Whale Season by N.M. Kelby aspires to be a Carl Hiaasen-like romp. This Florida tale is populated with quirky characters, film-like dialog, and a pretty standard humor-crime-drama plot. (What is that? ‘Drimor’?) It’s good summer reading, that reaches – and fails – to be more.
There’s nothing wrong with N.M. Kelby’s Whale Season – except that she’s in the shadow of Carl Hiaasen. I like Hiaasen. His work is straight and tight, slick but not overly so. His characters seem real enough and the insight provided isn’t forced. The goal is to entertain, not to challenge the reader to higher thinking or to arrive at some epiphany. This is where Whale Season loses it’s focus.
Kelby walks the line between beach reader and a more introspective read. The plot revolves around a serial killer who passes himself off on Jesus, who lands in the tangled lives of Dagmar, Leon, Jimmy Ray, Trot and Carlotta. Dagmar and Leon are divorced and there is real tragedy in their background. Carlotta is the new girl in town, and is dating Leon, much to Trot’s chagrin. Thing is, Trot and Leon are best friends. Jimmy Ray is a blues musician, and Buddhist with a penchant for sage quotes, who has taken Dagmar under his wing, and vice versa.
Jesus as serial killer moves things along and it is Leon who turns into the central character of Whale Season. It’s here that he recalls his childhood, fraught with conflicting emotions about his family’s now closed alligator tourist attraction, and his recent family life with Dagmar. Here’s where Whale Season misses in my opinion.
There’s good stuff here that could be developed into a rich and vibrant story about Leon, a ‘Rabbit’ Angstrom type character of Florida. Instead, you only get small bits and they collide strangely with the tone of the rest of the story. Ditto the death koans that Jimmy Ray employs in his dialog. It’s interesting but seems like it belongs in a different book.
It wasn’t that I didn’t like Whale Season. It was a good breather between heavier books. I simply think there are far better summer reads. Whale Season is a fast food book that’s using whole wheat buns, soy cheese and organic lettuce to obscure the real meat at the center.