Raw and bracing as icy seawater, Highliners tells of young Hank Crawford's early days and maturing as a toiler of the fishing fleets off Kodiak island in the North Pacific near the base of the Alaska Peninsula. When Crawford arrives in Kodiak in 1963, he's 19 and the town has only about 2500 people working its canneries and going out in its fishing fleets. He sets to on cannery row, putting in unbelievable hours at backbreaking work, dressing salmon or cracking big King crabs. The women are as hard-tongued and lusty as the men. But only when Hank gets taken on board the Rondelay and later works for bastardly Captain Nels Hanson does he discover what real work is, sometimes getting four hours' sleep a night while on a run or working for 36 hours straight hauling in nets, pots, or hooks; a dizzy, dangerous, surreal life, one's whole being obsessed by a woman's face or thoughts of a warm barroom. To bolster a skeletal plot, McCloskey stuffs in passages of unfictioned fact about types of fish and crab, their seasons, runs and habitats, and about the Japanese and Russian trawlers who are taking the major haul of the seafood off the American continental shelf, cutting into the livelihoods of the American highliners. And at the climax Skipper Hank's own ship catches fire, and he and his men spend three days adrift on a seawhipped raft. Stinging stuff, more effective as documentary than fiction, with fish-slime up to your waist and real men losing real limbs.