Sunday, May 17, 2009

My First Winslow

One of the pleasures each year of attending the L.A. Times Festival of Books and some of its panels is getting a chance to meet/listen to new authors. Last year, it was discovering T. Jefferson Parker who was with Robert Crais at one such panel. This year, it was finding Don Winslow. Both Jen of Jen's Book Thoughts and Pop Culture Nerd gave great accounts/summaries of this panel that included Crais, Joseph Wambaugh, Parker, and Winslow. And that new kid on the block (for me, anyways) has made it a more than worthwhile revelation. As with the other authors of said panel, Winslow (who is as well an accomplished screenwriter) concentrates much of his books in our local southland.

The Winter of Frankie Machine, my first of what I hope will become more such novels by this writer, makes wonderful use of the various sub-cultures here of crime, power, and surfdom living amongst the palm trees and beaches of SoCal. His sympathetic anti-hero, one Frankie Machianno, makes a good, quiet life for himself as the bait shop guy to the locals. And though the retired mob hit man remains active with his other, legitimate businesses, Frankie keeps a lot of secrets. "It's a lot of work being me." And it's here that I'll agree with a Publishers Weekly write-up (posted at Amazon). Winslow's writing should bring on familiar echoes of another great crime-thriller author I've enjoyed, Elmore Leonard. His characters and plotting are that good. Plus, he uses a good bit of actual local crime history in his work (this is especially true for those like me who've lived in this area and can recall some of the newspaper headlines from decades past).

In looking at the audiobook that I listened to (produced by Blackstone Audio) for this work, the publisher did solid work in choosing veteran character actor Dennis Boutsikaris to voice this book. The actor has good range in his characterizations, especially for those gangsters of the East Coast variety. Boutsikaris' Newark, New Jersey background surely helped with those vocalizations. Plus, his tenor and delivery of Winslow's lively and descriptive wording is a very pleasing one for those taking it in via audio. Unfortunately, there was a downside to this audiobook (especially for me)--and it's the publishers fault, not the reader's. For those like me who shift media for listening convenience--that is move the audio to my iPod--it's an irritating one. The studio managers choose to have the narrator announce the beginning and end for each of the 8 unabridged audio CDs.

Let's be clear... not all audiobook publishers do this, mind you. Thankfully. It jolts story continuity for the listener, big time. Now, I'm sure that the MP3 version (Blackstone being one of the handful that produce them) of this novel doesn't perform this service. And if I could have gotten my hands on that version, I wouldn't even be writing about it, now. I know why publishers do it - it signals to those that listen to the actual CD themselves when to pop out the disc and drop in the next (correct) one. And yes, some CD decks (like those in automobiles) will just begin replaying the disc if you don't eject them. But, this really doesn't play well with others, especially when disc ejection is not part of their normal audiobook experience. Criminy! It's that insert-eject-insert rigmarole [puzzle word... thanks for that, Don] that drove to me to media shift in the first place.

Okay... (as he steps off his curmudgeon-tech soapbox) that aside, I look forward to obtaining and reading more books by Mr. Winslow. His is a creative voice I'm going to seek out (a must, really). Between his plotting, keen/humorous observations and wording, and just damn interesting story-lines, I can see myself coming back to this author on a regular basis. And after this book, and a post by Nordette Adams, I'm reminded that Elmore Leonard has a new book out this week, too.


  1. Oh my gosh, you must pick up Winslow's The Dawn Patrol immediately. That book is so, so good, even better than Frankie Machine, in my humble opinion (there's a review of it on my site). Dawn Patrol made me laugh out loud, literally spewing water at one point, and then punched me in the gut at the denouement. I cannot wait for the sequel.

  2. Ooo, Ooo, Ooo, I have to double check my library now. I don't think they have this one on audio. I am posting my review of A COOL BREEZE ON THE UNDERGROUND which I finished on audio last week. I found THE DAWN PATROL and CALIFORNIA FIRE AND LIFE but not FRANKIE. I'll try searching differently then if I still can't find it I'll request they get it. Not sure if that will help given the economy but the only thing I can do is ask.

    I have to admit because I listen to so many audios in my car, I like when they indicate the end of a CD. I don't pay attention to its status once I pop it in and on occassion have been befuzzled because it started back over at the beginning and I thought, "wait, didn't I already hear this part?" LOL

    Did you find a Craig Johnson yet????

  3. I know when you post a good review on a book, you really liked it, so I gotta see where I can get my hands on this one. And I really enjoyed DAWN PATROL, too.

  4. PCN: funny you should suggest TDP. It's one of those I'm in the midst of acquiring. Blackstone has got Ray Porter performing the narration for this book, too. He did an exceptional job with Richard Matheson's Hell House. I'm looking forward to it--heading over to check out your review right after I write this. Glad to know you enjoy good crime fiction :-).

    Jen: I added DW's earlier A Cool Breeze on the Underground to my Audible list when you posted your glee on Twitter. And Craig Johnson's The Cold Dish is there, too.

    Corey: with you and PCN giving such endorsements for The Dawn Patrol, I just may move it up in the TBR stack. Maybe even after I finish the audiobook I just started,The Devil in the White City.

    You know, I'm sure there are those who get as excited about new cook books, too. But, I'm sure they don't have as interesting a set of bloggers like you guys. Thanks to all you.

  5. Tried to leave a comment re: TWoFM on Winslow's site, but kept getting a Wordpress error. So, I'll post my reply, here:

    Georgene Erickson says: "Sean Penn is better for the lead. DeNiro is too old. Don’t ruin the book with a too-old actor, like Clint Eastwood in the Bridges of Madison County. That should have been Tom Selleck."While both are great actors, De Niro at 66 is closer to Frankie's age (at the time of his search to find who put the contract on him) than Penn, who only turns 49 this summer. And, Penn does not look old enough to have served in Nam. Plus De Niro, with his filmography so tied to some of the better movie underworld characters, he brings more gravitas to the role, than Penn, for the filming of this central character.

    The real casting dilemma will be, if the film honors the extensive flashbacks of the book, who will play Frank during his younger years through decades of the 70's and 80's. The irony here is that De Niro made a name for himself (and picked up an Oscar) for performing as the young Vito Corleone for the missing and too old Marlon Brando in Godfather II. Who's going to be De Niro's De Niro for this adaptation?

    As to your example, I agree that actor Clint may have been older than the Kincaid character in the Bridges of Madison County book--Selleck is an interesting alternative casting for the movie. But, director Eastwood sure as shootin' made it a 'so much better than the book' film experience. IMO, he gave that sophomoric book a much more adult and realistic film treatment that it deserved.

  6. We're talking DeNiro for the lead? Man, I have got to read this book.

    'Bridges of Madison County' is a book I never finished. Maybe 20 or 30 pages in, the writing was so god-awful that I threw it across the room. When I got around to picking it up off the floor it went straight to the 'give away' stack of books. I haven't had the courage to see the movie.

  7. Corey: you had the same reaction as mine. You just had the sense to throw it rather than slog through it like I did. And I only did that because I had to figure out why this was a bestseller (which I never could answer). But only because it was Clint, did I go and see it.

    His film is soooo much better than the book. In fact there is a wordless scene at a stop sign, in the pouring rain, that really shows you how good of a director Clint is. Though it's one I don't reply often, compared to other Eastwood flicks, that scene makes it worth it to re-watch.

  8. ... that and old jazz scores Clint uses in the movie :-).

  9. He's got a good ear for music and how it fits with the film, that's for sure. I particularly liked the country music he chose for 'A Perfect World.' One of his own compositions was in that, too, if I remember right.

  10. I haven't seen A Perfect World in ages. Time to add it to my Netflix queue. Thanks, Corey.

  11. I haven't seen it since it first came out. But the music is on my iPod.