by Kem Nunn
In this book, author Kem Nunn pairs the sparkle of sunlight on a curling wave with the suspense and darkness of predators stalking prey.
His protagonist, Ike Tucker, is young, inexperienced and alone. He arrives in Huntington Beach on the strength of a story told by a stranger. Eighteen-year-old Ike was working on a motorcycle in the dusty desert town he lived in when a skinny kid about his own age shows up at his uncle’s gas station in a white Camaro.
The stranger reluctantly tells his story: a young girl, Ellen Tucker (Ike’s sister), went to Mexico with some guys from Huntington Beach the previous summer. They came back; Ellen didn’t. The stranger just thought her family should know.
“I tried to find out what happened,” he says. “I couldn’t. What I’m saying is the guys your sister went with are not the type of people you want to fuck around with.”
He clearly has little confidence in Ike, but he leaves him with a scrap of paper with the names of three Huntington Beach surfers — Hound Adams, Terry Jacobs and Frank Baker — that Ellen allegedly went to Mexico with.
This is a riveting story told by a master story teller. It seems hopeless from the moment that Ike steps off the Greyhound in Huntington Beach, but has you rooting for Ike and Ellen from the first chapter. The setting that Nunn describes has all the beauty and exhilaration of catching a great wave on sunny Southern California day. But it also has the darkness and threat of a town where the powerful prey on the vulnerable using drugs, sex and social status.
Ike’s one ally, Preston, an alcoholic Vietnam vet who rides with a motorcycle gang, is erratic and unreliable. After confiding in him, Ike sees Preston talking to Frank Baker and then begins to notice surf shop photos of Preston and Hound Adams, years earlier seeming to be comrades of the surf.
This is a classic tale of a journey, a mission and a young man coming of age. Tapping the Source is Nunn’s first book and sets the tone for his reputation as a writer of “surf noir” novels. Ike’s quest appears to be at a deadend over and over again.
This is a book to be read again and again.
About the Author: Kem Nunn
Nunn’s books have been described as “surf noir” for their surfing settings and dark themes. In addition to writing novels, he is a magazine and television writer. He collaborated with producer David Milch on the HBO Western drama series, Deadwood, the HBO series John from Cincinnati and a surfing series set in Imperial Beach, California. More recently, he worked on “Chance,” a TV series based on his novel of the same name.
He grew up in Pomona and Northern California. He didn’t go to college to study writing until he was nearly 30. He holds a master’s of fine arts degree in creative writing from the University of California, Irvine.
In addition to Tapping the Source (1984), he has written Unassigned Territory (1986), Pomona Queen (1992), The Dogs of Winter (1997), Tijuana Straits (2004) and Chance (2014).