Author of the Month

Name: Don Winslow

First Novel: A Cool Breeze on the Underground

Most Recent Book: Satori

'Satori is a world-class thriller...'

It is Sugamo Prison in Japan, October 1951. The twenty-six year old Nicholai Hel has spent the last three years in solitary confinement for the murder of his mentor. An assassin and scholar, he has developed a supreme awareness of danger and when he is suddenly offered the chance of freedom, this awareness goes on high alert.

Overseen by Haverford, his American spymaster, and the gorgeous and mysterious Solange he must go to Beijing and kill the Soviet Union’s commissioner to China. This is effectively a suicide mission he has no option but to accept.

His mission takes him from the corruption of Beijing to the shadows of the Vietnam jungle; not knowing who is his enemy or if he has any friends. He is working in a world of betrayal and chaos, hunting a man he discovers he would want to kill anyway, whether he was being paid or not. All the while a formidable adversary known only as The Cobra has been set loose on him.

Those mystery fans of a certain age will have come across the redoubtable Nicholai Hel through the work of the old master of Thrillers, Trevanian and his novel “Shibumi” (1979). When I heard Don Winslow had taken up the baton I couldn’t have been more excited. The mantle of a legendary novelist is assumed up by one of the most exciting writers working in the genre today. What’s not to love?

The really good news is its absolutely fantastic. It’s a real shame the 'star' system we employ here at Crimesquad only goes up to five.
This book has everything the fan of the spy novel could ask for. High –octane action, fight set-pieces as carefully choreographed as anything Jackie Chan put on the big screen and scenes that take us to almost every exotic location on the planet.

Hel, himself is a wonderful character. One of my favourites ever to run across the pages of a book. He is part Russian, part Japanese. He is a scholar and a linguist and an assassin who makes James Bond appear like a heavy-handed buffoon.

Winslow is a fine prose stylist and in this outing he demonstrates his versatility by adopting the more straightforward approach of Trevanian; an approach that is more suitable to this sub-genre given the characters and locations.

One of the pleasures of Shibumi was Trevanian’s depiction of the eastern mind-set and Winslow proves he is equally adept at describing this. Satori blends the cultural heritage of Japanese society with Buddhist influences, set amid the oppressive politics of 1950's Maoist China and the chaos of Vietnam.

Then for added flavour we have the running motif of life in the form of the Japanese board game of Go; a beautiful, deadly woman, Hel’s supernatural ability to sense people; and a hilariously melodramatic Basque dwarf who provides intelligence for our hero.

The result of Winslow’s effort to pay respect to the achievement of Trevanian, while bringing the character to life in the new century is nothing short of remarkable. Winslow's attention to historical detail is fascinating and it's seamlessly stitched to a relentless plot which compels the reader onwards.

Satori is a world-class thriller; I defy any fan not to enjoy it. Until now Don Winslow has been the genre’s best kept secret, with Satori he is about to go mainstream.

Reviewed by: M.M.

CrimeSquad Rating


1) What makes a truly great crime/thriller novel?
Character, character and character. People we’re intrigued by and want to spend time with. After that – setting. Bring me into a world I want to visit and do it well.
2) Are you surprised by the diversity of the crime genre? Do you think crime readers are always open to different styles?
I’m always struck by the wide diversity of our genre. It’s a big tent. I also think we have the best readers in the world – they always seem open to a variety of styles, settings and topics. I don’t think they care about those things – I think what they want – rightly – is quality.
3) What were the main challenges for you while writing the prequel to such an iconic book as Shibumi?
Well, for one, the fact that it is such an iconic book. Big footsteps, those. The main challenge was trying to blend my voice into Trevanian’s without attempting what would have been a bad imitation.
4) Most of your previous works have been set in the West, how difficult was the research to help you bring the Far East to life?
It was great. Actually, I had co-authored a non-fiction book about Vietnam, so I was fairly familiar with the body of research. And I’d worked and travelled in China. I love to do research – I’m a historian by training – so it was nothing but fun. And a nice change from writing about California.
5) Did you really learn how to play ‘Go’?
If by ‘learn’ you mean ‘master’ – no. If by ‘learn’ – you mean ‘gain a level of competence ‘– no. If by ‘learn’ you mean ‘make an effort to stumble through despite endless losses’ – yes, I did.
6) Do you have any more plans to continue on with this particular franchise (and please say yes)?
I don’t think it’s up to me. But I wouldn’t mind.
7) You have one of the most distinctive voices writing in the genre today. How difficult was it to adapt yours to one that was more suited to Trevanian?
It did require some discipline. I had to write in complete sentences, with some regard for syntax and grammar. And the slang was in Chinese, Japanese, Vietnamese and French, not in surfbonics. It was tough at times, but fun to write a bit more. . .elegantly. . .than I usually do.
8) When I was younger I wanted to be Nicholai Hel. Go on, spill, did you?
I want to be Nicholai Hel now!
9) Anything that enjoys the status of “cult” is often dangerous ground to re-tread. Fans don’t like their hero to be tampered with. What has been the early reaction from the Shibumi die-hards?
Yeah –‘cult’ has a negative, violent connotation, doesn’t it? I blame Charles Manson. But as cults go the Shibumi folks are pretty reasonable (Go boards instead of purple tennis shoes and Kool-Aid) and I think they were glad to have Hel back, even via me.
10) You have written a number of novels now. Do you have a favourite?
I think it’s always a good idea to be in love with the girl you’re dancing with.
11) What is your favourite movie adaptation of all time of a crime/thriller novel?
No question – The Friends of Eddie Coyle.
12) What is your favourite crime/thriller novel of all time
Again, no question – The Long Goodbye.