Fluke or I Know Why The Winged Whale Sings by Christopher Moore (book review).

‘Fluke’ is set in the simultaneously academic and hedonistic world of Hawaiian whale researchers. Nate is a hard-core marine biologist and Clay is a veteran underwater photographer. Their long-term research project has expanded to include Amy, an undergrad researcher, and Kona, a very white rasta stoner. Their project centres on the song of the humpback whale. This ocean-spanning song beloved of new age healers could be linked to mating or communication or who knows what else. Nate is sure of two things: the song is limited to the male whales and each male’s tail has a unique pattern of markings. These markings are where the story begins. Clay and Amy are photographing whale tail flukes when Clay is convinced he sees the words ‘bite me’ patterned on a particularly large male’s tail. Years of photographing whales makes him doubt his own eyes. When the photos are developed, he should know for sure. The next unusual occurrence was Nate finding their research compound vandalised. Despite there being many thousands of dollars worth of equipment, only data back-ups are stolen. The final straw is the sinking of one of the team’s two boats by a mysterious team of black-clad men witnessed by one of Kona’s stoner friends. The least of their problems is the widowed eccentric financial backer’s insistence that the big male whale has phoned and wants Nate to bring him a pastrami on rye sandwich.


Three possibilities present themselves: their research is being scuppered by academic rivals, the military is trying to cover up something or something altogether much bigger and stranger is happening.

‘Fluke’ is a very well-rounded book. Elements of thriller and crime stories mix and evolve into a nice fantasy with SF elements. In short, it as a difficult book to categorise. Over this solid foundation mix is a skim of comedy which is deft in its touches. The comedy varies from obviously screwball characters to romantic comedy with nice moments of cetacean sexual humour along the way. The story manages to have a few unexpected plot twists which I genuinely didn’t see coming. The leap into SF was especially nice and surprising.

I would advise not reading the writers intro at the beginning, one of the plot twists is slightly given away there. I won’t repeat the spoiler by going into too many specifics here neither.

As a standalone book, there is a satisfying build-up and resolution. Happily, the sense of mounting excitement and diminishing pages typical of reading part of a book series is missing here but not missed. The story is lean and fit with absent weak sub-plots and bloat.

Humour is always a very subjective issue so it would be hard to recommend this story on the basis of its comedy but the quality of storytelling and nicely written characters are recommendation enough.

Christopher Moore is able to pull off the greatest thing a writer can do, the ability to make time pass unnoticed while you read. Combine this ability with the unexpected twists and you have a very nice book indeed. Not only do you enjoy the descriptions but the snapshots of Hawaii and its colourful characters make you wish to be there. Whales are highly regarded in our society and, after years of wanton destruction, they appeal to our sense of wonder and reverence. As a child I remember putting my hand into a humpback’s skull in a dockside exhibition. Through the base of the skull my arm went in as far as my elbow, I couldn’t reach the inside edges. This incredible brain, roughly three times a human brain’s size, forms the centre of the books plot. This mystery is the springboard from which the story leaps.

With ‘Fluke’, Christopher Moore has written an excellent book. I look forward to reading more of his books and heartily recommend this one to everyone.

Andy Bollan

February 2014

(pub: Orbit. 383 page enlarged paperback. Price: £ 6.99 (UK). ISBN: 978-1-84149-617-7)

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