Tsunami!

Richard Martin Stern, Author W. W. Norton & Company $17.95 (318p) ISBN 978-0-393-02529-3
When the eponymous tidal wave finally hits fictional Encino Beach, Calif., it is described in just three pages. Given the several-hundred proceeding pages of buildup, readers justifiably may feel let down. A combination of ocean-bed instability, full moon, French underwater nuclear test and hurricane convinces Peter Williamson, senior fellow at the Encino Beach Oceanographic Institute, that disaster is imminent. He enlists the aid of Dan Garfiel, electronics whiz/tycoon who has just been forced out of his own business, and together they work to alert local, state and federal powers-that-be to the danger. There's very little opposition (or narrative tension) but a lot of repetitive exposition about past tsunamis and their causes. The writing is often clumsy, portentous (``and this happy, healthy, carefree scene could be converted almost at once into . . . tragic catastrophe'') and ill informed (Murphy's Law is not ``Whatever bad can happen will''). Characters are uniformly earnest and boring, the action almost nonexistent. The town's climactic wipeout is an amazing dud. Stern wrote The Tower , Wildfire , etc. (August)
Reviewed on: 08/05/1988
Release date: 08/01/1988
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