Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Hunger (1992) by William R. Dantz

So my most recent obsession with killer shark novels (there have been others) started last fall, when I reread Jaws and wondered if there were any books out there half as good as Benchley's original novel. No... I guess it actually started just before that. I'd just finished watching all four Jaws movies, and since I already knew there were no shark movies out there as good as Spielberg's Jaws (Deep Blue Sea being the distant second), I started looking for novels.

Anyway, I decided right up front to ignore all the self-published killer shark ebooks that Kindle has brought to light. I've (sadly) read several and they've mostly sucked, with one or two just edging up towards the low end of readable. So I went old school and limited myself to books that actual publishing houses had already vetted for me. I know it's not a complete list, but for starters I came up with (and bought if I didn't already have) these books:
  • Jaws by Peter Benchley (1974)
  • Jaws 2 by Hank Searls (1978)
  • Megalodon by Robin Brown (1981)
  • Rip Tide by Don Cheatham (1984)
  • Jaws: The Revenge by Hank Searls (1987)
  • Hunger by William Dantz (1992)
I also ran across Extinct by Charles Wilson (1997), which I vaguely remember reading once but haven't gotten around to rebuying, and Killer Sharks: The Real Story by Brad Mathews (1976), which I'm not gonna buy 'cause its asking price is currently fifty bucks and that's a little steep. It's got a great Ken Barr cover though. Check this out:

Almost worth fifty bucks for the cover alone....

Oh, and of course there's the Meg series by Steve Alten. I had all four of those at one point, but got rid of 'em during one of my thinning-out-the-books rampages. They're a fun set of novels, so they might end up getting rebought and added to the list, but for now I'm focusing on stuff I've either never read or haven't read in several decades. Using the term "several decades" loosely, since I'm not even five decades old myself, yet. But you get the idea: it hasn't been that many years since I read the Meg series.

Anyway, on the current list I've already reviewed Megalodon, and since we're in the middle of Hunger right now, I think next I'll do all three Jaws novels as a single post. (So much has been written on them already, I don't have much to add except personal notes and a Brain Count.)

Okay, now on to Hunger, which is a fairly solid little killer shark tale written by a guy named Rodman Philbrick, under his pseudonym William R. Dantz (which admittedly sounds more dashing than his real name). Philbrick is actually better known for writing children's books, he's even won a bunch of awards in that arena. So we know the guy's versatile, at the very least.

So first off, Hunger is NOT about a one hundred foot long great white shark, as its cover would have us believe. (I totally expect paperback covers to stretch the truth on what's between their covers, but this one is downright misleading.)

The book is actually about six genetically engineered mako shark-bottlenose dolphin hybrids, all cloned from the same egg. The guys doing the cloning are a private outfit, who have a contract with (you guessed it) the Department of Defense: They've been tasked with creating something mean enough and smart enough to guard Navy submarine outposts.

Well, when these hybrids escape (they're mostly shark, with growth hormones, dolphin intelligence and echolocation thrown in), they set about killing and eating everything/everyone in sight, while the scientist types (led by an incredibly one dimensional character, who's practically got the word villain written in magic marker on his forehead) deny responsibility by day and make secret recapture attempts by night.

There's also a husband/wife team, who own a local charter boat business, as the story's protagonists. The missus of the team has been looking after a couple of dolphins that escaped from the scientists two years prior and we should NOT be surprised if we find out there's a mysterious connection between these two dolphins and the escaped makos. (It's built up as the big reveal towards the end of the book, but it seemed fairly obvious, reading through.) Anyway, there's a good amount of killer sharkness throughout, mixed with a little dolphin drama, and by the end of the book the sharks are dead and all's right with the world.

And that's about the size of it. If I had to sum the book up, I'd say it's a little formulaic but reasonably well written, light on character backstory and development, but what's there is pretty readable. I didn't find myself unable to put the thing down, reading late into the night or anything, but I was always happy to pick it back up and keep going.

And with that in mind I'm giving it THREE MAKO-DOLPHINIC BRAINS. (Glug.)

I don't think it was ever released as a hardcover, and the image above was (as far as I can tell) it's first paperback edition from 1992. Looks like it was reprinted with a slightly altered cover in 1993 and then again as a print on demand paperback in 2012.

Here's those covers, for your viewing pleasure:

Well then. I haven't officially reviewed the Jaws novels yet, but I can tell you neither of these later books so far have measured up to Benchley's work. Hunger was definitely a couple steps up from Megalodon, though. More than a couple, really.

Probably worth a Saturday afternoon or two.

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