A look at LITTLE BLUE WHALES
Krill Press embarks on a “Fabulous Four” promotion, offering four Krill e-books per month for 99 cents each. One of the February books is LITTLE BLUE WHALES by Kenneth R. Lewis.
LITTLE BLUE WHALES is both poetic and violent. Aside from the human carnage, the author’s brief description of terrified cattle herded through the chute at a packing plant almost turned me into a vegetarian. Even so, I couldn’t put the book down.
No cookie-cutter police procedural, the book is a contemporary version of a classic saga. Like Joseph Wambaugh, Lewis paints a gritty picture of a cop’s life, whether in a big-city precinct or a small-town police department. Wambaugh was an LAPD cop for several years. Lewis is a police chief inOregon. Both write from the inside out.
Opening sentence: “He saw them again that last morning, the two white swans, as he emerged from the towering conifers and massive old oaks in the park and paused at the river’s edge.”
It is Police Chief Kevin Kearnes’ farewell to the beauty of the natural world. He plans to kill himself after keeping one last appointment with his psychiatrist.
The doctor is late — off fishing –and Kearnes takes a phone call from Thud, the sergeant who has been acting chief while Kearnes recuperates from a traumatic experience, both physical and emotional. Thud’s colorful account of what’s going on in the chief’s absence makes Kearnes laugh for the first time in months.
This densely written novel is set on the Oregon coast, and the first 27 pages are really a prologue. We know something unspeakable happened but we don’t know what it was or why it took place.
After Thud’s phone call and an explosive confrontation with his psychiatrist, Kearnes settles down to relive and retell the story — “Of the family and life he’d once had in Kansas. Of how he had come to Cutter Point and the woman he had fallen in love with there, but had now lost forever. And of the little blue whales.”
Looking back, as he tells his story to the doctor, Kearnes’ appointment as police chief is rocky from the beginning. His administrative staff views him with dislike or downright hatred, depending on who was passed over for promotion. His instant enemy is Lt. Polk, an aging bully whose “personality would curdle vinegar.” Accustomed to ruling the roost, Polk thwarts Kearnes at every turn.
The new chief’s one friend is Thud Compton, the PD’s training officer and only detective. His speech is laced with profanity but he’s tough as a boot and a stand-up guy. He invites Kearnes to dinner and lays out the bloody guts of Cutter Point politics and bureaucratic fraud.
Kearnes is already deep into depression “in the vast and endless sea of divorced and displaced men … driven by the fear of all he was losing. … But in the end it wasn’t the fear of what he had lost that haunted him … it was the realization of what he had, instead, simply given up on.”
As Kearnes sits at a stoplight, pondering all that, the dispatcher sends out a “dead body” alarm. Every police, sheriff and rescue unit in the county responds, creating a massive traffic jam. The dead body turns out to be the rotting carcass of a beached whale.
The whale belongs to a protected species but before U.S. Fish & Wildlife can be notified, a nut group called The Patriots decides to clear the beach by blowing up the whale. They plant 90 bars of military “C-4” plastic explosive in the whale’s carcass.
The blast not only clears the beach, it digs a hole in the beach the size of an Olympic swimming pool, blows out store front windows in the town plaza, sets off the Tsunami Early Warning Alert System, and sends huge chunks of whale smashing into gridlocked cars.
One motorist with a destroyed windshield and airbag bruises is a beautiful woman named Britt. Like Kearnes, she has given up on life. Kearnes takes her to the hospital. She resists his attempts to strike up a friendship.
Also stalled in traffic is Uriah Beek, a toy salesman with his second victim — a 10-year-old boy– bound, gagged and jammed between the two front seats. Soon enough, the police will begin finding bodies and go looking for the killer, who always seems to be one step ahead of them.
Simply put, Beek is a howling maniac, thanks to a father who regularly beat him senseless when he was growing up. Beek lures little boys with a pair of binoculars and a tin toy in the shape of a little blue whale.
A theme emerges: Boys preyed upon by male authority figures grow up half-dead inside. In Kearnes’ case the perpetrator was a stranger. In Beek’s case, it was his father. Cop/toy salesman, hero/villain, both going through life as damaged goods. Perhaps it’s fated that their paths should cross. Kearnes faces his demons and survives.
The exploding whale scene is based on a true incident. You can watch the real thing on You Tube at http://tinyurl.com/6wtm6gd.
LITTLE BLUE WHALES was published in 2009. At the Oregon South Coast Writer’s Conference in 2003, the work-in-progress won the William H. Doody Scholarship Award for Fiction. In 2010, the published book won First Grand Prize for Fiction at the annual convention of the Public Safety Writers Association.
Lewis’s second book, THE SPARROWS’S BLADE, was published in 2011.
His third, THE HELICAL VANE, is due out this fall.
Kenneth R. Lewis’s web site is at www.kennethrlewis.com.