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California Fire and Life

3.94 of 5 stars 3.94  ·  rating details  ·  1,229 ratings  ·  102 reviews
Insurance claims investigator Jack Wade knows that the woman who died in a suspicious fire in her multimillion-dollar mansion overlooking the Pacific was murdered. Jack could turn away from the case, but he won't because some old scores need to be settled. So Jack takes the plunge into a world of crime, ambition, and evil.
Paperback, 408 pages
Published May 1st 2001 by Ballantine Books (first published January 1st 1999)
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Infinite City by Rebecca SolnitBlues City by Ishmael ReedThe Salty Dog by Debbie   WhiteCalifornia Fire and Life by Don WinslowWhere I Was From by Joan Didion
California Newbie
3rd out of 24 books — 19 voters
Cannery Row by John SteinbeckThe Grapes of Wrath by John SteinbeckThe Day of the Locust by Nathanael WestThe Manson File by Nikolas SchreckWhite Oleander by Janet Fitch
Best California Books
84th out of 108 books — 98 voters

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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 1,692)
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Lance Charnes
Jan 26, 2015 Lance Charnes rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: fans of surfer noir, or forensic procedural fans looking for some sand and surf
California Fire and Life is the book that comes right after The Death and Life of Bobby Z in Winslow's oeuvre, toward which I was semi-lukewarm, and is a couple back from The Dawn Patrol , which I liked a bit. In it, Winslow shows the growth curve that eventually landed him with Savages , which is the good news here.

Jack Wade isn't quite the archetypical Winslow surfer-slacker semi-hero; he's actually fully employed as a fire claims adjuster with the titular insurance company, and is even good
naw, it ain't nearly as good as Power of the Dog, but fuckit, what is? winslow's a goddamn badass (second only to ellroy in contemporary crime) and the russian prison/KGB training sequence is reason enough to read this book... yeah, there's some cliches and a nice helping of cheese, but it's all so fucking cool and fun and smart that i'd take winslow's duds (of which i have yet to come across) over most writers' prizewinners...
Joe Valdez
Sep 03, 2014 Joe Valdez rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Surfers, pyromaniacs, private dicks
Shelves: fiction-crime
One of the joys of reading is discovering a novel where the author taps into his or her own peculiar obsession, takes aim and with the expertise of an Olympic archer, hits a target dead center. This is what Don Winslow accomplishes with California Fire and Life. I came to this book by way of Savages and while I had similar problems with the climax, Winslow showed better quality control with this earlier title, enough to qualify for five stars.

Jack Wade is a former arson investigator with the Ora
This is my 3rd Don Winslow book and I've loved every one of them ----- Savages, The Death and Life of Bobby Z, and now California Fire and Life. The pages turn quickly, I'm laughing, I'm shocked, I'm sad, I'm going through all kinds of emotion. What a ride! This is a story about Jack Wade, a claims adjuster for California Fire and Life Insurance Co He gets assigned to a major fire in a Laguna Beach mansion, which was reported by the wealthy owner and which supposedly killed the owner's wife, who ...more
Tim Niland
Jack Wade is a "claims dog," a fire investigator for the California Fire and Life insurance company. Called to a fire where a young woman was killed, Jack suspects arson while all of the people around him are trying to convince him otherwise. This was a pretty wild tale filled with fraud, murder, extortion and greed. One of the mistakes of Jack's past have come back to bite him and he's being set up as the patsy for the scam of a lifetime. He will need all of his training as an investigator alon ...more
I've always liked Don Winslow since his earliest mysteries.

This one delved into the world of fire insurance and since it's a topic I know nothing about, it held my interest. The author educates the reader on certain topics as much as spins a good tale but does it in a manner that's not in-your-face annoying. I loved the link to Russian mafia as well. The main characters are pretty well drawn, not flimsy caricatures like with some writers (but I have to say I love his Neal Carey mysteries from h
I love how Don Winslow writes - a kind of cool swagger (Jack, the protagonist, is a surfer, after all) but still on the side of the good guys. I loved all of the stuff about fire science - how fires burn, what telltale signs they leave behind, how fire investigation works. The plot, while a bit circuitous, was also A+ - I LOVE when I can't tell what's going to happen.

Here's an example:

"Dinesh Adjati looks like Bambi.

Not the older Bambi, Jack thinks - the one who kicks the rival buck's ass at the
Ashland Mystery Oregon
Re-read this wonderful Don Winslow mystery, just to remember how well written it is. The science of fire is explicit and tremendously informative, especially the forensics. The lovingly painted picture of the southern California gold coast - Laguna Beach - is nostalgic in its transformation into tourism. A wonderfully complex mystery with great characters and setting.

I have to catch up with Don Winslow; each of his works are stand alones with new protags, but most are set in southern California.
Frances Kelly
This is a fascinating thriller involving arson. I am an attorney who is also a certified arson investigator - not that I've had to use this training very frequently - but it was obvious to me that Don Winslow has extensive training and experience in this field. Clearly, he knows his "stuff." Beyond his knowledge of the subject matter, he's a very good writer. This book is fast paced, but not at the expense of character development. Believable dialogue. Easy to get caught up in this one. It left ...more
Sebastian Hallmann
Ich bin ja immer etwas skeptisch, wenn es um gehypte Autoren oder Romane geht. Mittlerweile führt jedoch im Bereich der Thriller kaum noch etwas an Don Winslow vorbei, wo man auch hinsieht heimst der gute Mann Lob und positive Kritiken ein. Es war also mal an der Zeit, das auch ich mich an den Herren heran traue.

Schnell ist dabei klar geworden, dass Don Winslow mit “Die Sprache des Feuers” einen Roman unter das Volk gebracht hat, der vor allem durch eines bestechen kann: ein sehr umfangreiches H
Jack Wade was a police arson investigator until he fitted up a suspect (he did it, but if the eye-witness who saw him do it gives evidence, the gangs will have him killed). Jack knew this but it came out in court when the other cop broke ranks and Jack lost his badge. And the eye witness? Disappeared without a trace.
But Jack gets a second chance - California Fire and Life Insurance employs him as a claims adjustor. The rules in insurance claims are twisted and confusing; deliberately so because
Mars Dorian
I fell in love with Don Winslow's stories ever since Savages, and its kick-ass prequel, Kings of Cool.

California Fire and Life is the 3rd novel I've read and I was blown away by the style. Don Winslow finds the golden balance between clear prose and lyrical style.

Major pros :

Clean-cut, cool prose with lyrical flavor.
Snappy dialogue mixed with California laissez-fair.
Interesting characters
cool premise - I've never read a thriller where an arson investigator is the protagonist

In short, I devoured
Silvia Marcaurelio
Don Winslow è sicuramente uno dei più significativi autori di thriller di questi anni. Se paragonata al “Potere del Cane” e a “L’inverno di Frankie Machine”, “La lingua del fuoco” si può considerare un’opera minore, ma possiede una forza raramente riscontrabile nei thriller che ho letto negli ultimi tempi. Winslow riesce a stupire cambiando meccanismi e spunti a ogni libro pur restando fedele a se stesso e alle sue passioni, tra cui il surf, e ad un certo disincantato romanticismo che accomuna t ...more
Zoe Jussel
Winslow spins one heck of a good yarn. This one was intriguing and one also learns a great deal about the "system" and how it works in real life. The intricacies of how a fire can and cannot be started, what can constitute arson,how it is detected. Fascinating!
Was very interesting and a great story line. Kept me in a trance and learning until the last page. I picked it up and couldn't put it down!
Lukasz Pruski
Everything is exaggerated in Don Winslow's "California Fire and Life". The good guy, Jack, is way too good. Pamela and Letty are too attractive. The bad guy, Nicky, is just too bad. The Russian prison zeks suffer too horribly. Everything in the book is way over the top. The author is screaming to me all the time rather than talking.

The novel deals with massive insurance fraud and unwholesome activities of Russian mafia and some other ethnic gangs. Jack Wade is a claims adjuster for the Californi
Craig Pittman
Don Winslow spent 15 years as an arson investigator before he began writing thrillers like "Savages" and "The Winter of Frankie Machine," and this is the book where he shows off everything he learned.

That's both good and bad, as Winslow takes readers step by step through everything expert arson investigator (and tarnished hero) Jack Wade does to check out a suspicious house fire. Some of the details -- like the explanation of "alligator char" -- is absolutely fascinating. Some of it -- and I'm
Savages the movie is what made me aware of Don Winslow, then I found out that I already saw a movie based on his book a few years back. SO I figured I should check him out in other forms, in this case an audio book. It was a fun ride, much in the same vein as the movies, this book practically oozed with testosterone and machismo and had a reader who conveyed this perfectly as well as the author's undeniable nearly tangible love for the sunny California. What was really interesting to me were all ...more
Patrick O'Neil
All I have to say is, "too much information." And usually that's not the case. But with Don Wilson's California Fire and Life, it is totally the case. There's so much more information on fires: cause of, investigation, residuals and effect, chemical compounds, ending results, and everything in between, than I ever wanted to think about, let alone know. I don't really care about fires, commercial, residential, arson, natural, or even the misnomer, "act of god." I mean I'm sure I'd care if I was i ...more
Woman's lying in bed and the bed's on fire.
She doesn't wake up.
Flame licks at her thighs like a lover and she doesn't wake up.
Just down the hill the Pacific pounds on the rocks.
California fire and life.

That's chapter 1 of California Fire and Life.

Pamela Vale is young, rich, beautiful, socially conscious, and a recovering alcoholic. Basically your prototypical California trophy wife. She’s also dead - burned to death in the west wing of her mansion. The fire investigator quickly rules it an accid
Joseph Flynn
I found Don Winslow because his recent book, Savages, has the same title as a screenplay I wrote years ago. I was really impressed by (his) Savages, and that's despite the fact that I usually don't like books written in the present tense. Savages also made me think of a line from an old Pat Benatar song: "You wrote the book with the movie in mind." Winslow goes so far as to put sections of his newer novels in screenplay format. His style these days has to be thought of as sub-minimalism, e.g. a ...more
Ubik 2.0
Il fuoco è lo storico di sé stesso

L’handicap di questo romanzo è l’inevitabile confronto con “Il Potere del Cane”, come dire uno dei migliori thriller del decennio; rispetto al quale, a causa del perverso meccanismo delle aspettative, non si può che rimanere inizialmente delusi.

Man mano che ci si libera di questo ingombrante paragone, “La Lingua del Fuoco” acquista tuttavia una propria dimensione, va in crescendo e rivela numerosi pregi e pochi difetti ponendosi come una sorta di prova d’autore
While I wanted to read Winslow's Dawn Patrol [set in the surf world around San Diego:] it hasn't arrived so I'm reading CFL, set around Dana [named after THAT Dana:] Point. So far so-so. It is full of unpleasant characters and the hero's main qualities are: he is very good at his job [insurance adjuster for CFL:] and he likes kids and dogs. It may not be enough to make up for the plethora of truly unappetizing folk in this book. Then again I'm only 1/3 if the way. Maybe they lighten up.

But no. A
Jack Wade is a former police arson investigator turned insurance arson investigator. When his ex-girlfriend's half sister dies in what the police are calling an accidental fire, Wade investigates further and doesn't think it's so accidental. The only problem is that he thinks the arsonist is the victim's husband, a Russian mobster.

The plot of this novel was excellent. The characters I enjoyed immensely. My only criticism of the book: it was way longer than it needed to be. Winslow included a lot
Love Winslow. Full of fun, fast paced action, crazy twists, wild conspiracies, and great characters. This one isn't all that different than his others (not as good as Savages/Kings of Cool), but it's all about insurance! Who doesn't want to read a thriller about home owners and life insurance??? The book is cleverly titled as one of the characters is driven to horrible evil deeds (like burning people and things) because he loves the CA life, while at the same time, the protagonist is a claims ad ...more
Mar 25, 2014 Adam rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommended to Adam by: Randy
Shelves: fiction, surfing, mystery
A fun and entertaining read that turned out to be much more appropriate than I could have imagined. Who knew that arson investigation could be such a roller coaster of an occupation, or, that spending one's mornings sitting on a surf board could be such a mind clearing exercise!

Glad to have been pointed to this as it takes about as much time as a movie and is just as entertaining, but, can be carried in your pocket!
Kirsty Darbyshire

I was enjoying this for about a hundred pages. A different take from the usual on a mystery with a fire investigator looking into the death of a woman in a fire at her home in California. When I picked the book up I thought the title sounded more like an insurance company than a novel, that'll be because the title is an insurance company (imaginary I presume). Then just as I was enjoying the story it goes all off on a KGB angle on me. In the end I think the Russian connections made reasonable se

I think I've found an author that I dig so much, I want to read all of his work. This is my third book from Don Winslow and I love the mindless, high-octane, pure-adrenalin, bad-ass(all of whom are total cliches, but who cares? I sure don't.)characters his books have. This book was a page turning, fire starter.(My cliche, but it fits the book well.)I am horrrrrriiiiiible at reviews, but feel I need to pay my due to a book an the author when I come across something that strikes me as worthwhile, ...more
Un thrillerone solido in pieno stile Winslow: La lingua del fuoco, nonostante il massiccio infodump, è proprio un bel leggere fino più o meno metà. Inspiegabilmente però, finita la parte più investigativa (e riflessiva) della vicenda, la trama impazzisce e sembra di leggere la sceneggiatura di un filmaccio action di serie B, fino ad un finale pseudo-catartico che neanche la seconda serata estiva di Italia 1. Questo è il secondo romanzo di Winslow (scritto sei anni prima del botto de Il potere de ...more
Don Winslow is a good writer. That said, this wasn't my favorite of his novels. The basics are all there:fast-talking, smart main character, lots of California scenery and of course, surfing. But it got a little bogged down with too much fire inspection specifics. Evidently, having been a fire inspector, Winslow knows a lot about fires and arson. And he just over-shares a little, in my opinion. That really slowed the narrative down. Plus, there were a lot of people to keep track of and a lot of ...more
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California Fire and Life 6 22 Sep 11, 2013 08:06AM  
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Don Winslow was born in New York City but raised in South Kingstown, Rhode Island. At various times an actor, director, movie theater manager, safari guide and private investigator, Don has done many things on his way to being a novelist.

His first novel, A Cool Breeze On The Underground, was nominated for an Edgar, and a later book, California Fire and Life, received the Shamus Award. The Death An
More about Don Winslow...
Savages The Power of the Dog The Kings of Cool The Winter of Frankie Machine The Dawn Patrol (Boone Daniels #1)

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