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Fiction

December 08, 1985|SCHUYLER INGLE

KING SEASON by Kirby Wilkins (Arbor House: $14.95). "King Season is a book about three men--two rugged individuals native to Alaska and one outsider, a burned-out California travel writer--fishing for king crab in Alaska. Crab fishing is a dangerous job on rough seas so cold that survival for the fisherman unfortunate enough to fall overboard is counted in minutes. Kirby Wilkins brings this territory alive. Though there is power in the backdrop, there isn't enough to carry into novel form what amounts to an over-told short story. Lee Redfield, the travel writer, arrives in Kodiak from London to visit a sister who hates him. We get a blast of their violent family history that leads nowhere, though it is held in balance by the living historic diorama embodied by the bigger-than-life Cody Hayes, an old man who carries guns and hates hippies. Cody works for Lee's brother-in-law, Cliff Hawkins, on the Arctic Dreamer. Lee decides to hire on as the green hand at the start of crab-fishing season rather than return to his rich, attractive wife and their suicidal, drugged-out, crypto-Buddhist college student son. Before he sets foot on the boat, Lee is told so often that Cody is nothing but trouble and weird with his guns that it doesn't come as much of a surprise when Cody turns out to be nothing but trouble and weird about his guns. It all comes to a violent head. Had Kirby Wilkins simply told a sea tale, he might have angled his way into a fine short story. As it is, "King Season" survives more from the strength of its exotic setting than any great insight into the working of Man, Woman, or Alaska.

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