An often compelling novel set in the colorful, dangerous world of oil field diving.



Butcher’s debut novel tells the story of a commercial diver struggling with difficult co-workers.

You would think a man by the name of Jonah would never go to sea. Even if he had no superstition regarding his name, surely others around him would. Nevertheless, Jonah becomes an apprentice oil field diver—or “Tender,” as they’re known—doing maintenance work on the labyrinth of pipelines that crisscross the floor of the Gulf of Mexico. Jonah gains a reputation for toughness and survival—valued qualities in his line of work—and manages to rise above his unfortunate name. Then one of the divers on his team—a man named Seed, who was recently released from the state penitentiary—takes his dispute with a crane operator too far; when the crew is sent to recover the body of a dead rigger, Seed hangs the corpse from the crane. This trespass against decency destroys the reputation of Jonah’s crew and makes them vulnerable to violent reprisals from other Louisiana riggers. “Do you know how easy it is ta kill a man offshore and make it look like an accident?” threatens one rigger who breaks into Jonah’s apartment. “I want you ta think a me when the crane operator crushes you under a load.” Jonah finds himself having to take more and more difficult jobs, surrounded by progressively more unfriendly crewmates. Meanwhile, his refusal to defend Seed’s actions makes the ex-con a particularly pernicious enemy. On top of it all, Jonah must face other timeless dangers of the sea: cold water, rough weather, and myriad creatures—including, of course, a whale. Butcher’s measured prose deftly captures the grit and violence of Jonah’s world, both on deck and beneath the waves: “The ocean’s molten color poured into his helmet. It shone through his lens onto his face. It flooded into his eyes, filled his face and mind with concentrated blue until that’s all there was to know.” The author also makes repeated references to Jonah’s other literary antecedent, the similarly biblically named Ishmael, although this book is far more approachable than Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick, both in its narrative style and in its literary ambition. Jonah’s tale is essentially an adventure story, and the rigger vendettas, murderers, and snake-handlers that populate the pages of this book are more the stuff of pulp fiction than they are of reality. Even so, the world of offshore oil rigs is indeed a rugged one, and Butcher’s handling of it here will attract readers who might not have had any interest in the milieu before. There are a few moments when the narrative drifts lazily into cliché—“I don’t think it’s possible to really know what’s in a man’s heart,” muses an old hand named Porter in the novel’s frame narrative, “any more than it’s possible to know what’s hidden in the ocean”—but the story is entertaining enough for readers to forgive the author for such lapses.

An often compelling novel set in the colorful, dangerous world of oil field diving.

Pub Date: March 22, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-947942-18-9

Page Count: 312

Publisher: Liberty Island Media

Review Posted Online: Oct. 11, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2018

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While a few weeks ago it seemed as if Praeger would have a two month lead over Dutton in their presentation of this Soviet best seller, both the "authorized" edition (Dutton's) and the "unauthorized" (Praeger's) will appear almost simultaneously. There has been considerable advance attention on what appears to be as much of a publishing cause celebre here as the original appearance of the book in Russia. Without entering into the scrimmage, or dismissing it as a plague on both your houses, we will limit ourselves to a few facts. Royalties from the "unauthorized" edition will go to the International Rescue Committee; Dutton with their contracted edition is adhering to copyright conventions. The Praeger edition has two translators and one of them is the translator of Doctor Zhivago Dutton's translator, Ralph Parker, has been stigmatized by Praeger as "an apologist for the Soviet regime". To the untutored eye, the Dutton translation seems a little more literary, the Praeger perhaps closer to the rather primitive style of the original. The book itself is an account of one day in the three thousand six hundred and fifty three days of the sentence to be served by a carpenter, Ivan Denisovich Shukhov. (Solzhenitsyn was a political prisoner.) From the unrelenting cold without, to the conditions within, from the bathhouse to the latrine to the cells where survival for more than two weeks is impossible, this records the hopeless facts of existence as faced by thousands who went on "living like this, with your eyes on the ground". The Dutton edition has an excellent introduction providing an orientation on the political background to its appearance in Russia by Marvin Kalb. All involved in its publication (translators, introducers, etc.) claim for it great "artistic" values which we cannot share, although there is no question of its importance as a political and human document and as significant and tangible evidence of the de-Stalinization program.

Pub Date: June 15, 1963

ISBN: 0451228146

Page Count: 181

Publisher: Praeger

Review Posted Online: Oct. 5, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1963

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Thoroughbreds and Virginia blue-bloods cavort, commit murder, and fall in love in Roberts's (Hidden Riches, 1994, etc.) latest romantic thriller — this one set in the world of championship horse racing. Rich, sheltered Kelsey Byden is recovering from a recent divorce when she receives a letter from her mother, Naomi, a woman she has believed dead for over 20 years. When Kelsey confronts her genteel English professor father, though, he sheepishly confesses that, no, her mother isn't dead; throughout Kelsey's childhood, she was doing time for the murder of her lover. Kelsey meets with Naomi and not only finds her quite charming, but the owner of Three Willows, one of the most splendid horse farms in Virginia. Kelsey is further intrigued when she meets Gabe Slater, a blue-eyed gambling man who owns a neighboring horse farm; when one of Gabe's horses is mated with Naomi's, nostrils flare, flanks quiver, and the romance is on. Since both Naomi and Gabe have horses entered in the Kentucky Derby, Kelsey is soon swept into the whirlwind of the Triple Crown, in spite of her family's objections to her reconciliation with the notorious Naomi. The rivalry between the two horse farms remains friendly, but other competitors — one of them is Gabe's father, a vicious alcoholic who resents his son's success — prove less scrupulous. Bodies, horse and human, start piling up, just as Kelsey decides to investigate the murky details of her mother's crime. Is it possible she was framed? The ground is thick with no-goods, including haughty patricians, disgruntled grooms, and jockeys with tragic pasts, but despite all the distractions, the identity of the true culprit behind the mayhem — past and present — remains fairly obvious. The plot lopes rather than races to the finish. Gambling metaphors abound, and sexual doings have a distinctly equine tone. But Roberts's style has a fresh, contemporary snap that gets the story past its own worst excesses.

Pub Date: June 13, 1995

ISBN: 0-399-14059-X

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Putnam

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 1995

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