Beast by Peter Benchley (1991)

Different, but the same... just like you and ME!Different, but the same... just like you and ME!Different, but the same... just like you and ME!1/2

Reel this one in!
Eight-Armed, Two-Whipped, Cthulu-Like Critic!
J.C. Mašek III
The World's Greatest Critic!
There seems to be a certain formula to building a Peter Benchley novel. Take one sea monster, add one tourism town, down on its luck because of said sea monster, throw in a dash of reluctant hero whose fate is inexorably linked to that of the town, a pinch of just enough ancillary "Red Shirt" characters to die and make the whole victory worth while, and a minced topping of maritime final battle with an amazing sequence of events that leave the reader breathless... mix well until lumps are gone and serve.

Whip it! Whip it Good!
The bad news is that Benchley's Beast follows this recipe to a T, and fans of Jaws might find this to be a bit of a retread. However, it would be a true shame to dismiss Beast because of this... it's rife with memorable characters, a striking new "villain", good writing and enough laughs to keep this one rocking and rolling for a hell of a good ride.

In the seas surrounding Bermuda, the fishermen have unfairly fished the coral reefs out until there's nearly nothing left. That's nothing for the Fishermen, nothing for the towns on Bermuda, and nothing for the natural predators to dine on. And if those predators seek greener pastures (figuratively speaking, o'course), then maybe the bigger predators will... and then, where does that leave the even bigger predators? Where does that leave the unseen giants of the deep?

Ever hear of architeuthis? Maybe not. Architeuthis is a Beast so damned big it makes John Goodman look like Brawny Smurf, and so menacing it makes Jaws look like the pet goldfish you just flushed. This is the Giant Squid who could eat Giant Squid for breakfast and still have room for Chicken Fried Whale Tots, a school of the Holiest of the Holy Mackerel, and for dessert, how about a human being or two?

That last appetizer proves far too tempting to pass up, so before the title character asks the proverbial waiter for the proverbial check, he stalks the Bermuda triangle munching on Human legs like they were... um... Frog Legs or something! Enter Whip Darling, as daring as Popeye, with the financial stability of J.C. Mašek III. It is Whip and Whip alone who recognizes this danger early on and warns the "cooler heads" that cthulu is out there, man! But it's not until he reluctantly joins forces with Navy Lieutenant Marcus Sharp, Marine Biologist Dr. Herbert Talley and Billionaire Osborne Manning (whose children Architeuthis had for brunch) that the INK hits the fan!

And it does, in splattering earnest as every trick and trap is foiled by this incredible and incredibly scary Sea Monster. While so much of this feels familiar, Benchley separates this one from his imitators and from his own prior novels by throwing in a metric ton of dry humor into the deep blue sea. Though not a "Comedy", Beast has enough funny dialogue and witty narration to keep you interested and laughing, just before the tentacle slams down and you remember you're reading horror.

Horrific, Beast is, and the scariness sneaks up on you and whispers "boo" before screaming it. Benchley's apt assumption of the Squid's point of view is fascinating, as he never attempts to make this thing a "Villain", but narrates this monster's scenes with instinct and need, with only a taste or two of only the most primal of emotions. This is all because of one vital fact: Benchley's done his homework. It's also never a foregone conclusion who is a survivor and who is Purina Squid Chow! Peter Benchley is meticulous here about developing each character to the point that the reader knows them... and some of them live, while some of them meet the beak!

By no means is this novel perfect. The reliance on Deus Ex Machina is surprising (even if you know it's coming) and some of the logic loses its bubbles and becomes a flat drink. Much of this has to do with the fact that Benchley is an ocean expert, and writes and narrates documentaries as often as he constructs novels and movies. While his factual approach can be brilliant his plot lines are all sort of similar. Still, this is one purely entertaining novel, well worth the read, and it's one of those that you just can't put down without a sleeping pill.

All in all, it's a better novel than Jaws, and is more direct and fleshed out than its more famous predecessor. The best parts of this novel are in the storytelling, not in the familiar plot, though, which is probably why the movie version of this book isn't held in very high regard. I would have awarded four stars to Beast had the plot not been borrowed from Benchley by Benchley, but as it stands, BEAST is a solid Three and One Half Star out of Five book. The man has a way with words, and balances horror, comedy and realism very well, and gives us some major league entertainment. No harm in that! So until Bruckheimer teams up with William Peterson to remake Jaws as a soft core porno, with the emphasis on Helen and Hooper... I'll reluctantly, yet heroically see you in the next water-logged reel!

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Beast... by Peter Benchley reviewed by J.C. Mašek III who is solely responsible for his reviews and for his refusal to eat Squid!
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