Pardon the delay, I’ve been in hospital. I’m not certain Valhalla Rising is behind my abrupt deterioration in health, but I’m not ruling it out.

As I’m balancing delicately on the high wire of suffering, stautly trung between my former life of ease and a distant future of painful recovery, further, suspended above an abysal yawning maw of death populated by the incompetently shrieking ghouls of slighted writers past, I’m going to make this a short visit to Cussler’s world. We left our man’s man torn between the universally familiar experiences of kissing girlies and committing murder, but there the action sidesteps for a moment to join a now familiar face – that of Captain Jock McDermott, one of our charming chums of Rank.

After easing us into chapter eight with the technical specifications of Jock’s vessel, the tugboat Audacious, the good Scottish captain and his, on the whole, nationally unspecific crew arrive at the scene of the (another passing reference to a) holocaust to claim the ruined cruise liner as salvage; they aren’t much pleased with what they find, little more than a floating scrapyard, but nevertheless they buckle her up and start making slow headway towards Wellington.

I’m going to be generous for a moment here: there’s no question that Clive Cussler knows and, most likely, loves his maritime. He has an enthusiasm for all things floating and describes the salvage activities of the tugboat’s crew with clarity. I’m not going to go crazy, though – there is still no style to his writing, so we get sentences like:

With no power on board the Emerald Dolphin, it was no small chore to lift aboard the tug’s massive eight-inch-diameter tow cable that weighed one ton per hundred feet.

Maybe I’m being picky, but to me that clunks like, oh, I don’t know, one hundred feet of one-ton-weighing massive eight-inch-diameter cable. When dropped. And when followed by a paragraph describing the various diameters of smaller cable taking their turns to help pull it around bollards and through winches and past borings – sorry, bearings – no, wait, I was right. He doesn’t mention bearings at all.

He does use the phrase “big eight-incher” though. That’s not boring. Not at the moment, anyway.

Well, “ten hours later” (his words) the Audacious is under way and the ship’s cook is taking the midnight shift of keeping an eye on the EmDol to make sure she doesn’t spontaneously veer off course, or sink, or – hey, look at that. Both.

With a mysterious rumble and a huge billow of smoke the ruin abruptly starts to sink, with the unfortunate detail of the tug being attached to her by a… what was it? Fucking great cable. The crew loose the winch and – understandably – hope for the best, but as the barrel spins faster and faster the Emerald Dolphin upends and dives for the bottom and, inside me, I cheer – maybe I’ll be spared the trouble of saying her bloody name again… fat chance. The cable yanks tight, drags the tug up on her ass, then it breaks free, abandoning Audacious to splash back down to the surface. Saved.

This bit wasn’t too bad, actually. This is probably the best chapter of the whole book so far. The crew have narrowly avoided a grim end, with nothing to show for their efforts but the loss of a fucking expensive cable – until, what’s this? A survivor swims towards them, a member of the crew, a self-confident, perpetually grinning black officer called Sherman Nance who just happened to get left behind and didn’t get burned to death and only made his presence known after the mysterious sinking and what a lucky boy he is. Strange how she sank so fast, isn’t it? Yes, Very Strange. My, what big teeth you have.

The conversation following his rescue is about as naturalistic as the above paragraph, but good old captain Jock has dry clothes and a hearty meal ordered for their new friend and immediately prepares to write off the unnaturally fast demise of the EmDol as “another one of the sea’s great mysteries” – not a very ambitious man, admittedly. Audacious returns to Wellington, at which point the mysterious Sherman Nance is found not only to be no longer on board, but to never having served on the EmDol at all.

What do you think?

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