WENDALL’S LULLABY by Kip Koelsch tells the story of Dr. Angela Clarke and animal experts working to discover why hundreds of dolphins beached themselves in three separate locations across the globe. Worried that there was some major illness sweeping the porpoise population, she and her allies learn the truth is something far more sinister.
This book feels like a film. It tells a big tale, with exotic locations, and a large cast of dynamic characters. At the core of this book is a compelling mystery—why the dolphins beached themselves—that keeps the reader moving through the short chapters. The ultimate answer to that question is a satisfying one. It is incredibly clever, seemingly the stuff of science fiction but rooted in truth. This is Koelsch’s first novel, and it’s clear that he’s done his homework. Elements of his personal backstory—a professor of environmental studies, coordinator for manatee rescue, and a water sports enthusiast—pop up in the backstories of our characters. In fact, it is this attention to detail that weighs down an otherwise compelling narrative.
In the first dozen or so chapters of the novel, we’re introduced to a number of characters and given detailed insight into their backstories. Koelsch gives us snapshots of individuals in pain while also justifying their role in the larger plot. However, only readers who enjoy this sort of imagery more than the plot itself may have the temerity to keep on reading until the story really takes off halfway through the novel. Koelsch uses an omniscient narrative voice, giving us insights into what the characters think as well as what they say and do. The sheer volume of information given about each character and his or her motivations is a lot for the reader to remember. It also makes the inciting incidents of the book take much longer to unfold than they should. We get detailed glimpses of what it is like on-the-ground for one of these events. However, with almost constant detours into the characters’ pasts, it feels as if the author’s gaze moves away from the parts of the story that are most interesting to the reader.
A compelling, well-researched tale that is bogged down at times with too many characters and too much backstory, but for readers who find the premise intriguing, it’s certainly worth the effort.
~Joshua M. Patton for IndieReader