Don Winslow’s The Kings of Cool is a bold, enthralling story of love, lust, greed, drugs, and the fallacies of them all.
Don Winslow crafts a masterpiece of a story that weaves together the past and present lives of 8 characters in his novel The Kings of Cool, which is the prequel to his novel Savages. The Kings of Cool focuses on the lives of Ben, Chon, and the lustfully witty O. Ben and Chon engineer a unique strain of weed that prompts them to open their first grow house and mass produce their product for a profit. Intelligent, savvy, and dangerous, Ben and Chon quickly monopolize on the drug trade and reap the rewards of their multitudes of grow houses. Meanwhile, O is engaged within her own journey that occasionally crosses path with the aforementioned characters. Earning an exceptionally tantalizing profit on their product, the duo continue to expand their business; that is until they are given an ultimatum. Pay the hierarchies of the drug trade and continue to make a slightly lessened profit, or they can forgo the forewarning and continue to capitalize on their lucrative strain of weed. Fearlessly confident and brushing off the threat, Ben and Chon ignore this warning from the Mexican drug barons. Wrong move.
Rather than kowtow to the higher-ups of the drug cartels, Ben and Chon pretend to play ball after receiving quite a strong, violent message from those who truly run the marijuana business. As the plot unfolds, we are presented with another story that takes place in the drug-filled, idealistic era of revolution that was the 1960s. Winslow introduces us to Kim, Stan, Diane, Doc, and John, and Winslow chronicles their lives from the freedom land of the 60s to the present day as hope for the idealistic revolution fades. As the two stories progress, they blend together seamlessly to produce an engaging, humorous, and intriguing overarching story.
What I most enjoyed about the novel was its wit and intelligence. Throughout the entire book, Winslow tackles such serious topics as the drug trade, political scandals, murder, poverty, and governmental and political ideologies that are still so prevalent in today’s social climate. Although I do not usually read many novels about crime, I was extremely and pleasantly surprised about this book. The Kings of Cool is a bold, enthralling story of love, lust, greed, drugs, and the fallacies of them all. Also, I was impressed with all of the details of the story Winslow gives you—from the details of the growing process to the in-depth knowledge of the judicial and political system (or lack thereof).
I can say that I was less than a fan of the overall pessimism of the story. I am perfectly fine with a book that is on tough material and that has a macabre or dark ending, but I felt the overall pessimism was, if anything, a minor con. Most characters were hollow, vindictive, blood-thirsty, and unfaithful, but this was necessary to the heavy subject matter of the story. Winslow obviously could not be creating hitmen with hearts of gold or coke-addicted harlots with much compassion. The story and characters just painted a rather austere picture of the world, and I would just like to believe that the world isn’t as bleak, cynical, and corrupt as this novel makes it out to be. Maybe that is just wishful thinking, though.
Regardless, Winslow does a spectacular job at creating an engaging story with a cast of characters, which are not easily compartmentalized as good or bad. The line between corruption and justice are so skewed and blurred within this story that it is hard to know if anyone is making the morally correct choice. Ben and Chon, considered as good of characters as this novel has, have to often struggle with morality. Seeking justice for any crimes committed against their friends or dealers, Ben and Chon have to get their hands dirty in order to remedy the injustices committed in the first place.
I enjoyed this novel immensely, and I find Winslow to be an extremely intelligent author with a sharp, witty cynicism in his characters that I found enticing and humorous. This novel is, obviously, a violent one, and I urge any readers who do not enjoy lewd, lascivious, or crass characters to maybe consider another read. Despite his overtly sarcastic characters equipped with profanity-ridden mouths, we see a story of three young characters who form a bond that transcends familial relationships. This trio relies on one another as if they were blood, and, in fact, refer to one another as their own family.
Winslow does an astounding job at conjuring up the dark atrocities of our world and painting a dreary photo for society, but, when you least expect it, Winslow adds a modicum of hope, friendship, and, last but not least, love that instills within the reader an optimistic feeling that this perilous terrain we call life can be maneuvered with the support of your real, true family.