Fucking dirty Don Winslow stole my opening line. Really. Crept into my numb skull and ripped it right from my imagination. The bastard. Of course I’ve had it kicking around in there for quite some time, and by rights it’s anybody’s for the taking. But hell, I didn’t think anybody else had the nerve to come out swingin’ with such venom. Guess that’s what I get for thinking, huh? And that’s what I get for waiting around to do something which should’ve been done years ago. Seems use it or lose it ain’t just a mantra anymore.
The line? Oh, you really wanna know?
No, I don’t mean fuck you. I mean, that’s the line. Fuck you. The first words a rip-roaring ride entitled Savages (Simon & Schuster $25). In fact, it’s the whole first chapter. And that’s about as nice as things get.
Okay, so I hyperbolize. There actually is some niceness in this savage spree of a story. You might even say there’s love. There’s certainly loyalty. And there’s an honor there too. But sometimes things like love and loyalty and honor aren’t enough. Not when you’re facing a bloody branch of a Mexican drug cartel anyway.
The good guys, as it were, are Ben, Chon and Ophelia (O for short). Ben’s a sorta extreme philanthropist; Chon’s a former Navy Seal who spent more time in the desert than the sea. Together they traffic in designer hydro. And O, a sorta poor little rich girl with certain flair, loves ‘em both, big time.
Ben and Chon both love O too, as well as each other, in a brotherly sorta way. One’s yin to the other’s yang; O, well, she’s more like a yo-yo.
The hydro business that they’ve set up is based on some enlightened blueprint in Ben’s do-good mind, and while his system might not totally maximize profits, it’s certainly made them rich enough. Wildly rich. So there’s no issue when Ben periodically wants to take a buncha loot and ship off to save some sorry part of the world.
One day, while Ben’s away, Chon receives a video clip from a branch of the Baha cartel. In that clip seven ex-employees are sitting strapped to chairs. Next to their feet are their heads, which have been chain-sawed off of their bodies. No, this wasn’t a bit of gore porn. This was a message: “Sell your pot to us and us alone or you’ll lose your heads too.”
It’s a total buzz kill, of course, especially for two forward-thinking pot dealers. And Ben sees it as a sign that they should bow outta the game completely. Like I said, they’re already rich. So why not get while the getting is still possible?
Chon sees things very differently. To him any acquiescence at all is a sign of weakness, weakness the decapitatingly-inclined cartel will surely exploit. Chon wants to get Biblical on their ass; you know, the whole eye-for-an-eye thing. And he’s ready to rock-n-roll.
Of course a couple Cali boys can’t summon enough muscle to go, er, head-to-head with a Mexican cartel, no matter how much money they’ve got. And after Ben paints a picture of a tranquil life on a remote beach where the three can live happily ever after, Chon agrees to leave the business to the savages.
Unfortunately the cartel, which incidentally is run by a woman named Elena La Reina, has other ideas. And they all include Ben and Chon. So when the two attempt to turn over a new leaf they are hit with a forest of disapproval. From then on, all proverbial hell breaks loose.
As always, I won’t spoil the story by giving away the good stuff. You’ve got the set up; it’s now on you to see it through to the conclusion, just like the savages do. I’ll tell you this though: Winslow’s romp reads like a fist-fight, is written like a drive-by, and leaves you edged up and itchy for action. In other words, it’s a choice cut of bloody pulp.
What more could you possibly want from a story?