Fluke features a cast of eccentric and endearing characters, an exotic setting (the whaling town of Lahaina, Hawaii) and a story that is hilarious, educational and original. Christopher Moore's latest comic offering comes on the heels of Lamb, his interpretation of the life of Jesus. Jesus is not in this novel, but readers will find a veteran biologist who thinks he is the god of the underworld, as well as a pot-smoking Rasta-guy from New Jersey, a local woman who claims to speak to whales via telephone and numerous other unusual sorts.

Our hero is Nate Quinn, a middle-aged, divorced biologist who is determined to interpret the whales' song, but finds himself distracted by his irreverent, shapely intern Amy . . . and the fact that he just saw the words "Bite Me" written on a whale's flukes, or tail-sections. Was it real, he wonders, or is he losing his mind? While seriously pondering both options, Nate enlists the aid of his friend/partner/photographer, Clay, to help him get clearer photos of the whale in question. First, however, they must find out who ransacked their office, attend a pivotal meeting with other whale researchers (where they encounter Nate's ex-wife, who is now a lesbian) and wonder what a military research team is doing in the waters off Lahaina.

Despite the bizarre events that come one after another, and the unusual individuals Nate encounters, the story remains engaging, the characters sympathetic. Moore does a fine job of building suspense: by the time Nate embarks on one of the strangest and most enlightening experiences of his life, it is difficult to put the book down, for there are astonishing new developments on every page. Fluke also offers a detailed depiction of the scientists' work, and the lives and habits of the whales. Just as I learned a great deal about commercial fishing from The Perfect Storm, I turned the last page of Fluke feeling I'd absorbed a lot of information about whales and mightily relieved I've never been absorbed into one. Linda Castellitto writes from her home in Rhode Island.

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