, Miss Pla was an expert swimmer. Keeney and Patel decide to take a few extra days and look into the matter. And they soon find that this death was no accident. The more they look into the case, the clearer it is that several people benefited from Miss Pla’s death.

There’s also Don Winslow’s Boone Daniels, whom we meet in The Dawn Patrol. Daniels and his friends are dedicated San Diego surfers, who’d rather be on their surfboards than at their ‘day jobs.’ Then, Daniels get drawn into the case of Tamera Roddick, a local stripper who’s disappeared. Not long afterwards, her best friend, who goes by the name of Angela Hart, is killed. This case ends up being connected to a tragedy from years earlier: the heartbreaking disappearance of a young girl from her own yard. Among other things, this novel gives readers a look at the Southern California surfing culture.

Surfing, sand, and sun are extremely appealing when you want a winter getaway or a summer holiday. But the beach isn’t nearly as peaceful as it seems. Which surfside mysteries have stayed with you? I hear you, fans of Agatha Christie’s A Caribbean Mystery.


*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from the Beach Boys’ Surfer Girl. Happy Birthday, Mr. Wilson!


Filed under Agatha Christie, Angela Savage, Chris Grabenstein, Don Winslow, Minette Walters, Phoebe Atwood Taylor

Well, I’m a Bum in the Sun And I’m Having Fun*

Bum in the SunWhen many people think of crime fiction, they think of a busy sleuth or team of sleuths who learn about crimes, investigate them, and solve them. In other words, people think of sleuths as busy, energetic types, and a lot of them are.  But there are some who aren’t that way at all.

I’m not talking here of fictional sleuths such as Martin Walker’s Benoît ‘Bruno’ Courrèges, who balance work and ‘off time.’ Sleuths like that are certainly productive. Rather, I’m talking of sleuths and other characters who would just as soon not get involved in solving crimes. In some cases, you could call them lazy. In other cases, it’s not so much laziness as it is a more laid-back attitude towards life. Some would rather surf, fish, or simply lie in the sun than actually detect.

One of the most famous such detectives is Arthur Conan Doyle’s Mycroft Holmes. While he’s not the ‘lie in the sun’ type, he certainly isn’t one to bestir himself. Fans will know that he’s even more brilliant than his younger brother Sherlock, but he sees no need to go from place to place looking for clues. He almost never leaves the Diogenes Club, where he holds court, and would far rather stay there than actually solve cases.

You could say a very similar thing about Rex Stout’s Nero Wolfe. As fans can tell you, Wolfe doesn’t even take cases unless the coffers need re-filling. Unfortunately for Wolfe, he has expensive tastes, so he can’t devote himself entirely to his orchids and his culinary pursuits. It’s just as well he has Archie Goodwin to do the ‘legwork’ for him. Fred Durkin, Saul Panzer and Orrie Cather do their share, too.

There’s an interesting ‘bum in the sun’ type character in Agatha Christie’s 4:50 From Paddington (AKA What Mrs. McGillicuddy Saw). In that novel, Elspeth McGillicuddy is on her way to visit her friend Miss Marple when she witnesses, or thinks she witnesses, a murder. At first, no-one believes her, since no body has been discovered. But Miss Marple knows that her friend is not in the habit of making things up or of flights of fancy. So she does a little digging and discovers that, in fact, there could have been a murder, just as Mrs. McGillicuddy said. The body has likely ended up on the property of Rutherford Hall, which is owned by the Crackenthorpe family. With help from her friend, Lucy Eylesebarrow, Miss Marple finds that there is a body on the property, and the police begin to investigate. One of the people of interest is Cedric Crackenthorpe, son of the family patriarch Luther Crackenthorpe. Cedric is a bohemian painter who lives on Ibiza. Although he stands to inherit Rutherford Hall if Luther dies, he’s hardly ambitious. He’s really too free a spirit for that.

Roderic Jeffries’ Inspector Enrique Alvarez is not exactly burning with energy, either. He lives and works on Mallorca, and quite frankly, prefers a good meal and a good siesta to actually investigating crimes. So in Definitely Deceased, he’s not inclined to be receptive when his cousin Delores, who’s keeping house for him at the moment, asks him to clear her cousin-by-marriage Miguel Munar of smuggling charges. Delores is not without resources, though, and hits on the perfect way to get Alvarez to do some actual work. She punishes him with terrible food until he finally relents and starts to ask questions about the Munar case. But when he does begin to investigate, Alvarez finds that the only person who can corroborate Munar’s story has been murdered. Now he has a much more demanding case on his hands than he ever would have wanted.

Chris Grabenstein’s Danny Boyle isn’t exactly brimming with energy, either. When the series begins (in Tilt a Whirl), he’s a ‘summer cop,’ a temporary police officer hired to help with the influx of tourists. The town of Sea Haven, New Jersey, isn’t usually a hotbed of crime, but it does get very crowded during the summer; hence the need for extra police presence. Boyle isn’t unwilling to do his job, but he enjoys the beach life. He spends his share of time lazing around with his friends, barbecuing, and enjoying himself. In fact, at first, he finds it hard to get used to his boss, John Ceepak. Ceepak is a dedicated, 24-hour-a-day sort of cop, who doesn’t like to waste any time. As the series goes on, Boyle matures somewhat, and actually becomes a full-time police officer. But he still enjoys goofing off.

And then there’s Don Winslow’s Boone Daniels, whom we meet in The Dawn Patrol. He’s a San Diego surfer who would rather enjoy the waves than just about anything else. He and his friends are dedicated surfers who call themselves the Dawn Patrol. They have ‘day jobs,’ which they do as needed, but really, they’d rather be on their boards. Daniels is the last person you’d expect to be involved in solving a crime. But that’s what happens when a local stripper, Tamera Roddick, disappears. Then, her best friend, who goes by the name of Angela Hart, is murdered. Daniels and his friends get drawn into the case, and find that it’s related to a wrenching case from years earlier, when a local girl was abducted from her back yard.

You see? It’s not that these characters won’t get the work done. They will. It’s just that it’s time for lunch. And there are supposed to be some killer waves out there later. Oh, and there’s good TV on tonight…



*NOTE: The title of this post is line from Van Halen’s Beautiful Girls.


Filed under Agatha Christie, Arthur Conan Doyle, Chris Grabenstein, Don Winslow, Martin Walker, Rex Stout, Roderic Jeffries

I Know a Pretty Little Place in Southern California Down San Diego Way*

PandaA lot of people tell me I’m very lucky to live in the greater San Diego area. After all, you couldn’t ask for a much more pleasant climate. The scenery is beautiful too, and there’s a laid-back pace to life in a lot of ways. And there’s a fascinating mix of cultures and languages here – enough to keep linguists, sociologists and anthropologists busy for decades. But don’t let that fool you. San Diego is not immune to crime. You’d probably assume that anyway, simply because it’s a large city. But just to show you what I mean, I thought it might be interesting to take a crime-fictional look at the area.

Ross Macdonald, the pen name of Kenneth Millar (but I’ll bet you knew that) and his wife Margaret Millar (yes, that Margaret Millar) lived in San Diego for a time, and that experience shows up in his Lew Archer stories. For instance, in The Far Side of the Dollar, Archer is hired by Dr. Sponti, who runs Laguna Perdida School, a boarding school for troubled students. The school is located about halfway between Los Angeles and San Diego, so much of the story takes place in North San Diego County. One of the students Tom Hillman has disappeared and his parents are holding the school responsible. Sponti wants Archer to find the boy as soon as possible. Just as they’re discussing the case, Tom’s father Ralph Hillman bursts in saying that he’s been contacted by kidnappers who say they are holding Tom for ransom. Archer goes with Hillman to the family’s home to see what he can do to find the boy. It turns out that this is not a straightforward ‘kidnapping of a rich boy’ case. For one thing, the Hillmans are not very helpful although their son is missing. For another, evidence surfaces that Tom may actually have gone with the kidnappers of his own free will. After two deaths, Archer finds out the truth about the troubled Hillman family.

Speaking of the Millars, Margaret Millar’s Mermaid also takes place in the region north of San Diego. In that novel, attorney Tom Aragon takes on an interesting case. He gets a visit from twenty-two-year-old Cleo Jasper. She wants to know exactly what her rights are. When Aragon asks her to be more specific, she really can’t, and it’s then that he notices that she seems to have a form of mental retardation, although she’s high-functioning. He isn’t able to help her much and soon enough she leaves. That’s the end of the case as far as Aragon is concerned – until a few days later when Cleo’s much-older brother Hilton pays him a visit. Hilton Jasper says that his sister has disappeared and that Aragon is the last person she was known to have seen. Aragon tries to explain that he’s an attorney, not a missing person’s expert, but Jasper wants his sister found. So Aragon starts asking questions, beginning with the staff and students at Holbrook Hall, the special school Cleo attended. He also looks into her troubled family life and the lives of her friends. Bit by slow bit, he traces her movements and finds out what happened to her. As he does, we get a look at the life of the privileged in that part of the US at that time. We also get a look at yachting and wharfside life as well as the Spanish/mission influence on the architecture and some of the culture.

Two of Joseph Wambaugh’s novels are also set in San Diego. Finnegan’s Week is the story of San Diego cop and part-time actor Finbar ‘Fin’ Finnegan. He’s had three divorces and is in a midlife crisis – in short, not in a happy situation. Then things begin to get complicated. Two thousand pairs of shoes are stolen from a warehouse and Detective Bobbie Ann Doggett is assigned to find out what happened to them. Meanwhile, Fin is investigating the disappearance of a truckload of toxic waste. For help with that he turns to District Attorney’s Office investigator Nell Slater. And both Slater and Doggett find that they’re interested in Fin. In the midst of that though, and each from a different angle, Fin, Slater and Doggett connect the thefts with two deaths that occur.

Wambaugh’s Floaters introduces us to Mick Fortnoy, a Harbor Patrol police officer on San Diego’s Mission Bay. He’s had enough personal complications in his life to fill a therapist’s notebook. But things come sharply into focus for him when the world-famous America’s Cup regatta comes to San Diego. Then, the body of an unknown woman is found floating in the bay. She turns out to be Jane Kelly AKA Dawn Coyote, who is, as the saying goes, known to the San Diego Police. Then there’s another death. Now Fortnoy and his patrol partner Leeds look into lives and relationships among the various America’s Cup competitors to see who would have wanted to commit murder. Both of these Wambaugh novels give the reader an authentic look at the San Diego lifestyle and setting.

So does RJ McDonnell’s Jason Duffy series. Duffy is a former rock musician who now works as a San Diego-based PI. Because of his musical background, Duffy is well-known in the rock community, and more than once he’s hired by members of it. In Rock and Roll Homicide, Rock and Roll Rip-Off and The Concert Killer, we get a real sense of the Southern California music scene. And the novels also feature a distinctive sense of the setting. One of them even mentions the San Diego-area town where I live.

When a lot of people think of San Diego/Southern California, they think of surfing. And there is indeed a lot of surfing in the area. Just ask Boone Daniels, whom we meet in Don Winslow’s The Dawn Patrol. Daniels and his friends are a dedicated group of surfers who call themselves the Dawn Patrol.  They have ‘day jobs,’ but their passion is surfing. Then, a local stripper Tamara Roddick disappears. And then her best friend, who goes by the professional name of Angela Hart, is killed. Daniels gets drawn into the case and in the process of solving it, has to confront a case from several years earlier – the heartbreaking disappearance of a local young girl from her front yard.

For readers who like short stories, you might want to try San Diego Noir, a collection of dark San Diego crime stories. Edited by Maryelizabeth Hart, it’s got work by Winslow, T. Jefferson Parker, and lots of other area authors.

As you can see, San Diego may have a wonderful climate, a world-famous zoo (at least the panda in the ‘photo thinks so 😉 ) , great culture, music and food and all the rest of it – even surfing. But peaceful it ain’t…


On the other hand, some of the nicest people turn up in San Diego. I was recently fortunate enough to meet up with crime fiction blogger and Ngaio Marsh Award for Best Crime Novel judge Craig Sisterson. He’s been spending time in the US and his travels brought him to Southern California. No worries – he’s stayed perfectly safe while he was here. 😉    You’re doing yourself a very big favour by checking out his crime fiction blog Crime Watch.



*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Bruce Springsteen’s Rosalita.


Filed under Don Winslow, Joseph Wambaugh, Kevin Millar, Margaret Millar, Maryelizabeth Hart, R.J. McDonnell, Ross Macdonald, T. Jefferson Parker