A quest for vengeance after a tragic death turns a ragtag group of strangers into a family in Burnette’s (Christmas in Sunny California, 2011, etc.) adventurous narrative.
Off the coast of Florida, an older surfer places himself between a young couple and a bull shark; he saves them, but he’s fatally mauled in the process. In a boardroom in Maryland, an executive at the top of his game finds himself cut out of the company, adrift with plenty of money but no purpose. Soon, an independent truck driver reads a newspaper at a Florida diner one morning and finds the name of the surfer, a fellow soldier from the Vietnam War whom he hadn’t seen for decades. Driven by various needs—revenge, satisfaction for a wasted life, the desire to begin anew—the executive and truck driver, along with a pair of researchers who’ve fallen on hard times, hunt the bull shark that killed a man who’d been forgotten by the world. Burnette’s story is heavily indebted to Jaws, which Burnette makes explicit with repeated callbacks to the 1975 Steven Spielberg movie and the original 1974 Peter Benchley novel. He tells it with confidence, allowing the action to rise from his nuanced characterizations rather than by forcing plot contrivances on readers. Although the hunt for the massive bull shark is the characters’ primary motivation, their work and travel together gives them each new purposes and helps them bond as a makeshift family. Each character, from the Vietnam veterans who served with the dead surfer to the 17-year-old girl who pulls the surfer from the ocean, has plausible traits and fears, and Burnette writes with a surety that allows the people to drive the story. This confidence extends to the author’s use of the third-person viewpoint, which lets him provide information that the characters never learn. This strategy further develops the novel’s world and provides the groundwork for later explorations.
Strong characterizations and realistic relationships help make this shark tale a satisfying, accomplished read.