Treasure of the Blue Whale
by Steven Mayfield
Regal House Publishing

"I had learned that money does indeed change people, and that taking it away has a good chance of changing them back."

In the spring of 1918, a forty-year-old sperm whale, a “great, block-headed beast” living a well-traveled but solitary existence, is nearly captured off the coast of Japan. The whale escapes and disappears deep into the sea. On account of indigestion, the whale releases something known as ambergris, which Mayfield explains is a waxy substance originating from the intestines of a sperm whale. Although basically whale vomit, ambergris is actually valuable, used in part with the production of perfumes. This substance becomes the subject of intense curiosity when it washes ashore in Tesoro, California, circa 1934, where a ten-year-old boy finds the “gigantic, lumpy mass.”

This discovery of the “treasure” sets in motion Mayfield’s amusing yarn. The ten-year-old boy is Connor O’ Halloran, now ninety-one and reflecting upon that summer more than eighty years ago amid the Great Depression. The elderly Connor warns us that, “I confess my story can sometimes sound like the fanciful recollections of an old man.” Nevertheless, the young Connor initially doesn’t comprehend the value of such a find. Old man Angus MacCallum convinces Connor of the worth of this “bloody treasure,” and soon enough news about the discovery spreads. Fortune hunters circle Tesoro, and a bidding war is ignited between several companies vying for this cetacean glob while the townspeople converge to deal with the situation at hand. Connor watches it all unfold; the sudden expectation of such extraordinary amounts of money possibly changing his and everyone else’s small world is both exciting and bewildering.

Connor’s life up until then is rather ordinary. Fatherless, he lives with his six-year-old brother Alex and his frail mother, Mary Rose. Their home is a “tidy, single-sided affair with a cheerful red tin roof.” His mother also happens to be “a trifle cuckoo” and pivots “between swirling giddiness and profound melancholy.” But Connor loves her and has a good heart, willing to share the rewards of the treasure among the townspeople and help his mother too. This grand idea pleases everyone until the wealthy, enigmatic Cyrus Dinkle hinders that plan. Dinkle is the assured villain in Mayfield’s narrative, a man who will “snatch up an opportunity as ruthlessly as a coyote makes off with a stray cat.” Dinkle carefully lays his trap, ensnaring unsuspecting townspeople into an agreement that could lead to financial ruin. Meanwhile, Connor, along with a few townspeople known as “the Ambergrisians,” makes another discovery that changes everything. They devise their own devious plan to stop Dinkle from getting the better of “bewitched Tesoro men” facing inevitable foreclosures. Connor himself must secretly enter Dinkle’s home,“the lair of the wolf,” to help save the town and himself from irreparable harm.

There is much to love about Mayfield’s capacious, highly entertaining novel where the reader easily slips into a quirky narrative that holds the attention from start to finish. Mayfield carefully balances humor with the melancholic in a Depression-era setting, a period of serious financial woes. It's Mayfield’s infusion of the comic that helps keep an equilibrium to an otherwise serious story. He pulls it off effortlessly without being preachy, making for a delightful fable. Wisely choosing to explore the “onerous weight of consumerism” through the eyes of an honest boy, Mayfield gives readers a timeless, cautionary tale of how money changes people.

The novel boasts a large cast of eccentric characters (including the blue whale at the start) that fill the pages: Miss Lizzie the town medical officer with her odd remedies; Milton Garwood and his fascination with buying a monkey; the cantankerous Angus MacCallum and his lighthouse; Dinkle’s Russian sideman, Sergei Yurievsky, with his own haunting backstory. Adding to Mayfield’s spirited narrative are playful chapter titles, such as “The falcon spots the field mouse” or “Dinkle’s man squeezes the potato,” as well as unusual character names like Chirpy Boop. When reading one gets a clear sense of how much fun Mayfield had in crafting this fictional account.

But the strength of the novel rests primarily on its principal characters, Connor and Dinkle. They are the David and Goliath of the book, representing the struggle between good and evil, of power and corruption. Dinkle is the ultimate malefactor, a “one-dimensional rascal” with a “personality and body habitus of a vulture.” He is a man with wealth at his disposal who believes he can and should rule without regard to morals. Dinkle is aided by his vile manservant, Sergei, “a tall cadaverous fellow with an accent” whose ghoulish appearance and the uncanny ability of “materializing from thin air” terrifies everyone and maintains a consistent fear of Dinkle. In contrast, Connor (whose name conveniently rhymes with honor) is a most likable protagonist, a true foil to the nefarious Dinkle. He is the all-American, good-natured boy with a paper route and an affinity toward Arthur Conan Doyle and Robert Louis Stevenson. He is the hope for the town battling against pressure and greed. Readers will appreciate his moment to shine in the most thrilling chapter, “I enter the lair,” where Connor gets to be a part of his own true-life escapade just like “Jim Hawkins had done with the pirates on Treasure Island.”

Growing up during this trying time of American history, Connor learns the ways of the world and how people survive through the microcosm of this strange ambergris situation. Mayfield crafts this well-conceived plot into a coming-of-age fable that is full of mystery, heroism, familial love, and humanity. It’s a genuine, imaginative, and endearing meditation on how a few good people working together can accomplish so much in a weary world.

RECOMMENDED by the US Review

Return to USR Home