The Death and Life of Bobby Z

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Overview

When longtime loser Tim Kearney kills a Hell's Angel, it's his third strike. Life without parole follows. But with Angels in every prison, it looks to be a pretty short life. That's when the DEA makes an offer. It seems they've promised to deliver the legendary drug lord Bobby Z to Don Huertero, northern Mexico's drug kingpin, in exchange for a DEA agent. The fact that Z is dead might present a problem, except that Kearney bears an uncanny resemblance to him. All they want is for Kearney to impersonate Bobby Z: ...
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The Death and Life of Bobby Z

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Overview

When longtime loser Tim Kearney kills a Hell's Angel, it's his third strike. Life without parole follows. But with Angels in every prison, it looks to be a pretty short life. That's when the DEA makes an offer. It seems they've promised to deliver the legendary drug lord Bobby Z to Don Huertero, northern Mexico's drug kingpin, in exchange for a DEA agent. The fact that Z is dead might present a problem, except that Kearney bears an uncanny resemblance to him. All they want is for Kearney to impersonate Bobby Z: they think that with a little training, a little instruction, he might pass. Or he might not. But, really, what choice does Tim have? So he's launched into Bobby Z's life - rarefied and luxurious just until it becomes chaotic and hair-raising. Don Huertero wants Bobby Z alive, but only so he can have the pleasure of killing him. Add to that the surprise appearance of Bobby's mysteriously lethal girlfriend and his six-year-old son, and Tim has more of Bobby's life than even the DEA bargained for. Now, suddenly, Tim is running for his life - from drug dealers, henchmen, bikers, Indians and cops, all chasing him down across southern California's deserts and mountains straight to the dead-end edge of the ocean. Some of his pursuers want Bobby Z, but some of them want the considerably less legendary Tim K, who's beginning to realize that he'd better become legendary if he's going to keep the girl, save the kid and stay alive in the process. All of which he might manage to do if he can just stop being Tim Kearney...
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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Thrown out of the Marine Corpsdespite heroics in the Gulf Warfor a lack of "impulse control," locked up first for burglary and then for an unwitting armed robbery, three-time loser Tim Kearney is in big trouble in the big house. He's killed a Hell's Angel named Stinkdog with a sharpened license plate in preemptive self-defense. To sidestep the wrath of the Angels, Tim jumps at an only slightly less dangerous proposal from the FBI. They want him to impersonate recently deceased, legendary drug smuggler Bobby Z, so they can trade him for a captured agent. Of course the deal goes sour, and soon Tim has a whole spectrum of nasty enemies out to finish him off. To survive he must grow into his new role, donning all the legendary powers of Bobby Z and a few new ones of his own. Winslow's swift, sardonic narrative brims with cinematic possibilities as Tim and a few deftly etched pals with hearts as pure as his (including a game and clever six-year-old boy) careen from desert to beach to the San Diego zoo in a blur of explosive action. With a keen ear for punk criminal patois, a generous dose of irony and a plethora of memorable bad guys, Winslow, in the best Elmore Leonard tradition, pilots this engaging Southern California thriller from one cliff-hanger to the next. At the same time, this author of the Neal Carey mysteries (While Drowning in the Desert, 1996) steers his writing and his career to a whole new level. 100,000 first printing; major ad/promo; film rights to Warner Brothers; simultaneous Random House audio; author tour. (May)
Library Journal
In this fresh, exciting first novel, three-time loser Tim Kearney is given a chance to leave prison behind when federal agents note his physical resemblance to legendary California drug dealer Bobby Z. First, however, Kearney must impersonate Bobby Z convincingly enough to fool a ruthless Mexican drug dealer. Kearney is successful and comes to enjoy the awe and respect his new identity carries. Yet many people would like to see Bobby Z dead, and soon Kearneyunable and unwilling to shed his disguisemust run for his life. Winslow juggles black humor, excellent dialog, and numerous plot twists with the ease of an accomplished veteran. Sure to be popular, this novel is recommended most fiction collections.Mark Annichiarico, "Library Journal"
Charles Taylor
Don Winslow's brisk, nifty debut, The Death and Life of Bobby Z, is good enough to make you hope that he works out the kinks in his style, and it's accomplished enough to make you believe that he will. Winslow has obviously taken a look at the work of Elmore Leonard and Carl Hiassen. Like them, he constructs a plot that plays like a Rube Goldberg contraption gone haywire. One action sets so many gears whirring and bucking and shaking that, at moments, you really have the sense that all hell is breaking loose.

Winslow's hero is Tim Kearney, a three-time loser about to become a lifelong resident of California's correctional institutions, if he can survive retribution from the comrades of the Hell's Angel he killed in self-defense. He's given a deal by the DEA: Impersonate Bobby Z, a legendary drug dealer to whom Tim bears a striking resemblance and who happens to be inconveniently dead. The DEA needs Bobby to swap for one of their agents who's been kidnapped by a Latino drug lord. Tim takes the deal and does a first-rate acting job. Trouble is, the open arms the drug lord plans to greet Bobby with are firearms.

The pleasure of reading a Leonard or Hiassen novel isn't just the farcical plotting, but the way the humor undercuts the macho swagger that hampers most mysteries. Winslow (who's worked as a private investigator) isn't immune to that swagger. His sex scenes veer perilously close to Penthouse Forum fare and you can sense him flexing his cojones in the violent scenes (there's a lot of them). He needs to develop the cool, sardonic disengagement that would lend a greater sense of control to his already considerable command of plotting. But he's already on his way to developing the talent of slipping into the voices of his characters. Here's a DEA agent attending a Hell's Angel's funeral: "Under normal circumstances, Tad Grusza would have considered attending Raymond 'Boom-Boom' Boge's wake a pleasure trip. Few things would have improved a soft California evening better than seeing that slimy bag of guts laid out in a cheap casket while his mourning brethren drank, smoked and fucked around him." There's no reason to think that The Death and Life of Bobby Z isn't the start of a first-rate entertainer's career.--Salon

Kirkus Reviews
A deal that a lifer cuts to impersonate a legendary drug dealer as his ticket out of prison turns him into a clay pigeon for the dealer's connections, the DEA, the Hell's Angels, and assorted freelancers.

Robert James Zacharias, a.k.a. Bobby Z, surfer and dealer, hasn't been seen for years. When Don Huertero, the premier druglord in northern Mexico, wants to exchange captured DEA agent Arthur Moreno for his old associate, Moreno's friend and colleague Tad Gruzsa, chagrined that Bobby Z has died in a Thai prison, is also relieved that he's got access to a ringer for the late dealer, a three-time loser named Tim Kearney. Staring at imminent in-house vengeance for Stinkdog, the Hell's Angel he's just killed, Tim agrees to stand in for Bobby Z. You might expect Winslow (While Drowning in the Desert, 1996, etc.) to treat the masquerade as a war of nerves—can this fool really outwit Huertero and his accomplices?—but the news that Huertero wants Bobby back only so that he can execute him for hijacking $3 million is the first hint that he's got something much broader in mind: Tim's problem isn't sustaining the masquerade, but dodging bullets after he gets wind of the danger and hightails it into the desert. The minders who let him get away before Huertero could kill him are determined to hunt him down; so is Stinkdog's brother Boom-Boom; so is the brother of a DEA agent killed during the exchange of Tim for Moreno. In order to escape with his life and Bobby's trophy mistress, Tim will have to bluff Bobby's old partner into turning over the $3 mil, persuade Don Huertero to let bygones be bygones, and somehow throw the other pursuers off his trail. . . .

Fast and funny—natural fodder for a summer movie—even if Tim's beautifully choreographed escapes involve miracles of good luck and repetition.

From the Publisher
"Packs the wallop of a semiautomatic weapon."–Newsday“Fast-paced . . . full of explosive action and deliciously evil characters.”–Chicago Tribune"One of the funniest and fastest-moving novels in recent years. The action is relentless, the characters wild." –San Diego Union-Tribune

"The plot unfolds at the speed of sound. . . . As much fun as a barrel of monkeys--all of them armed." –Men's Journal

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780679454298
  • Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 4/22/1997
  • Pages: 259
  • Product dimensions: 6.64 (w) x 9.59 (h) x 1.21 (d)

Meet the Author

Don Winslow has worked as a private investigator in London, New York City, and elsewhere in the United States, and as a consultant to law firms and insurance companies for more than fifteen years. He lives with his wife Jean and son Thomas in Dana Point, CA and Riverton, CT.
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Read an Excerpt

The Death and Life of Bobby Z


By Don Winslow

Vintage

Copyright © 2006 Don Winslow
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0307275345

1.


Here's how Tim Kearney gets to be the legendary Bobby Z.

How Tim Kearney gets to be Bobby Z is that he sharpens a license plate to a razor's edge and draws it across the throat of a humongous Hell's Angel named Stinkdog, making Stinkdog instantly dead and a DEA agent named Tad Cruzsa instantly happy.

"That'll make him a lot easier to persuade," Gruzsa says when he hears about it, meaning Kearney, of course, because Stinkdog is beyond persuasion by that point.

Gruzsa is right. Not only does the murder rap make Tim Kearney a three-time loser, but killing a Hell's Angel also makes him a dead man on any prison yard in California, so "life without possibility of parole" really means "life without possibility of life" once Tim gets back into the general prison population.

Not that Tim wanted to kill Stinkdog. He didn't. It's just that Stinkdog came to him on the yard and told him to join the Aryan Brotherhood "or else," and Tim said "else," and that's when Tim knew that he'd better hone that license plate to a surgical edge.

The California Corrections Department isn't all that thrilled, although a few of its officials admit to mixed feelings over Stinkdog's demise. What pisses them off is that Tim used the supposed tool of his rehabilitation--honest work making license plates--to commit premeditated murder inside the correctional facility at San Quentin.

"It wasn'tmurder," Tim tells his court-appointed public defender. "It was self-defense."

"You walked up to him on the yard, took a sharpened license plate out of your sweatshirt and slashed his throat," the lawyer reminds him. "And you planned it."

"Carefully," Tim agrees. Stinkdog had about ten inches and a hundred and fifty pounds on him. Used to, anyway. Lying dead on a gurney he is considerably shorter than Tim. And much slower.

"That makes it murder," the lawyer says.

"Self-defense," Tim insists.

He doesn't expect the young lawyer or the justice system to appreciate the subtle difference between a preemptive strike and premeditated murder. But Stinkdog had given Tim a choice: Join the Aryan Brotherhood or die. Tim didn't want to do either, so his only option was to take preventive action.

"The Israelis do it all the time," Tim says to the lawyer.

"They're a country," the lawyer answers. "You're a career criminal."

It hasn't been much of a career: Three juvenile B&Es, a short stay with the California Youth Authority, a court-suggested stint in the Marines that ends in a dishonorable discharge, a burglary that ends up in Chino and then the beef that Tim's prior PD referred to as "the Beaut."

"This is a beant," Tim's prior attorney said. "Let me make sure I have this straight, because I want to get it right when I dine out on it for the next three years. Your buddy picks you up at Chino, and on the way home you rob a Gas n' Grub."

My buddy, Tim thought. Asshole Ware LaPerriere.

"He robbed the Gas n' Grub," Tim said. "Told me to wait in the car while he just went in for cigarettes."

"He said you had the gun."

"He had the gun."

"Yeah, but he cut a deal first," the lawyer said, "so for all practical purposes you had the gun."

The trial was a joke. A regular laugh riot. Especially when the Pakistani night clerk testified.

"And what did the defendant say to you when he pulled the gun?" the DA had asked.

"Exactly?"

"Exactly."

"His precise words?"

"Please."

"He said, 'Don't stickin' move, this is a flick-up.'"

The jury laughed, the judge laughed, even Tim had to admit it was pretty funny. It was so fucking comical that it landed Tim an eight-to-twelve in San Quentin in the proximity of Stinkdog. And a murder beef.

"Can you plead it down?" Tim asks this public defender. "Maybe third-degree?"

"Tim, I could plead it down to pissing in a phone booth, and you're still looking at life without parole," the lawyer says. You're a three-time loser. A monumental career fuck-up."

A lifetime ambition realized, Tim thinks. And I'm only twenty-seven.

That's where Tad Gruzsa comes in.

Tim's reading a Wolverine comic book in solitary one day when the guards take him out, put him in a black van with blacked-out windows, drive him to an underground garage someplace, then take him in an elevator to a room with no windows and handcuff him to a cheap plastic chair.

A blue chair.

Tim is sitting there for about thirty minutes when a squat muscular man with a bullet-shaped head comes in, followed by a tall, thin Hispanic man with bad skin.

At first Tim thinks that the squat man is bald, but his hair is just shaved close to his head. He has cold blue eyes, a bad blue suit and a smirk, and he looks Tim over like a piece of garbage and then says to the other guy, "I think this is the one."

"There's a definite resemblance," the beaner agrees.

That said, the squat guy sits down next to Tim. Smiles, then takes a big cupped right hand and whacks Tim on the ear--hard. Pain is like fucking unreal, but Tim, keeling over, manages to keep his ass on the chair. Which is a minor victory, but he knows that a minor victory is about the best he's going to get.

"You're a career fuck-up," Tad Gruzsa says when Tim straightens back up.

"Thank you."

"You're also a dead fucker when you get back to the yard," Gruzsa says. "Isn't he a dead fucker, Jorge?"

"He's a dead fucker," Jorge Escobar echoes with a grin.

"I'm a dead fucker." Tim smiles.

Gruzsa says, "So we're all agreed you're a dead fucker. The question now is, What, if anything, are we going to do about it?"

"I'm not rolling over on anyone," Tim says. Unless it's LaPerriere, then just show me where to sign.

"You killed a guy, Kearney," Gruzsa says.

Tim shrugs. He killed a lot of guys in the Gulf and no one seemed to get too uptight about it.

"We don't want you to roll over on anyone," Gruzsa says. "We want you to be somebody."

"So does my mother," Tim says.

This time Gruzsa hits Tim with his left hand.

To show he's versatile, Tim thinks.

"Just for a little while," Escobar says. "Then you walk away."

"And you keep walking," Gruzsa says.

Tim doesn't know what the fuck they're talking about, but the 'keep walking" part sounds interesting.

"What are you guys talking about?" he asks.

Gruzsa tosses a thin manila file folder onto the table.

Tim opens it and sees a picture of a thin-faced, tanned, handsome man with his long black hair pulled sleekly back into a ponytail.

"He kind of looks like me," Tim observes.

"Dub," says Gruzsa.

Gruzsa's fucking with him, but Tim doesn't care. When you're a three-time loser people get to fuck with you and that's just the way it is.

"Try to pay attention, dummy," Gruzsa says. "What you're going to do is you're going to pretend you're a certain person, then you can split. The world thinks the Angels whacked you on the yard. You get a new identity, the whole works."

"What 'certain person'?" Tim asks.

Tim thinks Gruzsa's eyes sparkle like those of an old con who sees a fresh piece of chicken on the yard.

"Bobby Z," Gruzsa answers.

"Who's Bobby Z?" Tim asks.


2.


"You never heard of Bobby Z?" Escobar asks. His jaw's hanging open like he just can't believe what he's hearing.

"See, you're such a moke you never even heard of Bobby Z," Gruzsa says.

Escobar says proudly, "Bobby Z is a legend."

They tell him the legend of Bobby Z.

Robert James Zacharias grew up in Laguna Beach, and like most other kids in Laguna Beach he was very cool. He had a skateboard, then a boogie board, then a belly board, then a long board, and by the time he was a sophomore at the aptly named Laguna High he was an accomplished surfer and a more accomplished drug merchant.

Bobby Z could read the water, read it like it was "See Spot run." He knew if the waves were coming in sets of three or four, knew when they were going to peak, break right or left, A-frame, backwash or tube, and it was that sense of anticipation that made him such a promising young surfer on the circuit as well as a successful entrepreneur.

Bobby Z couldn't even get a driver's license and was already a legend. Part of the legend was that Z had hitchhiked to his first big marijuana buy and hitchhiked back, just stood out there on the Pacific Coast Highway with his thumb out and two Nike gym bags stuffed with Maui Wowie at his feet.

"Bobby Z is ice," intones One Way, resident lunatic of Laguna's public beach and self-appointed Homer to Bobby's Ulysses. "One Way" is short for "One-Way Trip," the story being that One Way took a trip on six dots of blotter acid and never really came back. He wanders the streets of Laguna annoying tourists with his endless stream-of-consciousness soliloquies about the legend of Bobby Z.

"Those skinny Russian babes could skate on Bobby Z," One Way might typically pronounce. "He's that cold. Bobby Z is the Antarctica, except no penguins shit on him. He's pristine. Placid. Nothing worries Bobby Z."

The legend continued that Bobby Z converted the profits of those two Nike bags into four more Nike bags, then sixteen, then thirty-two, and by that time he'd given some money to a flunky adult to buy a classic '66 Mustang and drive him around.

Other kids are worried about what college they're going to get into and Z is thinking fuck college, because he's already making more than your third-year MBA, and he's just getting started when Washington declares this war on drugs, which is a major boon to Z, because not only does it keep the prices high, it also puts in jail that layer of semipro incompetents who would otherwise be competition.

And Z figures out early, even before he skips his graduation ceremony, fuck retail, retail is where you get to lean against your car and spread 'em. Wholesale is where it's at: Supply the supplier who supplies the supplier. Get to that level and become a non-person just managing the orderly flow of the product and the money and never ever put your own ass on the line. Like buy sell, buy sell, and Z is an organizational genius and he has it figured out.

Bobby Z has it figured out.

"Unlike you, dipstick," Gruzsa says to Tim. "You know how Bobby Z spends his high school graduation night? He rents a suite-- a suite--at the Ritz-Carlton in Laguna Niguel and has his friends over for the whole weekend."

Tim remembers how he'd spent graduation night. Not graduating, for one. While most of his classmates were at the prom, Tim and a buddy and two loser girls parked in a Charger up by the recycling center in Thousand Palms with a few six-packs and a low-grade joint. He hadn't even gotten laid--the girl just puked on his lap and passed out.

"Like you're a moke from fucking birth," Gruzsa adds.

What can I say? Tim thinks. It's true.

Tim grew up--or failed to--in the shithole town of Desert Hot Springs, California, just across Interstate 10 from the resort town of Palm Springs, where the rich people got to live. The people who lived in Desert Hot Springs got to clean toilets in Palm Springs and wash dishes and carry golf bags, and they were mostly Mexicans, except for a few white-trash drunks like Tim Kearney Sr., who on his rare visits home used to beat the shit out of Tim with a belt while pointing to the lights of Palm Springs and hollering, "See that? That's where the money is!"

Tim figured he had that just about right, so by the time he was fourteen he was breaking into those Palm Springs houses where the money was, nailing TV sets, VCRs, cameras, cash and jewelry and tripping off silent alarms.

On his first juvenile B&E, the family judge asked Tim if he had a drinking problem, and Tim, who was not stupid despite being a monumental fuck-up, knew an out when he heard one and worked up a few crocodile tears and said he was afraid that he was an alcoholic. So he got probation and some AA meetings and a pounding from his old man, instead of the CYA and a pounding from his old man.

Tim went to the meetings, and of course the judge was there, smiling on Tim like he was his own fucking son or something, which made the judge a little irritated when Tim appeared before him on his second juvie B&E, which included among the usual TV sets, VCRs, cameras, cash and jewelry, most of the contents of the victim's extensive liquor cabinet.

But the judge rose above his sense of personal betrayal and sent young Tim to a nearby rehab. Tim spent a month in group therapy learning to fall backward into someone's arms and therefore to trust that person, and all about his good and bad character points, and various "life skills."

The social worker at the rehab asked Tim if he thought he had "low self-esteem," and Tim was willing to accept the suggestion.

"Why do you think you have low self-esteem?" she asked kindly.

Tim answered, "Because I keep breaking into houses . . ."

"I agree."

". . . and getting caught."

So the social worker did more work with Tim.

Tim had almost completed the program when he had a little slip and burgled the rehab's petty cash box and went out and bought some good boo and the social worker asked Tim rhetorically, "Do you know what your real problem is?"

Tim said that he didn't.

"You have a problem with impulse control," she said. "You don't have any."

But this time the judge was pissed and mumbled through clenched jaws something about "tough love" and sent Tim to Chino.

Where Tim did his stretch and picked up a lot of useful life skills, and he was out about a month when the glittering lights of Palm Springs winked at him again. He was looking for jewelry this time and was almost out of the house and away with the goods when he tripped on a lawn sprinkler and sprained his ankle and WestTech Security grabbed him.

"Only you," his father said, "could get fucked up by water on grass in the middle of a fucking desert."

At that point the old man got the belt out, but Tim had learned a lot of useful life skills in Chino, and in a couple of seconds the old man was falling backward and there wasn't anyone there to keep him from hitting the floor.

So Tim got ready to go back to Chino, but he drew a different judge this time.

"What's your story, anyway?" the judge asked Tim.

"The problem is," Tim said, "I have a lack of impulse control."

The judge disagreed: "Your problem is breaking and entering."

"There's no problem breaking and entering," said Tim. "The problem is breaking and exiting."

The judge thought that Tim was such a smartass that maybe instead of learning new material at Chino he should become one of the few and the proud instead.

"You won't make it through basic," his old man told him. "You're too much of a pussy."

Tim thought the same thing. He had a problem finishing things (high school, rehab, burglaries) and figured the Marines would be the same thing.

It wasn't.

Tim liked the Corps. He even liked basic training.

"It's simple," he told his unbelieving barracks mates. "You do your job and they don't mess with you too much. Unlike real life."

Plus it got him out of Desert Hot Springs. Out of that shithole town and out of the fucking desert. At Camp Pendleton Tim woke up and got to see the ocean every morning, which was very cool, because it made him feel like one of those cool Californians who live by the ocean.
So Tim stuck it out. Stuck out his whole enlistment and even re-upped for a second tour. Got his GED, corporal's stripes and anassignment to Desert Warfare School at Twenty-nine Palms, about fifty miles from his dear old hometown of Desert Hot Springs.

Continues...

Excerpted from The Death and Life of Bobby Z by Don Winslow Copyright © 2006 by Don Winslow. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
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Sort by: Showing all of 8 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted January 9, 2002

    You Don't Have To Live In Laguna Beach

    If you've had it with heroes who have all the answers; tired of the same old stories with the same old twists and endings; just want to find a book you actually can't wait to get back to... Look no further!

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted February 15, 2013

    more from this reviewer

    Good Book

    I am a Don Winslow fan. I have enjoyed all of his books beggining with the Neal Carey series, the "surfer books, and the others.
    He does a good job with character development, integration of humor, and is knowlegable about his topics without being a nerd or policy wank.
    I would compare him favorably to Michael Connelly,Nelson Demille,Vince Flynn and others. He is a bit more gritty and colorful, but has the same type of appeal

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted December 11, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    A Top Winslow Novel

    Sure, a major motion picture, but better yet, a good read.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted August 11, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    Enjoyable Reading

    Tim Keaney is a man who strongly resembles the infamous Bobby Z. The authorites let Tim out of jail to impersonate Bobby Z in a hostage exchange. Then things go wrong and Tim escapes but he has his enemies and Bobby Z's chasing him. It was well written and never dull.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 26, 2007

    Clever Murder Mystery!

    I enjoy this writer's style of writing. I find Mr. Winslow's stories fun, entertaining, and all of them are MUST READS! Get your copy now!

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 21, 2000

    fast and funny

    I would have never picked it up to read, yet I couldn't put it down. My daughter sent it for her brother ( both avid readers). She is 24 and he is 28.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 3, 2000

    Read this one for fun!

    This is a great, easy, fun read. The story is quick and read like a movie. The dialogue is written in a funny conversational tone, and I foind myself laughing out loud at times. Furthermore, the lead character, Tim Kearney spends a good deal of time trying to convince the reader that he is a 'three time' loser, and I can assure you that within 50 pages you will think anything but..enjoy, this is a fun one.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted July 26, 2014

    more from this reviewer

    The Death and Life of Bobby Z is the book that started Don Winsl

    The Death and Life of Bobby Z is the book that started Don Winslow on his “drugs in Laguna” series, which isn’t actually a series as much as an attitude and state of mind that led eventually to Savages and its prequel.

    Tim Kearney is a three-time loser who gets fished out of a certain-death trip back to prison by a DEA agent who gives him an offer he can’t refuse: impersonate legendary Laguna Beach dope dealer Bobby Z and let himself get traded to a Mexican drug cartel in exchange for a kidnapped DEA agent. I probably don’t have to mention that things go horribly wrong, and eventually much of both sides of the law in Southern California want Tim dead.

    Bobby Z seems to be the first appearance of what has now become the “Don Winslow voice” – crazy, slangy, attitudinal, and profane. His previous efforts (the Neal Carey mysteries) appear to be much more conventional and comparatively sedate. The characters change names but have become standards in this “series” – the loser hero, the cool-girl goddess, the psychotic killers, the megawealthy dope dealers, the massively bent cops. Here they’re in their prototype form, a little rough around the edges but still entertaining. Serial screwup though he may be, Tim works out as a pretty okay guy to hang with. The dialog (external and internal) is on the mark, the settings filled in enough to picture in the film version. The prose goes down easy and fast.

    As you’d expect for the start of a new adventure, not everything goes together as well as it will down the road. Here the problem is mostly one of plotting, in that too much of it hinges on coincidence or dumb luck. Tim tends to catch all the breaks and the bad guys hardly any, which can get annoying after a while. Also, Winslow hadn’t yet started imbuing his supporting characters with the same level of humanity as his lead; probably the most vivid secondary player is a six-year-old boy.

    Winslow had six novels under his belt when he wrote Bobby Z, but with it he radically changes not only his style but milieu (both in fiction and in fact; he moved from New York to California before he wrote it). That’s a hard trick to pull off in any context, and it seems almost churlish to fault him for bobbling it. I’d give this three and a half if we had half-stars, but we don’t, so I’m rounding down to three in fairness to the later works. If you haven’t read Winslow before, start with Savages or Dawn Patrol and backtrack; if you have, then go for it and see where those other books came from. 

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