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"Write out of love, write out of instinct, write out of reason. But always for money."
Louis Untermeyer


Extinct

By Charles Wilson
St. Martin's Paperbacks, 310 pp, 1997

Extinct should have stayed that way.

This is not a good book. The prose is awkward and wordy, the characters shallow, undeveloped and uninteresting, the plot conventional and dull, the action tedious and overdrawn.

The book takes place in Mississippi, around the Delta region, and begins with two boys getting eaten by a prehistoric shark. It even has the obligatory family dog barking furiously on the river shore.

A few other minor characters appear, whose sole purpose is to get eaten by the shark. A local marine biologist and babe charter boat captain, along with her father and the local sheriff, soon realize what they think is a great white shark has entered the river from the Gulf of Mexico. Meanwhile, the Director of Naval Intelligence happens to believe that megalodons, huge prehistoric sharks long thought to be extinct, still exist. It's a hobby of his. That's his reason for being involved in the story. It's a hobby.

The book meanders along its predictable way. The babe captain's father takes the local junior high boxing team camping and fishing on the river, and are attacked by the megalodon. The marine biologist and babe captain save them. The county coroner determines from the bite marks on a body part that the poor digested soul was eaten by a big shark. Charter captains crowd the river with raw meat and other bait to lure the shark and kill it. Ho-hum, nothing new.

All this could maybe be forgiven if the book were well-written. It isn't. It's verbose, riddled with detail, leaving out nothing. Every scene tells us where every character is what every character does. It's pointless and slows down the action. 

Some sentences are just painful, like this one: "The craft leaned on its side toward the small aluminum boat, floating partially submerged and nearly hidden from sight in a stand of tall water grassing growing in the shadows of a line of tall oaks leaning out over the river." I count six prepositional phrases in that clunker, about five too many.

The characters seemingly have no independent goals or aspirations. They simply go along with the flow, doing the predictable, anonymous cogs in this grinding plot. They change in no significant way, except that (surprise!) the marine biologist and babe charter captain get engaged.

More annoyances. In the first third of the book, the babe charter captain's dad was Mr. Herald. That's how the author referred to him. Then, on the camping trip, Mr. Herald suddenly became Fred. I had to page backward toward the beginning to find out that Fred was indeed Mr. Herald. One boy on the campout didn't even warrant a name. He was the "younger blond brother" or "young blond boy."

If you want to read a much better book about megalodons, check out Meg. It was Steve Alten's first book, so it's a bit rough around the edges, but the plot makes more sense and the characters are appealing.

Extinct deserves to join its prehistoric ancestors and disappear.

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