Keith Thomson,
Gus Openshaw's Whale-Killing Journal
(MacAdam/Cage, 2006)

Gus Openshaw was a cat-food cannery worker working "the worst stinking job you can get" when a super-sized sperm whale with a B-shaped scar on his head ate Gus's wife, kid and right arm. The whale got away, but only for the time being. With his life insurance settlement, Gus sets out on a voyage of revenge. He posts his captain's log and ruminations on life in a weblog, the entries of which make up the book Gus Openshaw's Whale-Killing Journal.

Gus's two-month ocean odyssey is a whirlwind of zany adventures told in smart prose and accompanied by scrimshaw illustrations. At one point, Gus gives a detailed physical description of the criminal whale, and the harpooner/scrimshawist on staff whips up a police scrimshaw sketch of the alleged murderer. The reader is also treated to rum-fueled scrimshaws of female vixens along with portraits of the many madcap characters encountered during the journey.

Author Keith Thomson's sophomore work is a top-notch piece of fiction, hands down, but it does follow a pattern of crisis/almost dying/alive/good news/super-bad news/laugh-out-loud funny scene/surely-they-will-die!!/hope/possible escape/alive/bad news, all of which is executed repeatedly in a random order. Who knew that Internet exchanges, renegade military forces, F-15 fighter jets, robotic armies, pirates, drug dealers, lost European colonies and icebergs would be involved in a modern-day whale hunt? Wireless Internet is a key plot device, one that works both for and against our renegade whale-hunting crew.

review by
Jessica Lux-Baumann

1 August 2009

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