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A Cool Breeze on the Underground
A Neal Carey Mystery
Don Winslow
Dead Letter Mystery
St. Martin?s Press 1996
Paperback 324 pages

A Cool Breeze on the Underground is the first of five Neal Cary mysteries by Don Winslow and probably the best of the series. The next two, The Trail to Buddha's Mirror and Walk Down the High Lonely are also quite good while the last two, A Long Walk Up the Waterslide and especially Way Down on the High Lonely are much less interesting as they are formulaic and you get the impression Don Winslow is getting tired of the Neal Carey character.

The first Neal Carey mystery by Don Winslow, A Cool Breeze on the Underground stands out in the series basically because the reader is introduced to an eleven year-old boy who, in a series of flashback chapters, is being trained by a man named Graham to become a detective and problem solver for a secret organization sponsoring him called Friends of the Family. This is a Fagin / Oliver relationship and young Neal's training in how to follow someone without being spotted, how to effectively search a room without leaving a trace, and other aspects of his education are as fascinating as the case the now mature Neal is asked to take care of by his sponsors: find and bring back the wayward daughter of a Senator and possible presidential contender. Unfortunately for Neal, the daughter has no intention of returning home to daddy and not everyone wants Carey to succeed in his mission.

There are very few twenty-year-old detectives in the mystery novel world so A Cool Breeze on the Underground by Don Winslow reads in part like a Hardy Boys and in part like you basic thriller. This is part of the charm in the early books in the Neal Carey mystery series, a charm Winslow forgets in the later books. Here, however, the mix of finding a missing person in London, the education and molding of a young boy into a clever detective, and Neal's own maturing as a man make for a very different and original read.

Also original is the Friends of the Family, the organization that sees to Neal's double-faceted education. This is a secret, of course, service run by a Providence banker that is there to help the bank's rich customers when they get into trouble. I wish all the service fees I paid went to something like this.

The Neal Carey series by Don Winslow is pretty good for the first couple of books. If you are a little obsessive and a completist, the others are shelf space filler.