by Christopher Moore
Reviewed by Steven H Silver
I've always enjoyed the oddball humor which fills Christopher Moore's novels. His previous book, Lamb, was a tour de force and I've been waiting to see how he was going to follow up his rather off-beat take on the story of Jesus. The answer is Fluke, about a small group of scientists studying whale song in the ocean off Maui. Although not up to the same level as Lamb, Fluke is yet another memorable and enjoyable addition to Moore's growing body of work.
The story focuses on Nathan Quinn, a cetacean biologist trying to figure out what whale song means. He is accompanied by his long-time partner and photographer Clay Demodocus and a young intern, Amy Earhart, for whom Quinn has the hots, but fears he is too old. Into this mix, Clay hires Kona, a New Jersey boy turned Rasta wave surfer. Each of these characters are typical of Moore's off-the-wall characters, functioning quite well in the their world, but each with his (or her) own idiosyncrasies which make them stand out as individuals.
While out on the ocean off of Lahaina, Quinn becomes convinced that he saw the words "Bite Me" written on a whale's flukes. Returning to shore with the substantiating film, he discovers his new employee, Kona, and the fact that his laboratory has been trashed. Although nothing was taken, years worth of research was destroyed. When the film comes back, the final picture of the roll, of the whale's flukes, is missing from both prints and negatives.
Although Moore's characters are outlandish and the situations they eventually find themselves in are similarly extreme, the novel lacks some of the manic pacing which has been evident in earlier novels, yet it also has more serious underpinnings than some of those same earlier novels. Moore could have elected to hit his readers over the head with a whale-conservation message, but he has the skill to interweave his message into the actual story so any of the minimal preaching which occurs does so within a context which would make anything else seem out of place.
Lahaina is portrayed in a realistic manner, both in society and setting, at times causing me to flash back to walking down Front Street in 1992. Eventually, Quinn and his cohorts leave the relative normalcy of Maui as Moore permits them to begin to fathom the mysteries of the humpback whales, and the whale with writing on its tail who apparently desires a pastrami on rye despite a whale's inability to eat anything larger than krill.
By the end of the novel, Moore has pulled together all of his threads. If all of his characters do not live happily ever after, that is only to be expected in a novel which is comic, fantastic and realistic all at the same time. Had Fluke not followed on the tail of Lamb, it would have been seen as an excellent work by Moore, continuing the trend he established in his earlier novels. As it is, Fluke is an excellent novel to get acquainted with this author.
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