What the Nicholai Hel?

I like to think that we’re in an era of return to the shorter novel, and even though Don Winslow’s Satori was definitely good, I didn’t quite feel in good enough shape throughout the reading.  Let’s make a point here; I’m going to talk about Satori, but I’m first going to complain about Winslow (http://don-winslow.com/).  He’s one of my favorite writers, and has been for a few years.  That said, I appreciated Trevanian before Winslow; I think I’d bought a cheap DVD copy of The Death and Life of Bobby Z before I’d known that it was based on one of Winslow’s books.  I’d also seen the movie version of The Eiger Sanction before becoming aware of Trevanian as a writer (I have the VHS version of the Clint Eastwood classic).

In getting back to the complaint, Satori became true to Winslow form after about 200 pages—this is to say that it moved swiftly with great detail.  Very competent research was quite evident, as was a genuine interest in the setting (largely Vietnam, pre U.S. war investment) and characters.  Characters were also just that; Winslow has membership to the pulp school of characterization, which includes guys like Elmore Leonard and Tom Kakonis.  (Nicholai Hel was good for a Winslow character, as he kept the moral crap in check quite well.)  But remember, it took a while to get there.  A Winslow novel, short of the very excellent Power of the Dog, should not be 500 pages; Satori, however, did not start out a Winslow novel, contrary to all of the “respectful” explanations and disclaimers.  Thankfully, Winslow did make it his own after about 170 pages or so.  We cannot leave any editing to the one editor each publishing house seems to have these days, but since I trust Winslow, I made sure to hang in there.  I was rewarded kindly.

Trevanian jumped around between several genres; my narrow palate of course stayed closer to the spy range.  Here’s the thing about that:  Spy novels can be intensely boring, but through great character development and plot pacing, Trevanian truly kicked ass in the genre, making it his own.  Given his own brand, I have no doubt that Winslow could do the same quite successfully with repeated efforts; I’d buy a copy.  Satori was an excellent trial run.

I’ll end this horribly disorganized diatribe on this note:  Where the hell is the rest of Winslow’s catalog?  There are like six books that do not surface anywhere!  Publishers suck, but I’m glad to see that they keep paying Don Winslow for new stuff.

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