“Gale Force” by Owen Laukkanen is a realistic story where readers take the journey with the characters as they board the ship and feel the splash of the waves. It is a testament to the author’s writing style, as he is able to make an intense adventure story of a maritime salvage operation.
The author based the story on “The wreck at the center of the tale is based on the real-life saga of the Cougar Ace, which did in fact capsize near the Aleutian Islands. You’re so isolated on the water, and at the mercy of very powerful forces of nature. The potential for conflict and action is always there. It’s just such a different environment from anything any of us is really used to, in particular in really remote places like the Aleutian Islands or the Arctic Ocean.”
The plot has McKenna Rhodes inheriting the Gale Force, a salvage boat after her father died in violent weather on the open seas. Hearing about a salvage operation, she and the crew decide to attempt a rescue of a freighter, the Pacific Lion, which has turned over on its side during a horrific storm. A stowaway who has stolen fifty million in bonds from a Japanese gangster hampers them along with other salvage tugs. After finally getting a contract from the insurance company McKenna and crew can earn $30 million for saving the ship and its property.
She is smart, brave, beautiful, and wants to prove that she is able to navigate this male-dominated world. He describes her, “I wanted to write a character that is daunted by the magnitude and responsibility of being a captain. I based her insecurities on a lot of people I met that worked on the water and are aware that if a mistake is made people’s lives are at stake; thus, constant worriers. Also, when I was on a train going from Seattle to Los Angeles I met this single mother from Idaho. In order to feed her four children, she started a trucking company. I thought she would make a good character for a story since trucking like tugboats is a male-dominated boys club. She told me how she struggled with men who tried breaking contracts because they objected to a woman trying to make inroads. I wanted to show how McKenna also struggles with this. Both were seen as a small fish in a big pond.”
Another character in the book is the ocean the alternates between playing an antagonist and a protagonist. “I wanted to write it as an ever-present threat. Every second the crew spends on the ship they must realize that the ocean could suddenly turn on them. The main characters love the ocean and feel at home around it. They are attracted to it; yet, at any moment it could destroy them. One day the ocean is beautiful and calm, while the next day a storm can pick up, showing the ocean’s anger, basically eating someone alive. The environment is as unpredictable as any human character in the book.”
The first in a new series starts out with a splash, not a drizzle. It is a riveting and intense action-filled story with very well-developed characters.