Yes, that Ahab, the crazed captain who went down with the White Whale.
He miraculously survived and has finally made his way home. He turns up at the Gorgon's Mirror, a New York City tabloid newspaper, looking for Ishmael, the writer who killed Ahab off in his novelization of their adventures. Ishmael is gone but hack writer Harrow sees dollar signs behind Ahab's improbable story.
All Ahab wants now is to find his beautiful wife and teenage son.
Harrow gets his boss to fund the quest and he and Ahab go on an adventure into the heart of New York City's Five Points, encountering a drug cartel protected by juvenile addicts and the manticore, a mythological creature (pictured on the book cover). They are joined by Ahab's harpooner Madi, stylized as Daggoo by Ishmael, the staunch street urchin Marvis, and a patchwork-coat wearing female writer and opium-eater, Arabella.
Harrow is in over his head, plunged into a world of ghoulish murders perpetrated by Malbaster and attacked by his zombie-like creature Bartleby. Harrow admits that, in a gunfight, he is as "useless as Millard Fillmore." Luckily, he has the African Madi and the plucky women to protect him.
Ahab's Return by Jeffry Ford reminded me of Terry Pratchett's Dodger, a fun blend of fantasy and literary personages in a historical fantasy. And also Jasper Fforde's Thursday Next novels in which literary characters exist in an alternative world.
John Jacob Aster's opium shipping empire, a forgotten multi-racial and multi-cultural village torn down to make Central Park, the Know Nothing anti-immigrant nativist movement, all figure into the story.
The plot hinges on an interesting concept of fictioneers writing plotlines that become reality.
"I am a devotee of the works of Emerson and believe he's professing that the mind is a reailty engine--it creates reality or at least in some part it helps to create reality." Arabella in Ahab's Return
I enjoyed the novel as great escapist fun. I received a free book from the publisher through a LibraryThing giveaway.
Ahab's Return or, The Last Voyage
by Jeffrey Ford
ISBN 10: 0062679007
Jeffrey Ford is the author of the novels The Physiognomy, Memoranda, The Beyond, The Portrait of Mrs. Charbuque, the Edgar Award–winning The Girl in the Glass, The Cosmology of the Wider World, The Shadow Year, and The Twilight Pariah, and his collections include The Fantasy Writer’s Assistant, The Empire of Ice Cream, The Drowned Life, Crackpot Palace, and A Natural History of Hell. He lives near Columbus, Ohio, and teaches writing at Ohio Wesleyan University.