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There is nothing sweeter for a book fan than seeing a new release from one of your favourite authors. I look regularly on Amazon to see when the likes of Robert Rankin, Terry Pratchett, and Steve Hamilton etc have new books out and add them to my wish list, but be warned! When an author becomes successful their publishers often start to sneak out rereleases in between new books. All of a sudden an author seems more prolific, but this is not the case. A back catalogue is not always a good thing, these books have often gone out of print for a reason as the author took years to develop and improve their craft. They could do more damage to the reputation of the author than the profit from extra sales is worth. However, if an author is truly great their back catalogue can be a treasure trove of lost delights - step forward Don Winslow, now officially my favourite author of crime fiction.
Walter Wither is a former company man, that company being the CIA. It's 1958 and for the past few years Walter has specialised in baiting honey traps to turn Russian agents to his side. However, life in Switzerland has become increasingly depressing with the deaths of several of his contacts weighing heavily on his mind. Therefore, Walter decides to quit the CIA and get a job as a PI in New York where he can live with his Jazz singing lover. Life as a PI is not particularly interesting as he specialises in CV checking, but one day he gets a very important assignment to chaperone a young movie starlet in the company of Senator Keneally and his wife. Walter soon finds himself mixed up in a world of seedy politics and favours. When someone ends up dead Walter becomes the prime suspect he must use all of his CIA skills to find the real killer whilst protecting his identity.
'Isle of Joy' for all intents and purposes should not be the kind of book that I like. I am a fan of modern crime books that are fact paced and thrilling - 'Isle' is none of these. Although a crime story, the pace and setting make it far more laid back. Usually this would enrage me but Winslow is such a fantastic writer of character and situation that every page is wonderful. Winslow is an author who likes to paint a vivid picture at the start and really let you get to know the characters. This means that when the action does speed up towards the end you have a real vested interested in who you want to live or die. Winslow's own 'Power of the Dog' was an excellent example of this and now added to the list is 'Isle of Joy'.
In 'Isle' Winslow is able to recreate 1950s New York for you in rich colours. You can imagine the swanky bars, beatniks and socialites. He subtlety invites you into a world that is bright on the outside, but hides a rotten core. The way he paints with words means that I could read paragraph after paragraph of setting without having the story move on one step. Luckily then that the story is so good anyway. Although slow paced to begin with this is key to highlighting the twists and turns that develop towards the conclusion. Nothing is as it seems and with danger coming from every direction the book becomes unputdownable.
I also loved the characters that Winslow created. Walter as the lead is a prime example of smoky noir. He is far more sophisticated than the usual protagonist and has an aloofness that should be off putting. However, Winslow describes perfectly why Walter is why he is and the standoff approach of his investigation fits in perfectly with the character. The other characters on show are also well realised from the lovers to the thinly disguised real life people such as President Kennedy. Perhaps the greatest character in the book is New York itself. Winslow evokes New York at Christmas time perfectly and the setting really adds to the story. The only down side in the entire book is a slightly overlong American Football scene that proved a little dull, especially for a European.
'Isle of Joy' may be one of the last books I read in 2008 and it is certainly one of the best. A slower paced book normally leaves me restless, but in the hands of an author as good as Winslow the slower pace just adds the richness of the world. I have read very few books that evoke as well as this a sense of time and place. Added to this is a very intriguing and well written mystery. In short, one of the best crime books I have ever read and a prime example why some authors deserve their earlier works to be re-released.
Do yourself a favour and read this book - or the sublime 'Power of the Dog'.
Author: Don Winslow
Price: amazon uk - £7.99
play.com - £6.05