Get ready for a Five Star – Earth Shattering Adventure
I love novels with themes involving surfing. McMahon’s Kilometer 99 is a story that should be on the shelf of every surfer and anyone with a sense of adventure that appreciates quality writing. I’ll admit that the book’s plot description in the flyleaf is what got my attention. In fact, it was enough by itself to encourage me to buy a copy and drop what I was previously reading so I could plow right through it when I should have done a better job of savoring every passage. I felt transported by McMahon’s style and precise balances between plot and character development.
The title Kilometer 99, is a reference to a semi secret surf spot in El Salvador. According to the author’s note, the spot doesn’t actually exist, but is representative of the type of warm water point break with long hollow waves and make-able sections that every surfer dreams about.
The tumultuous world events at turn of the 21st century weave into the setting in La Libertad, El Salvador, where main character Malia,a recently minted engineering graduate from Hawaii, is a Peace Corps volunteer. The opening passage is a rail grabber written from Malia’s point of view, that takes the reader on an authentic ride-along in the green room of a fast right, witnessed by a fellow surfer paddling back out to the line up.
It is through surfing that Malia meets Ben, an agriculture specialist with realistic expectations about his role in supporting local development. Turns of fate play significant parts in how McMahon masterfully creates drama throughout the story. An earthquake sets off a chain of events that cause Malia and Ben to seek a different type of adventure. They meet up with Pelochuco, the North American opportunist who influences many of the decisions Ben and Malia are faced with.
I was not only impressed with McMahon’s ability to captivate my attention with his fast paced plot elements, but also his writing craft. The following quote is just one of many wonderful examples of this author’s artistic talents: “The long day’s last light clings like rust to the edges of a worn-out sky.” The colors and tranquility of the scene presented in that passage transported me and still linger as I reflect on this beautifully presented story.
The realism accompanying each string of events that Malia and Ben encounter as they take up with Pelochuco, are almost tragic but somehow laughable at the same time. In the wake of one of Pelochuco’s misbegotten adventures where each of the three were physically injured, Malia recounts their condition with her split lip, Ben’s torn ear and the mutilated eyebrow Pelochuco received surfing at K-99. “Our three wounds have us looking like the ‘See no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil’ monkeys.”
There is no doubt about McMahon’s credibility as a surfer and most definitely a writer. I’ve read all of Kem Nunn’s work and was thoroughly captivated by Tim Winton’s novel Breath, but Kilometer 99 tops my list of novels with a surf theme and ranks among the best of period pieces that appeal to my sense of adventure. This novel has so many wonderfully crafted passages that my best recommendation is to just read it.