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4.3 out of 5 stars
94
The Death and Life of Bobby Z
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on March 15, 2016
If you don't know Don Winslow, this is a good one to start with. There's less interest in surfing here than in the Boone Daniels series, but the style is the same -- reminiscent of Elmore Leonard in milieu but with a distinctive narrator presence. You get the feeling that there's somebody telling you this yarn, while with Leonard the author is neutral enough to disappear. Both authors are among my favorites, and the technique works well for Winslow, whose books improved dramatically after he moved to California for some reason. Like many of Leonard's novels, this one follows a hapless criminal who gets caught up in a life-threatening situation and turns it around to benefit himself. The territory is familiar: former Marine asked to take the place of a mysterious drug dealer for the DEA.... But Winslow succeeds in taking a tried-and-true scenario and making it lots of fun.
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on January 23, 1998
Author Don Winslow wrote this book largely on a train during commutes and without an outline--and it shows. "The Death and Life of Bobby Z" is a story that goes where it wants when it wants at a furious pace. The setup for the story is fairly simple. A big-time loser of a prison inmate kills another inmate in order to prevent the same thing from happening to him. As it happens, he resembles the notorious drug dealer Bobby Z. So the feds offer him a deal. They want to trade the dealer to a Mexican drug kingpin in exchange for an agent, but Bobby Z happens to be dead. So if the loser will take the place of Bobby Z, they'll trade him and let him fend for himself. But the real Bobby Z, it turns out, has fathered a child, whom the imposter Bobby Z takes under his wing while fleeing from just about everybody and fleeing across Mexico and California.
One of the most compelling aspects of "The Death and Life of Bobby Z" is the style in which Winslow writes. The novel is almost conversational, and Winslow includes liberal doses of California surfer and Mexican jargon. To his credit, Winslow aptly pulls off what could have been an abysmal experiment. The style works with the plot to make this novel one of the fastest reads in a long time.
On an unrelated note, there is a Don Winslow who writes what can politely be called "erotic" novels. These are two entirely different people. The Winslow who wrote "The Death and Life of Bobby Z" is the author of the Neal Carey series ("The Trail to Buddha's Mirror," "A Cool Breeze on the Underground," etc.). In addition, he wrote "A Winter Spy" under the name McDonald Lloyd.
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on March 15, 2016
This is one of the most entertaining books I have read. After reading this authors books "The Power of the Dog" and the "Cartel" both of which are compelling reads this was a complete surprise. I mean this in a good way. Winslow has established himself as my # 1 author for this genre. You will not be disappointed !
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on May 19, 2018
I didn't realize going in that it was basically a short story, so I felt a big cheated. It was a great story, though, and I wish it had been a whole book.
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on January 18, 2009
Like the great Texas author, Joe R. Lansdale, California writer Don Winslow has to be the best-kept secret in the literary community. Up until a few months ago, I'd never heard of him. Now, I've read four of his novels, The Drawn Patrol, The Winter of Frankie Machine, California Fire & Live, The Death and Life of Bobby Z, and I've just started his five-hundred-page book, The Power of the Dog, which is proving to be one of the best thrillers I've ever read. So far, all of his novels have been excellent books straight across the board, and why this author isn't on everybody's bestseller list with the publication of each new novel is a complete mystery to me. In fact, I consider it to be one of the grand mysteries of the Universe, right up there with super strings and black holes and what the hell happened to the other black sock in the dryer. Since I've already reviewed the first three of the above books, I now want to talk abut Bobby Z, which is certainly one of the fastest reads I've ever encountered and not because it's short in length. As readers are so fond of saying, I literally couldn't put this book down, and I read it in just two days, which is a record at my age and with my poor eyesight and lack of reading time. I also just found out that Bobby Z was turned into a movie and is out on DVD. I don't know if the film is any good or not, but because I enjoyed the novel so much, I'm going to take a chance with the movie and rent it. Now, on to the story!

Tim Kearney considers himself a three-time loser. Well, in fact, he kind of is. He's been in and out of prisoner for minor crimes and is now facing life without parole for killing a Hell's Angel named Stinkdog with a homemade knife in self-defense, that's if the other bikers in the joint don't get to him first in retaliation. Everything unexpectedly turns around for Tim when two DEA agents offer him a way out with the possibility of living a somewhat longer life, if he can pull off what they want him to do. Hell, all Tim has to do in order to get his free pass out of prison is impersonate a Southern Californian drug dealer named Robert Zacharias, who's better known as the legendary Bobby Z. You see, Tim looks a lot like Bobby Z, and no one's seen Bobby in years as he's traveled around Southeast Asia, setting up his drug connections. Bobby's been handling all of his business through cutouts, and there's even a rumor that he might have been betrayed while in Thailand and arrested by the Thai police. The DEA agents want to exchange Tim for one of their own people, whose being held prisoner by Mexican drug-kingpin, Don Huertero. Huertero is willing to trade the agent for Bobby Z because he wants to kill Bobby very slowly and painfully for what the young man did to his daughter. Tim doesn't know any of this. Not having a lot of choices, however, he agrees to be Bobby Z, but everything quickly falls apart the night of the exchange when one of the DEA agents is murdered and Tim finds himself in the hands of Huertero's people, waiting to be tortured and killed. The one thing that nobody seems to know about Tim is that he's not a total loser. In fact, he was a Marine in the Gulf War and won the Navy Cross for saving his recon unit from an Iraqi armored division. These fighting skills are going to be all that stands between Tim and certain death as he tries to figure out how to turn everything around to his advantage and to come out ahead of the game.

Don Winslow has created a thrill ride of action, suspense, and humor in The Death and Life of Bobby Z. He grabs the reader in a chokehold during the first few pages and doesn't let him up for air till the very last sentence. The author has also managed to create a lead character in Tim Kearney, who's more of a hero in the choices that he later makes than an actual bad guy. This is certainly someone that you root for throughout the novel, hoping the he'll get away in the end to start a new life with those he loves. But more than that, this is a book filled with stand-out characters, more action than you hope for, fast-paced writing, a look at the Mexican/United States drug trade, and a man with nothing to lose and everything to gain.

The Death and Life of Bobby Z is what reading for fun and entertainment is all about. This is the type of novel that you can't put down, wanting to finish each chapter as quickly as you can to find out what happens at the end. A fantastic read that clearly displays the utter craftsmanship of Don Winslow. A true winner!
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on August 15, 2015
A real disappointment after reading The Cartel. This book seems to be directed at preteen little boys. The plot is juvenile and the characters verge on the ridiculous. In my opinion, a waste of my money and time!
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on March 18, 2018
Terrific book. Second time reading the book. Hooked me on Don Winslow.
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on March 1, 2017
Not his best, but he wrote it twenty years ago so I forgive him.
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on April 12, 2017
I bought this for my adult son. He never takes time to read, but now that he's found Don Winslow, he can't read enough. He finishes every book in as little as 2 days, and is ready for the next one.
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on September 9, 2015
Don Winslow should be read by all followers of crime novels. I am hoping he has another offering shortly, as I am just about complete buying his older novels. A must read.
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