Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Killer (1979) by Peter Tonkin

This book proudly stands as one of the only two killer whale novels ever written, and if that's not a claim to fame I don't know what is.

Well, there are other novels with killer whales in them (like Megalodon, for instance), so to be more exact, Killer is one of the only two killer-whale-menacing-humans novels out there. (The other one being Orca, of course.)

And apparently it was Peter Tonkin's first novel, too. Which I mention because it's a pretty good read, and first novels aren't always good reads. Can't say I've ever read anything else he's done, but the man has amassed a good-sized backlist over the years and he's still going.

He never did another killer animal book, far as I know, which maybe is why I've never read anything else he's written. But I'd give one of his newer books a try--no slouch to start with and I'm sure he's only gotten better.

Ah. And here we see that I took pictures of my cover before removing the used bookstore stickers, and was too lazy to bother taking new photos after.

I am who I am.

So. The novel's about a killer whale who (trope alert!) has been bred by the military to be large and aggressive. Not as large as he is on that front cover, but large. Anyway, he's also been trained to attack divers and such.

Well one day, this whale mistakes an innocent gesture for an attack command and bites off a visiting general's arm. His trainers are horrified, so they try to kill him, which naturally freaks him out because he thought he was doing a good thing.

At any rate, he escapes, then out at sea he hooks up with a pod of wild killer whales and takes over as their leader.

Well about this time, it happens some marine biologists are heading out for an arctic expedition. When their plane crashes onto an ice floe, this escaped whale and his pod show up and dramatics ensue. Besides killer whales, the expedition members have to deal with melting ice, panicked walruses and even an angry polar bear.

The book's got interesting characterization, decent backstory, explosions and even a few fisticuffs. Overall, it makes for a pretty good balance of whale-menace and human-drama stuff.

I can easily give it THREE BLACKFISH BRAINS.

By the way, I'm pretty sure that signature on the cover up top is Ken Barr's. And speaking of covers, I'm always surprised when I do an image search for a book I've read and find a bunch of alternate covers for it. I should be used to it by now, but instead I'm always like "What?! How does that exist?" At any rate, this book was no exception.

Looks like it was published first in the UK (Tonkin's home turf), then in the US, a bunch of times in Spanish and once in Italian. Not a bad run for a first-timer. I couldn't find any Spanish covers, but take a look at these other ones.

UK Hardcover 1979
American Hardcover 1979
UK Paperback 1980
Italian Paperback 1982

And there you have it. Wonder if I'll ever do a review of the other killer-whale-menacing-humans novel. I read it at least once, but it was years ago....


  1. I would actually read this book EVEN though I'm not a huge killer whale fan. I like action and a good story.
    Only more interesting would be if he was an intelligent killer whale by day and a Superhero by night.
    ...and he could talk...or fly.

    Another for the bucket list.

  2. Here's the (awful) Spanish cover


    I'm re-reading it and is as good as I remembered

  3. Thanks for stopping by, Francisco. Yeah, it's a pretty good story--worth a revisit every once in awhile.

    Wow, that is certainly NOT a whale they've got on that Spanish cover you linked to. It IS an intriguing monster-fish-beast, though. I wonder if it's based on anything real/living? Looks a bit familiar, like I should recognize it from National Geographic or something

    Anyway, thanks for sharing. :-)