235 Pages, Fiction/Thriller
3 ½ out of 5 stars
Micko is a likable NY cop who, after being shot in the leg, is sent on a vacation to Bikini Atoll where he plans to rest and scuba dive to regain his strength and more importantly, his confidence. When he arrives he is thrown into a world of organized crime and underwater intrigue, where a mysterious barracuda mutated by atomic fallout terrorizes all who come near.
By far the best thing about Barracuda is all the underwater dive stuff. Filled with intricate detail, these segments are superbly written and Monahan shows he is clearly experienced (if you check his website, you’ll see that he has dove all over the world), executing each dive sequence with expert precision. The first underwater expedition to a sunken WWII aircraft carrier accomplishes what few books have: it took me to a place where I have never been and fascinated me throughout the entire journey. Just imagine exploring an aircraft carrier that has been sitting on the ocean floor for sixty years, surrounded by colorful aquatic life, landing on the flight deck all alone as if you’ve descended onto your own private universe.
Once the story moves forward, several threads open and Micko is dealing with the exploits of two marine scientists, the Russian Mafia, a gang of renegade divers, lots of backstabbing, and of course that menacing underwater monster known as “It.” Monahan moves the events along quickly and never once forgets that he is telling a story, and Micko is the type of protagonist that you want to root for from beginning to end.
Barracuda is filled with violence and carnage: points. And there is a very pornographic and very X-rated sex scene with a hot Russian seductress: big points. But what prevents Barracuda from being great is that the subplots are not as well developed as the dive segments. While the author really knows his stuff when his characters are on the water, sometimes the rest of the story seems thrown together. The Mafia storyline, involving a complicated money laundering scheme and a tell-all ledger called the Bible, does not feel right. Do crime lords really document all of their illegal transactions and then leave the evidence lying around where any bystander can pick it up? And it’s never clear exactly what money is being laundered, how this money is being earned and whose hands it’s flowing into and out of, yet the good guys seem to have it all figured out. It lacks authenticity.
The rebels feel like an afterthought. Who are they rebelling against and what are they trying to attain? Incomplete details such as these leave the reader confused, forcing them to accept these situations at face value – which means they’re not as intriguing as say, a detailed underwater adventure to a sunken warship.
Another place where the book suffers is in the grammatical narrative surrounding “It.” It’s good to know what the underwater monster is up to, and to see the surface events through his eyes but the writing is confusing and grammatically incorrect. Take this passage:
“It never closed Its eyes, but went into a trance-like state that would give It rest and recharge It.”
Or this one:
“It didn’t know what had caused It to come out of Its trance, but Its instincts told It that danger was near.”
Not only are there too many Its, some of the Its are not used correctly. Substitute the name “John” for “It” and see what happens:
”John never closed John’s eyes, but went into a trance-like state that would give John rest and recharge John.”
“John didn’t know what had caused John to come out of John’s trance, but John’s instincts told John that danger was near.”
I am not an English teacher but reading passages like these make I wish that I had gone to school to get a degree so that I could teach grammar and be happy with I. Sorry to have to call this out so bluntly, but this bugged me, and after awhile these passages became incredibly difficult to read and made the book feel like a 2nd or 3rd draft, instead of the polished masterpiece it deserves to be.
Here’s hoping Monahan can minimize these issues in his next book, whatever that may be, because the plot and story he weaves together makes me curious about what he plans to do next.
So if you can get past some issues, and every book has them, Barracuda is an intriguing crime story with plenty of action and adventure. Filled with lots of life-threatening twists and lots of dangerous storylines, it all ties together in one of the bloodiest, most chaotic finales I’ve read in some time. If you can stomach the violent imagery of human beings being literally ripped apart by a psychotic, mutated underwater predator, and you can tolerate the anguished hollering of innocents being scorched to death by burning fuel and stray fireworks, and love the idea of hot sex with a tantalizing Soviet-era dominatrix (who doesn’t?), then open up a copy of Mike Monahan’s Barracuda, sit back, and absorb!
Strengths: great underwater intrigue, good premise, strong pacing, vivid imagery
Opportunities: underdeveloped subplots, grammar(in some places)
Will appeal to: fans of cop/mafia drama, scuba divers, fans of thrillers and crime novels
Barracuda is available from amazon.
Reviewed by Mark McGinty, October 2009