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California Fire and Life

3.98  ·  Rating Details ·  2,044 Ratings  ·  142 Reviews
Before he became a bestselling novelist with The Death and Life of Bobby Z, Don Winslow spent 15 years as an arson investigator. His expert knowledge pays off in California Fire and Life, a giant fireball of a thriller about ace arson investigator Jack Wade. Want to know why thick, oily soot on glass might be a sign of arson? Or why arsonists never burn their dogs? Or what ...more
Hardcover, 337 pages
Published June 15th 1999 by Knopf (first published January 1st 1999)
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Lance Charnes
Dec 30, 2014 Lance Charnes rated it really liked it  ·  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 go
Apr 23, 2015 Perry rated it it was ok
Shelves: circle
Implausible Plot, Amateurish Protagonist
1.5 stars

I bought this when I'd just read Don Winslow's thrilling, realistic novel from 2015, THE CARTEL. Unfortunately, At the time, I didn't realize that he wrote this novel in 1999. As much as I relished The Cartel, I disliked California Fire & Life.

The basic premise seemed interesting. Protagonist Jack (a fire insurance claims adjuster) finds evidence indicating the antagonist homeowner (a Russian immigrant) set his home on fire with his wife insi
Joe Valdez
Feb 01, 2014 Joe Valdez rated it it was amazing  ·  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
Joe  Noir
Sep 06, 2016 Joe Noir rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A terrific and vastly entertaining novel.

Jack Wade was a fire investigator for the Sheriff's department, that is until he beat a confession out of a suspect and perjured himself. Since then he's been an outstanding claims investigator for California Fire and Life, and walking the straight and narrow. His only other passion is surfing.

A multi-million dollar mansion burns, a beautiful wife is dead inside. The place was full of antique furniture. The Sheriff's investigator says it's accidental. Ca
Jul 25, 2011 Joyce rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Frances Scott
Jun 21, 2012 Frances Scott rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: owned
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
Aug 01, 2011 Christine rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2011-reads
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
Tim Niland
Sep 09, 2010 Tim Niland rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2010-reads
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
Jan 25, 2010 Alline rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: mystery
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
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...
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
Jonathan Dunsky
Feb 09, 2016 Jonathan Dunsky rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The novel in which Don Winslow left the past tense behind and moved into the present tense, to the delight of crime fiction readers (and listeners) worldwide.

This novel deals with fire. In particular, fire insurance. Jack Wade, the hero of the story, is a claims adjuster for California Fire and Life, an insurance company. Jack's job is to examine fires sites and determine whether an arson took place or had the fire been accidentally set.

Jack has a checkered past, having been kicked off the polic
Jun 06, 2009 Jen rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: mystery, male-author
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
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

Rogue Reader
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.
Aug 12, 2012 Megan rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Mark Ellis
Oct 02, 2016 Mark Ellis rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Excellent early thriller by my discovery of the year, Don Winslow. Pacy, gripping and informative. Ace insurance investigator battles Russian Mafia murder, arson and fraud in Southern California. Nostalgic read also for me as set in a part of the world where I spent a lot of time in the 90s. Not quite as brilliant as the more recent The Power of The Dog and The Cartel but a superb read.
Zoe Jussel
Apr 24, 2012 Zoe Jussel rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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!
Jul 09, 2011 Jenny rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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!
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
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
Apr 23, 2016 Dyana rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This was an unusual thriller in that it's about fire investigation. In fact, you can learn everything you ever wanted to know, literally, about the science, forensics, and investigation of anything to do with FIRE. I could probably pass the fire school final exam!!! The author was a fire investigator for 15 years - hence the extensive knowledge and detailed information. I enjoyed all the particulars, but some people might see it as exhaustive plot interruption.

Jack Wade is a former police fire i
Apr 17, 2014 A.M. rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Ubik 2.0
Jul 21, 2013 Ubik 2.0 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-e-book
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
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
Jul 19, 2011 Stephen rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: crime
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
Joe Cummings
Jun 14, 2016 Joe Cummings rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
One of the qualities that makes Don Winslow stand out as a crime fiction writer is the research that he puts into every novel and his ability to explain what he's learned to the reader in an interesting fashion. In 1999 novel California Fire and Life , for example, he introduces the character Jack Wade who is an arson investigator for an insurance company. As he strives to find the arsonist in this story, Wade moves through a world with Russian mobsters, Vietnamese hoods, Latino gang members, a ...more
Craig Pittman
Jun 16, 2012 Craig Pittman rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Joseph Flynn
Aug 05, 2012 Joseph Flynn rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Jul 26, 2013 Bandit rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
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California Fire and Life 6 23 Sep 11, 2013 08:06AM  
  • The Animal Factory
  • Calibre (Inspector Brant, #6)
  • Small Crimes
  • The Ice Harvest
  • The Deputy
  • Salt River (Turner, #3)
  • Cold Caller
  • The Silver Bear (Silver Bear, #1)
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  • Damn Near Dead: An Anthology of Geezer Noir
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  • God Is a Bullet
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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...

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