Wednesday, January 24, 2018


This novel struck me as a cross between Moby Dick and The Revenant.  Patrick Sumner is a surgeon whose dishonorable turn with the English army in India has left him unable to find a job except on a whaling ship.  The crew is a maelstrom of violent and unspeakably distasteful characters, among whom Sumner is by far the brightest.  Harpooner Henry Drax is the epitome of evil combined with physical strength—a deadly sociopathic barbarian at best.  This is mostly Sumner’s story, and you can bet that he and Drax will be at odds.  Plus, the captain of the ship has a corrupt purpose and doesn’t want to be bothered with solving a murder while at sea in the Arctic.  In the hands of a less skilled writer, this would just be a gory, gruesome story of depravity and survival, but it happens to be riveting, especially in the second half.  In a way, it’s even refreshing to read something so purely masculine for a change.  However, if the slaughter of animals bothers you, or if vivid descriptions of blood and guts make you squeamish, this is not the book for you.  Besides the whales, the crew mercilessly butchers seals and bears as well, and not always with a mercenary purpose.  This is not really a mystery; it’s more of a brutal adventure novel with a bit of foreshadowing of things to come.  I also found it to be a fast read, and that was a good thing, because these characters are not men that I particularly wanted to spend a lot of time with, in frigid temperatures or otherwise.

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