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4.3 out of 5 stars
4.3 out of 5 stars
California Fire And Life
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on 2 September 2017
great book
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on 5 July 1999
There are three things about this book that make it one of the most outstanding modern crime novels that I have read. Firstly, it's the rythmn of the writing: words and sentances that almost cry out to be read aloud and that have power whether written or spoken. Secondly, it's the plot: a convoluted, twisting tale of deceit and deception, betrayal and integrity. Finally, it's the characters: not a single cardboard cut-out in the whole thing. If nothing else, read this book for the description of the main character's time at fire school: a masterpiece.
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on 25 May 2008
This is the first Don Winslow novel that I've read. Early in the book I was a little cynical, but it gathers depth and pace, and ultimately achieved the accolade of 'unputdownable'. Winslow seems to have the intelligence of Ellroy and the cutting edge of McCarthy,and a nice sprinkling of his own sense of noir. I'll read them all!
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on 28 January 2016
I'd been meaning to get my hands on a Don Winslow novel for some time. Then, like buses, two came my way at the same time - The Power of The Dog and California Fire & Life. For no particular reason, I decided to read this earlier novel first.

Jack Wade is the protagonist in this super thriller. Jack is employed as an insurance claims investigator for the California Fire and Life Mutual Insurance Company. His specialism is arson. He is sent out to investigate the death of Pamela Vale who has died in a fire at her exclusive mansion overlooking the Pacific Ocean. Jack suspects foul play and so begins to unearth evidence to suggest that the woman may indeed have been murdered. His findings will ultimately be a deciding factor in whether or not the husband (Nicky Vale) will be able to receive a substantial insurance payout.

The author obviously did a lot of research before committing pen to paper (or fingers to the keyboard) because he provides in-depth information on the science behind fires and how forensics can be used to unearth the origins and cause of a devastating fire. One way in which Don Winslow conveys this knowledge is when we experience 'Fire School' as seen through Jack's eyes. It's here that Jack gets taught all about the chemistry of fire by a rather unconventional professor named Fuller. For my money, the chapters depicting Jack's experiences at the Fire School are, by themselves, worth the cover price of this novel.

This is a fast-moving tale filled with fraud, murder, extortion and greed. Lots of cynicism and black humour is spread throughout this street-smart story that held me so easily within its grip for 138 snappy chapters. I'm so very pleased that I finally got to experience the joy of reading one of this author's books. I actually came across a quote by the writer Ian Rankin that aptly sums up what I felt after finishing California Fire & Life:

'Don Winslow is the kind of cult writer who is so good you almost want to keep him to yourself, as if letting everyone in on the secret will somehow dilute the pleasure. So gulp down this book, tell all your friends, and remember - you heard it here first!'

Yes Mr Rankin, I couldn't agree more. This writer is good, very good and I shall certainly be investing more of my 'quality time' reading further books by Don Winslow.
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on 17 September 1999
A classic modern crime novel, that is impossible to put down once you have started reading.
Murder, Organised crime, Russian Mafia, Asian Gangs, Corruption, back stabbing and the good guy(s). This book has everything you could want and more, with the authors in depth knowledge of FIRE and fire investigation it makes it a very authentic and interesting read.
A true classic.
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on 3 May 2015
This book was my first encounter with Don Winslow (originally purchased as a large format paperback, about 10 years ago, subsequently purchased on Kindle, just in case). At first I found the staccato style of sentence and chapter construction disconcerting and distracting but, once you let yourself go with the flow, you find yourself enjoying being taken for the ride. The style so easily lends itself to the most basic page-turner. The plot isn't that unusual if you've experienced other noirish-thrillers set in the heat of the California sun, but I soon felt myself fascinated by the forensic detail of the fire investigation and even the subtleties of the insurance business. The author creates a most unusual character, fire itself, in all its varieties and the research that must have been required gives a fulfilling background to on which to hang the whole plot. You can't help but empathise with Jack and his predicaments and this led me to seek out everything else by Don Winslow. I've yet to be disappointed.
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on 18 September 2009
What can I say. This writer is fairly new to me and right now my favourite. It's the third book of his I have read. Obviously he has spent a substantial amount of time and energy researching his subject theme and it shows. Fire may not be the sexiest of subjects, but his knowledge and attention to detail makes his books a captivating read. Don draws you in with well rounded, convincing and interesting characters, making you want to know more about them. What I like about Dons books is the ending. Some books I read, and I read about 3 a month, leave you feeling let down by a poor, wishy washy, flimsy and rushed ending - as if the writer had run out of ideas and couldnt be bothered. Don grips you and keeps you reading right to the end. Its the sort of book you make an effort not to read, just to make it last longer. You need a quiet place to read Dons books, because you become so engrossed you dont want any distractions. Do I like his books? What do you think? Try Power of the Dog. Powerful, commanding and compelling stuff.
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on 30 August 2011
Here fire takes on a life of its own - a beutifully constructed crime novel based around a language of fire that is stunning. A clever, witty and engaging book. Has to be one of the best crime novels I have read and I have read hundreds
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on 28 November 2011
Been meaning to pick up a book by Winslow for ages (ever since I heard some good reviews for Power of the Dog) but just hadn't. Really regretting that because, if this novel is anything to go on, I have been missing out on one of the finest crime writers out there.

In California Fire and Life he creates a series of vivid characters placing them in a complex plot that encompasses the regulation crime-lit mix of murder, mayhem and intrigue.

Winslow is a writer who right up there with the Elmore Leonard's and Carl Hiaasen's of modern crime fiction. And California Fire and Life is an engaging and intensely satisfying read. Highly recommended.
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on 26 June 2012
I've struck a rich vein of gold in my recent reading, and this is one choice nugget. It's a pacy, never-a-dull-moment novel in a clipped, dry style which reminded me of Chandler's Philip Marlowe. And yet it's wholly contemporary, bringing the dark side of sunny California brilliantly to life. Great characterisation too - I loved Jack Wade, and I'm sorry it doesn't look as if he makes a come-back in any of Winslow's other books. As a side-benefit, there's an education to be had in the physics of fire, which I found fascinating - hats off to Mr Winslow for some very painstaking research. An easy 5 stars from me. Brilliant.
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