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California Fire and Life Unknown Binding – 1999

95 customer reviews

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Unknown Binding, 1999
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Product Details

  • Unknown Binding
  • Publisher: Knopf New York (1999)
  • ASIN: B0046JVAFA
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (95 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #11,507,413 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Don Winslow (b. 1953) is the New York Times bestselling author of thirteen crime and mystery novels as well as short stories and film screenplays. A Cool Breeze on the Underground, Winslow's debut and the first novel in his popular Neal Carey series, was nominated for an Edgar Award. Before becoming a fulltime writer, Winslow worked as a private detective in New York and California.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

23 of 25 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on November 18, 1999
Format: Hardcover
The first half of this book -- the one that stays withinhailing distance of reality -- is engrossing. Details of arsoninvestigation and a sympathetically flawed hero kept me glued to the pages, not wanting the book to end. The portrayal of arson investigator school are especially crisp.
Somewhere in the middle of the book, though, it appears that Winslow freebased his James Ellroy collection. His prose starts hyperventilating, mimicking the Ellroy's staccato authority but throwing believability out the window.
Winslow stokes his novel with complication and conspiracy until the engine explodes, with fatal results. He ends up with a grotesque charicature of Hollywood pulp and Ellroy complexity. Given the cool confidence he displays in the beginning, it's a real shame.
Read the first half over and over again; read the second at your peril.
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18 of 19 people found the following review helpful By Gary Griffiths VINE VOICE on October 30, 2005
Format: Mass Market Paperback Verified Purchase
Having just finished reading Michael Connolly's groundbreaking "Lincoln Lawyer", I thought I'd pretty much tapped out my stash of superlatives in book reviews. Then I picked up "California Fire and Life" - and let me tell you, if you looked up "blockbuster" in the dictionary, a picture of Don Winslow holding a copy of this book would pretty much sum it up.

Jack Wade is the stereotypical Southern California Zen surfer dude, though while pushing forty, an aging one. But he is no slacker. The ace claims adjuster for the fictional California Fire and Life, Jack possesses an uncompromised work ethic and speaks fluently the language of fire. When a multi-million dollar cliff-top home burns, taking the young mother and wife with it, Wade gets the job of confirming that the fire was in fact accidental before writing the big checks. Jack meets homeowner and less-than-grieving widower Nicky Vale, aka Diaziatnik Valeshin, a Russian immigrant who took full advantage of the American dream, transforming himself from penniless cab driver to multimillionaire real estate developer over a short couple of decades. The sheriff's department has ruled the fire accidental, Cal Fire and Life is ready to pay the claim, but the maverick Wade sees the evidence differently. Convinced that the fire was arson and that Nicky is guilty of murdering his young wife, Wade takes on the system, and is engulfed in a fiery orgy of chainsaw-toting Russian mobsters, corrupt cobs, Vietnamese gangs, outlaw bikers, scams, cons, and deception. While this may sound like central casting for the standard LA crime novel, Winslow uses these usual players effectively as props to back this classic tale of the good Jack vs. the evil Nicky and his creepy "Mother Russia".
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Pamela Stone on July 28, 2000
Format: Hardcover
California Fire and Life Don Winslow Knopf 1999 ISBN 0676549705 H.C. Mystery
I had never heard of Don Winslow before I was sent this book to review, now he is a favorite.
Jack Wade an arson adjuster for California Fire and Life Mutual, understands fires, its the people that he doesn't understand. Wade is a very engaging character, who really knows what he is doing. Jack must investigate a fire that he knows is arson, but others believe is accidental, his own company starts to pressure him to settle the case, but he cant and he breaks his own cardinal rule, "You don't get emotional and what ever you do don't get involved. As Jack gets further and further involved the situation becomes more dangerous. Soon arson is the least of Jacks worry, as the case grows to involve the Russian mob and Vietnamese gangs and much more. This book is a wild ride through the world of fire and insurance. The characters are cool and real life. I especially liked the details of the fire investagationing.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Tim Smith on December 4, 2000
Format: Hardcover
I was looking through my library for something to battle the "blahs" and found this gem. Don Winslow's book is excellent with a clever and tightly constructed plot. The story is written from the point of view of an observer who describes what the colorful and believable characters say, do and think. The realistic dialogue reveals the thought processes of the main characters in a way that cleverly allows the reader to anticipate and follow the action.
Jack Wade is an ex-cop, arson investigator who is employed as a claims adjuster-arson specialist for a large insurance company, California Fire and Life. He investigates a fire claim submitted by Daziatnik Valeshin,aka Nicky Vale, a Russian KGB military officer in the U.S. to investigate/infiltrate/use the Russian Mafia. He uses his connections to make money and put himself in a position of power. Jack's investigation of Vale's claim uncovers arson and murder. Jack stands up against his insurance co. which wants to pay the claim. Why? It is all inter-related, clever and very, very entertaining. It is funny, easy to relate to and would be a movie hit if done right. Highly Recommended!
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Carol Peterson Hennekens on January 10, 2001
Format: Hardcover
Take the Southern California angst of Micheal Connelly's Harry Bosch. Add the techno-element of a Tom Clancy. Toss in a dash of the international intrigue of a Robert Ludlum. Set it on fire-- and you have California Fire and Life.
What a treat to find this book. So many of the "new" Southern California school of mystery writers seem to be the same. Sure there are elements here - Jack surfs and his girlfriend is a Latina. But this is a book with a solid driving plot and an interesting angle -- arson.
I must admit I started out planning on only four stars for this book because of the sometimes overwhelming detail about the chemistry and physics of fire. Still the section on fire as a "seduction" is a gem. However, my husband convinced me that this detail (which he heard on tape and couldn't skim over) was one of the best parts of the book. Must be a guy thing.
So, for those who love the best of the classic elements in mystery/thriller reading but are looking for a refreshing change -- my solid thumb up.
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