Written in the 1990’s, A Cool Breeze on the Underground, by Don Winslow, brings together mystery and comedy in the punk scene of London. Born on the streets of New York, Neal Carey is the son of a drug-addicted prostitute and a non-existent father. However, 21 years later, Neal attends graduate school at Columbia University. Neal’s education was made possible by Joe Graham, a one-armed private investigator who works for “Friends of the Family.” “Friends” is a secret organization dedicated to helping its wealthy customers avoid public scandals. “Friends” has paid for Neal’s education, apartment, and life style. It may seem farfetched, but the way Winslow explains Neal’s situation gives the reader the impression that organizations like “Friends” exist.
The plot thickens when Allie Carter, the daughter of a powerful politician, runs away to London, and it’s Neal’s job to find her and bring her back before the elections. Therefore, Neal travels to England and finds himself in the middle of London’s punk scene, filled with drugs, alcohol, and more secrets than one can imagine. Winslow does a wonderful job of bringing the setting to life, as if he himself lived in the London “underground.”
After finding Allie, which is no easy task, Neal must convince her to come back to New York. But in doing so, Neal discovers a string of family secrets that keep Allie from returning. The book is intriguing and keeps the reader turning pages, but the major plot twist comes when Neal’s attempt to pry Allie from the hands of her pimp suddenly backfires. Neal thinks he has succeeded, and Colin, the pimp, has disappeared. But Colin is vengeful and tracks Allie and Neal down.
Winslow uses changes in narrative perspective between Neal and Colin to show what extreme lengths Colin goes to in search of Neal. Before taking Allie, who is now clean and sober, back underground, Colin makes sure that Neal has paid for his disloyalty and betrayal. Thus, Colin attempts to sell a prized possession of one of Neal’s friends, something Neal had falsely promised to Colin in order to find Allie. The intricate details of this “set up” are all explained during a meeting between Neal, the buyer, and the seller, Colin. This meeting turns out to be extremely embarrassing for Colin, and Neal succeeds in bringing Allie back to the ones who care about her, which means her mom. While doing background research, Neal discovers the real reason Allie ran away from home: she was sexually abused by her father.
Overall, Winslow has created a story filled with adventure, romance, vivid characters, and enough detail and research to make the matter plausible. Despite the dark content matter, this novel moves quickly and is perfect for anyone who has dreamed of becoming an undercover spy.