I have to return to Valhalla Rising. I have to purge this evil from my mind. Because foolishly I’ve been reading on and it’s in here now, it’s entered me, and there’s only one way for me to get it out.

Cussler is a cruel mistress, you see, toying with one’s emotions. Just when he makes you care, really care, he crushes your hopes and dreams like a that girl, you know the one, the one at school who popped your heart’s bubble forever. Why? I don’t know that – who knows what drives a person to become a monster? How? That I can tell you.

You see, Captain Jack Waitkus is a really lovely man. He’s sixty-five in a few days time, and he’s so well loved and respected by everyone he’s ever worked with that he’s been given the first captaincy of the world’s greatest cruise ship – and, we are told, it is his first ever captaincy, which makes this seem a little unlikely – as a pre-retirement gift, just because he’s so nice. We’ve been given his charmingly voluminous biography for probably the same reason.

He was a stout man with the jolly appearance of a Falstaff without the beard. His blue eyes had a leprechaun look to them, and his lips seemed always turned up in a warm smile.

They should have called it the Emerald Isle. But wait, ‘cos we learn so much more about him! What a charming captain he is, how nice he is with the passengers “unlike many cruise ship captains”, who contrary to my expectations must be selected for their anti-social manners.

We learn that Cap’n Jack has accepted his impending retirement. He can’t wait to go on a leisurely cruise around the world with his wife on the beautiful forty-two foot sailing yacht they live on – the Dead  Meat, I assume it’s called. Right after he signs those life insurance papers she’s been nagging him about for a quarter of a century. Somehow, he’s just never found the time. But there’s plenty of time ahead, isn’t there, for trivial things like that?

Captain Jack Waitcus made a brief inspection of the upper decks before retiring to his cabin ahhhhh … He was tired, but he never dropped off to sleep until he’d read a few pages of one of his books on underwater treasure arrrrr … He made one final call to the bridge and as told all was normal before he drifted off to sleep awwww.

And then, after spending all this time with him, after making us love Cap’n Jack Waitkus so hard, Clive Cussler murders him in a ball of fire. Three pages later.

So I think my question is, why bother? Why bother dropping all this detail on someone who could have been summed up as “the charming, soon to retire, soon to expire, captain”? Why the pages of back story, just so he can get roasted straight away and be almost never mentioned again? Actually, if it comes to that, if you are going to go to all this trouble detailing the incidental characters in the hope of making us care about them, why not make them somehow even slightly distinctive, instead of all being exactly the same, even down to their psychic channelling of the author’s one personal interest outside of hammy writing?

Anyway, in the three pages between meeting Cap’n Jack and meating him, Cussler kicks off the disaster proper when resourceful Second Officer Charles McFerrin discovers the fire and reports it to eeeeeevil First Officer Vince Sheffield, who is so determined not to react to the warning being supplied that (as we are told in a bit of premonitory cliff-hanging, another favourite Cussler literary tactic) “His inaction would ultimately cost over a hundred lives”. This premonition comes as something of a tension killer, since we’ve been told several times by now that there are between two and three thousand people on board. Looks like most of them get saved; what’s for dinner? He is however my favourite character at the time of writing just for being different.

So, with McFerrin bravely battling the blaze with little more than his own fireman and Sheffield holding his dick on the bridge and dithering, Cussler takes the opportunity to slip in a couple of presumably important characters amongst the guests: Kelly Egan, who often dreams of being chased by indescribable animals and insects or, as tonight, a huge fish; and her father, Dr. Elmore Egan, the “Nobel Prize-winning mechanical genius”.

Because they only receive about this much description each, I think they are both destined for long, satisfying lives. Well, this may not be totally true since Egan Senior has clearly already had one, as in addition to a daughter he is responsible for producing the Emerald City‘s “revolutionary new engines”, a “state-of-the-art creation”, the – ahem – “huge magnetic water jet propulsion engines”.

Wait while I Google.

Damn.

Well, he still writes like a single Shakespearian chimp.

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