File 2: Valhalla Rising


“Pitt® and Giordino track the Deep Encounter to the island base it’s been hidden on, kill the pirates with only a knife and a rocket-launcher, then rescue the ship and her crew.”

Got that? Good – because I’ve got bigger fish to fry right now than the plot. Like…

HOW MARY SUE CUSSLER HERE WOUND UP STARRING IN HER OWN NOVEL, HOW ABOUT THAT? Excuse me. Do you know what a “Mary Sue” is? asks the critic, more sweetly. There must be some way I can explain this process of evolution to you. Ah! Here, from the fourth of my Don Brawn novels…

Don Brawn sat at his computer keyboard, typing a review of a book he didn’t like .

~ from The Book that Wasn’t Written, a Don Brawn thriller, by Cliff Knoetz

Of course, I jest – there will only be three Don Brawn novels for a start, and in none of them will Don be reviewing books. I simply want to demonstrate how a less able writer than myself might use his main character as what is known as an author surrogate which, as Wikipedia conveniently defines, is when a story includes “a character who expresses the ideas, questions, personality and morality of the author”. Of course, sometimes things go further than this and enter dark and painfully embarrassing areas of non-subtlety that cause other human beings to not look you in the eye at parties.

Don was strong, handsome and “good in bed” according to what ladies say or at least think. Every word he wrote made clear the failings of the author – the author of the book he was reviewing – and, when he sent it to him, Don knew that the author would take all his advice, re-write his book accordingly and thank Don personally on the dedication page. Don Brawn was the best.

~ The Book that Wasn’t Written, a title that’s growing on me, by Cliff Knoetz

The next degree of creative failure that can occur is exemplified here, in which this falsified version of my character, Don Brawn, moments previously (but in a not true manner) presented as a surrogate for myself, Cliff Knoetz, is further shown to be potentially unrealistically perfect in various ways. This is known as a Mary Sue-ism, a term coined after Paula Smith’s landmark short story, A Trekkie’s Tale (published Menagerie #2, 1973) – a biting piece of social criticism attacking the adolescent wish-fulfilment fantasies prevalent in popular Star Trek fan fiction of the time.

Fortunately, this kind of thing doesn’t happen anymore. Now writers of fan fiction generally just expand the range of subject matter to include lesbian encounters between principle vampire-killing cast members and leave themselves out of it. No-one in these self-aware times would – well, okay. I mean, clearly Dirk Pitt® is a bit of a Mary Sue, yes. That’s all I’m trying to say. Anyway, how could you top that?

Don realised that there was a word he needed which would make this the best passage of text, the most perfect work of literary analysis, in the entire history of the written word – but in that moment, for the only time in his entire life, he couldn’t remember what it was!

Oh no, thought Don. Without this word my existence as a critic is doomed!

Just then there was a knock on the door. Who could that be? asked Don to himself, getting up. As he opened the door he couldn’t believe his eyes!

“Hi,” said the handsome, slightly less handsome than Don but only because he was older, man stood attractively on the doorstep. “I’m Cliff Knoetz.”

“Noted-social-radical-and-literary-critic Cliff Knoetz?” gasped Don gratefully.

“The very same!” laughed the man, with a glint in his heart-stoppingly hazel-green eye. “And the word you’re looking for, is PATHETIC.”

IT’S PATHETIC. PAAAAAAAAAAATHETIC.

PAAAAAAAAAATHEEEEEEETIIIIIIIIC.

Right, THAT’S what I was trying to say. Clive Cussler isn’t content with his hero being, so obviously, a MASSIVE fantasy of himself, looked up to by men, lusted after by women, modest and perfect and everything else. NO. That’s not enough for Clive. Clive has to write his hero-persona into an inescapable trap, and then write in HIMSELF, his actual self, HIM, HE, CLIVE CUSSLER, HE has to be the one who turns up in the nick of time to save himself. HIMSELF. HIIIIIIIIMMMMMSSSSSSEEEEEEELLLLLFFFFFFFFffffffffffffph.

Are you hearing me? I’ve got one word for you, Clive. Listen closely…

Onanism.

Did you catch that?

Actually, this kind of thing does go on (admittedly it’s usually for comic or satiric effect and not as some kind of smug gratuity) so there’s another phrase for this auto-inclusion of an author into his own story, a less pejorative one, well, sort of. It’s self-insertion.

In a way it’s kind of the opposite too, since onanism is more about self-extrusion.

In any case, if you want my opinion Clive’s just been caught red-handed at both. More or less. And I, for one, really wish I hadn’t walked in on him doing it.

X

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Right, that’s it. You can go. I’m finished.

X

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Shit, yeah. I totally forgot. When Pitt* was all but single-handedly saving everybody, a detail I’m sure he’ll be quick to deny should anyone try to reward him for it, he finds the logo CERBERUS poorly hidden on the enemy ship. I wonder if it’s important. And that brings up the end of Part One. You know what that means…

I’ve got a few minutes before I’m due back in court, so I thought I’d wallow in nostalgia for a while and pick up Valhalla Rising again – it feels like sweet years since I’ve even thought about it.

Change of approach to the sea monster from now on, because life is too short to go through it chapter by page. Instead, we’ll have a plot summary of a reasonable subsection of the novel, examining a particular theme or detail as we do.

Ready? Here we go!

When we left our herpes, Dirk Pitt® had just unexpectedly lubed up Al Giordino in his cabin – but this is going to be left unexplored territory for now, because there is actual unexplored territory to be, er, explored. Charged with locating the sad wreckage of Emerald Dolphin, Pitt® and Al prepare to dive to the very bottom of the sea to find her sunken bones (I’m almost shedding a happy tear to be back with all these familiar friends). How will they achieve this? First by introducing a new poorly named friend in Sea Sleuth, an “autonomous underwater vehicle” (AUV, or “a swimming camera”), with which they find the wreck on their very first try, delve inside her and discover that the reason for her so rapid sinking was due to explosives – sabotage!

This is more of a revelation to them than to us, since this has been an established fact for about 130 pages. Having their target in sight, Pitt® and Al prepare to investigate first hand in the Abyss Navigator, a clumsily named four-man submersible, to find the proof they need. First they must select someone to join them on their trip to the bottom – and to prove that one woman is worth two men they select Misty Graham.

Ah, Misty.

Misty was a petite woman, full of fire and vinegar which sounds like a yeast infection to me. Her black hair cropped short for easy maintenance on board ship, she might have looked boyish disgusting if she didn’t have well defined construction Ah: titties, good. With light brown eyes under a pert little nose and soft lips, Misty had never been married thus proving herself a failure as a female.

So, down they go – in only the most literal of manners, mind you – nosing around in the wreckage and, on their very first try (again), discovering a mystery object at the site of the fire’s outbreak that will prove to have been the cause. Not a bad day’s work – but when they get back to the surface there is no sign of the Deep Encounter… they have been abandoned at sea…

…in fact, it’s worse: Deep Encounter has been hijacked! With the only competent men playing around at the bottom of the sea, a high-speed vessel arrives, a band of armed villains trick their way on board and take everyone hostage at gunpoint. The characterisation is typically villainous –

The hijacker did not look like a pirate, no peg leg, parrot or eye patch.

– demonstrating that Cussler understands his readers are not of the under-eight age group. So – what are two men and one unmarried woman going to do while they wait for death on the high seas, in a single-room submersible ,with no food or fresh water, no emergency flares – nothing but the lithe warm bodies that god gave them?

Well, improvising sources of food and water, they do everything but the obvious (apart from die), even though they have no way to flag down the rescue plane that fails to spot them, no doubt dooming them without hope.

“Then how will they ever find us?” Misty asked, her resolve beginning to crack. After a week of eating nothing but fish and going toilet with two sailors within arm’s reach, I’m not surprised.

Pitt® gave her a comforting smile and hugged her. “The law of averages,” he said, totally misunderstanding the concept. “They’re bound to catch up.”

“Besides,” Giordino chimed in, “we’re lucky. Aren’t we pal?”

“As lucky as they come. Now ram me, you Italian stallion.

Misty wiped a glistening eye, straightened her blouse and shorts wow, she really was worried and ran a hand through her cropped hair. “Forgive me. I’m not as tough as I thought I was.”

I can see why she lives alone, panic-stricken bimbo like that, her parents should have been sterilised. However, with things looking so grim for our beloved champions, their creator, Clive Cussler, having arranged a situation for them so dire that no logical escape can possibly be conceived – rescue arrives! Hearing the sound of classical music floating across the waves one night, they wave their failing flash light and scream for help – and just as it seems the passing ship will pass like a ship in the night, it turns.

The captain of this heroic vessel is quite a striking figure – in fact, you may wonder why I didn’t mention him in my run down of such naval characters a few months ago.

He was a large man, the same height as Pitt® but fifteen pounds heavier. He was also thirty years older. His grey hair and beard gave him the appearance of an old waterfront wharf rat. His, naturally, blue-green eyes had a glint to them, and he readily smiled as he examined his catch.

He welcomes them on board, ready to give them everything they need – but the first thing Pitt® wants is to report the crisis’s to Admiral Sandecker.

The old man nodded. “Of course. Come on up to the wheelhouse. You can use the ship-to-shore radio or the satellite telephone. You can even send e-mail if you wish. The Periwinkle has the finest communications systems of any yacht on the water.” The Periwinkle, eh? Sounds like baby talk for one’s wee-wee to me. Given their skill for naming boats these two should get on like a house on fire.

Pitt® studied the old man. “We’ve met before.”

“Yes, I suspect we have.”

“My name is Dirk Pitt®.” He turned to the others. “My shipmates, Misty Graham and Al Giordino.”

The old man warmly shook hands with all. Then he turned and grinned at Pitt®.

“I’m Clive Cussler.”

X

…speechless.

Albert Giordino trudged across the gangway leading from the top of the dry dock to the deck of the Deep Encounter, lugging an old-fashioned steamer trunk over a burly shoulder. The sides of his shoulder were covered with colorful labels advertising hotels and countries around the world. … He paused at the top of the gangway and dropped his load on the desk. My God, the contempt. And the hygiene.

Giordino’s shoulders were almost as wide as his body was tall. At five feet four inches and a hundred and seventy-five pounds, he was all muscle. His Italian ancestry was apparent in his olive skin, broad back covered with black curly hair and tattoos of The Madonna, walnut-colored eyes and appetite for systemic corruption. Gregarious, sarcastic and jovial, his cutting humor often made those in his presence either laugh or cringe. Right, so he’s “gregarious, sarcastic and jovial”, but not funny.

Here he is, the man Dirk Pitt® has been waiting for. He makes quite an entrance, and being all muscle as he is I’m sure you’ll agree, whether you want him to or not. For his part, Pitt® tries to show disdainful self-control when he finds his old pal has arrived – the coy minx. You may think that I’m jumping to conclusions here, but… really, it’s as plain as the nose on my face.

“Can you restrain yourself?” Pitt® said in mock seriousness. “We don’t take kindly to barbarians coming aboard an elegant vessel.” Pitt* felt the pulse throbbing in his throat and thought, You can come aboard my eleg-

“In that case, you’re in luck,” said Giordino with a timely interruption, flashing a vast smile. “You could use a vulgar rowdy to liven up the place.” Pitt* felt faint. But he liked it.

“Stay put,” Pitt® said, liberally splashing on the Old Spice. “I’ll come down.”

In a minute they were unashamedly embracing like the old friends they were. And that’s okay. There is no shame in this. Though Giordino was three times stronger smelling, Pitt® always delighted in lifting the shorter man off the ground. Oh, how sweet. A euphemism.

We should really let these two get reacquainted in privacy, you’d think, but Dirty Ol’ Clive insists on stalking them back first  to Giordino’s cabin, and then Pitt®‘s. Along the way they discuss the collapse of his engagement (or, to put it another way, his heterosexual cover story), then the newcomer is forced to give his friend “a look of genuine respect and admiration” for his continued selfless avoidance of reward and recognition (although Cussler shows admirable restraint by not telling us yet again what for – I feel this is a significant personal breakthrough for him).

Massively dating himself in the process Giordino says of Pitt®, “You always play Humble Herbert. That’s what I like about you.” But IS that what he likes about Pitt®? IS it? I think there’s something more. And I think it’s more than reciprocated. It’s there for all to see. You just have to read between the lines. Go on, try. Here, take this passage (if you’ll pardon my phrasing) in which our man and his man discuss the mysteriously empty briefcase of Doctor Egan. I think.

Giordino picked it up and ran his fingers over the leather of the CASE, Jesus. “Fine grain. Quite old. German made. Egan had good taste.”

“You want it? You can have it.” You just need to ask me for it. Ask me. Beg me. God, talk dirty.

Giordino sat back down again and set the leather case on his lap. “I have a thing about old luggage.”

“So I’ve noticed.” Said “the old luggage”. Cute pet name.

Maintaining the metaphor, Giordino unlatched the catches and lifted open the lid – and nearly two quarts of oil flowed out into his lap and onto the carpet covering the deck. This is clear, I hope: the previously empty old luggage has ejected an unexpected quantity of non-specific oily fluid into the lap of another man. I mean “of a man”. These are the true joys of literature, in which powerful, unspoken meaning can be communicated to the reader through even the most mundane of everyday descriptions. Magical. He sat there in mute surprise as it soaked his pants legs and pooled on the carpet. After the shock faded, he gave Pitt® a very acidic look indeed.

“Owh my Gawd, you complete bitch, look at me, owh, I’m a mess, mmm, let me just, mmm…”

No question, right? No doubts out there, right? Women In Love, right?

Right.

As our herpes reel at the discovery of an empty briefcase, the Deep Encounter and the Earl of Wattlesfield are heading for Wellington to offload their hungry survivors and signal the start of the investigation into the disaster. Damaged in the rescue, the Deep Encounter cannot keep pace with the container ship, so everyone on board spontaneously sings a Woodie Guthrie song as they leave her behind. It is, we learn, “a moving moment”.

The Earl of Wattlesfield arrives first, and is “met with a joyous, yet solemn, welcome. Thousands of people lined the waterfront, staring silently” – sounds more sinister than joyous if you ask me. After Clive takes a moment to remind us that the proceeding events documented the worst fire in fictional maritime history, the good folk of New Zealand immediately begin dislocating their spines in their desperation to provide succour to the needy survivors, offering food, clothing and shelter, even the suspension of immigration laws, such is their generosity – and it really is a sacrifice, since the entire population of New Zealand can’t be much more than two thousand people itself.

When the Deep Encounter arrives, though, now we feel the love. An armada of boats escort her into dock, crowds cheer, cars horn, church bells ring and confetti rains from the sky.

The crowds could easily see the scraped turquoise paint and mangles plates of the hull where she had beaten herself against the cruise ship during the incredible rescue of oh no, here it comes, wait for it, brace yourself, I hope you’re ready

nearly two thousand people.

Do you know what I wish? I wish Clive Cussler would just fucking get over it.

The crew and scientists had no idea they had become instant international celebrities and acclaimed heroes AND acclaimed heroes. They stood amazed at the resounding reception, unable to believe that it was for them, all certainly very surprised to be heroes now. They no longer looked like tired, bedraggled scientists and crew members and scientists. At seeing the welcoming armada, everyone had quickly prettied up and changed into their best clothes although to a scientist and/or crew member they were determined to remain flabbergasted at the utterly unexpected surprise shock waiting for them which they couldn’t believe or ever possibly have anticipated. Women wore dresses as is the norm, the male scientists slacks and sport coats, the crew in NUMA uniforms or “numaforms”.

Pitt® left the glory to Burch and the others. ARGH.

If I had a septic boil on the tip of my cock, I’d find it less annoying than Dirk Pitt®.

When they are finally docked a few significant events take place, the foremost being the departure of Kelly to return to her brownstone home in New York, where her tabby cat “Zippy” and a basset hound which answers, I kid you not, to “Shagnasty” will presumably be waiting for her. Pitt® doesn’t even bat an eyelid at that one, so she gives him her phone number.

“I’ll miss you, Kelly Egan.”

She looked into those incredible eyes and saw he was serious. SLEEEEEEEEEP! The blood suddenly rushed to Kelly’s face and she felt her knees weaken. She clutched at the railing, wondering what was coming over her It would be Dirk Pitt*, if he ever made his damn move. Stunned at losing control, she stood on her toes, abruptly circled her arms around Pitt®‘s head, pulled him down and kissed him long and hard. Her eyes were closed, but his widened in pleasurable surprise. Go, go, go, go, now, yes, do it, do it!

When she pulled back, she willed herself into a state of feminine composure, fighting the urge to squat on the deck and diddle her whimsy. “Thank you, Dirk Pitt®, for saving my life, and much, much more.” I think she means “sandwiches” here. Seems a bit heavy. She took a few steps and then turned. “My father’s leather case.”

“Yes,” he answered, unsure of her meaning. My God, he thought, am I suffering from aphasia? Maybe I have a brain lesion!

“It’s yours.”

“Backstroke ermine leftwise auger,” he replied, with grateful eroticism.

And then, she walked down the gangplank and out of his life. For now. I don’t know, but this prissiness on Pitt®‘s part is making me anxious for a vigorous banging to take place. If someone doesn’t trouser off and get down to action soon I’m just going to have to get increasingly offensive in my commentary until they do. Consider that a warning.

So, what is a jolly jack tar to do when he’s nobly avoiding universal acclaim and reward sex? Pitt® is debriefed, if you’ll pardon the phrase, over the phone by his boss, Admiral Sandecker. The two men trade gruff, manly quips while Sandecker chomps on his massive “personalised” cigar… read into that what you will …before the admiral informs him that the Deep Encounter will be heading right back out to the site of the Emerald Dolphin‘s watery grave to conduct the investigation into the mysterious sinking themselves. He says he is even sending someone who does have experience with marine disasters and deep submersion vessels, though it’s news to me that Dirk Pitt® doesn’t. Regardless, the end of the chapter is worth examining.

“Anybody I know?” asked Pitt®.

“You should,” said Sandecker cagily. “He’s your assistant special projects director.”

“Al Giordino!” Pitt® exclaimed happily … “You couldn’t have sent a better man.”

“Sandecker relished toying with Pitt®. “Yes, he said slyly. “I thought you’d think so.”

Something in this exchange leads me to wonder, why the sly caginess on the part of this admiral? He seems to like Pitt®, he seems to be sending him help in a welcome and capable form. Why then, the toying undertone? Perhaps there is more to this, “Al Giordino”, to this working relationship than meets the eye… I’ll be watching. Closely.

I know I’ve been a bit mean about Clive’s writing so far, but sometimes he takes a time-tested staple of the literary arts and gives it an inspirational twist. For example: characterisation, which is undoubtedly all about drawing a picture in your reader’s mind, bringing a human being to life with mere words, and is surely one of the cornerstones of fine fiction. And, if I may ask a rhetorical question, what BETTER way to draw such a lexicographical picture than by having your hero look at himself in a mirror? Then he’ll be seeing those same words too! It’s so simple, it’s genius!

The face and body on the other side were not what they were ten years ago. The hair had yet to show any indications of baldness. It was still thick, black and wavy like a cataclysmic oil spillage perhaps, but grey was beginning to creep in along the temples. The piercing green eyes beneath dense eyebrows had yet to dim. They were eyes passed on by his mother, and they had a hypnotic quality about them that seemed to reach into the very soul of people who came into contact with him. Sleep… Women were especially absorbed by his eyes. SLEEP! They sensed an aura about them, something that revealed him as a down-to-earth man who could be trusted. SLEEEEEEEEP!

Very moving. Cussler effortlessly creates not just a telling picture, but somehow manages to make his hero seem very familiar to his reader, as if we already knew him well, as if his face was already one… in our… er

[Page 49] …opaline green eyes… tall… lean… black hair… wavy… touch of gray… craggy features – wait – [Page 105] …craggy features – Huh.

Hmm. I wonder if Cussler is going to re-describe his hero every fifty pages or so through the entire book. Maybe, while rescuing a school bus full of screaming doe-eyed choirboys he’ll catch a glimpse of himself in the rear-view mirror and be transported on wings of memory to – well, let’s not get ahead of our selves. Repetative or not, it’s powerful stuff. Something tells me Dirk Pitt® is quite the pork swordsman. I can’t speak for the women out there – men haven’t been allowed that privilege since the 1950’s – but I’ve got to say – well, the 70’s – I’ve got to say that this humble man is pretty damn absorbed by those eyes too. And who wouldn’t be, with auras like that? Pitt® himself continues staring into the mirror (not to mention lightly running the fingers of one hand over his body) for another six paragraphs while thinking deeply. About things like… family.

Yes, he thought, his facial features came from his mother’s side of the family, while his humorous outlook on life contrary to conventional notions of genetics and his tall, lean body had definitely been passed down by his father prepare for redundancy and his father’s ancestors.

Like… love.

Two of his former loves had died under tragic circumstances, Summer Moran in a devastating underwater earthquake off Hawaii, and Autumn? Maeve Fletcher, shot by her sister off the coast of Tasmania. WOW. Like, just, WOW. He must really love the sea. And the soaps.

It was Summer who that’s “which” for a season, Clive, which never ceased to haunt his dreams. He always saw her swimming into the depths to find her father who was trapped in an underwater cavern, her lovely body and flowing red hair and “brilliant mind”? …no? vanishing into the green water of the Pacific. When he’d reached the surface for air and found her gone, he’d tried to dive back, but the men in the boat that rescued him knew it was hopeless and physically restrained him from returning. Physically , was it. Mm-hm. Had to be really, their psychic powers would have been no match for the aura of his eyes…

Like… hobbies.

Since that time, he had lived only for his work on and under the water. The sea became his mistress. Oh. Well then, fair enough. Except for his home in an old aircraft hangar on one corner of Washington’s Ronald Reagan Airport, which contained his car and airplane collection, train set and teddy bears, he was always happiest when on a research ship sailing the oceans of the world. Pulling Babes.

OH. “Summer” was her name. Okay, I got it.

Anyway, after musing thusly for a page or so, Pitt® decides to get his head down for some well-earned post-rescue-and-slaughter kip, only to remember that mysterious hottie he twice saved and who completely disappeared… how intriguing. Convinced she didn’t jump ship with the other tearfully grateful landlubbers – now on-board the Earl of Fucklesfield – he gets dressed and searches the ship from top to bottom, eventually finding her curled up asleep in a storage crate. Yeah. So he writes her a note.

Dear Lady,

When you wake, please come to my cabin on deck level two, number eight.

Dirk Pitt®

As an afterthought to entice her, he added,

Food and drink will be waiting. You can have coffee, tea, or Me.

He laid the note gently on her chest that’s assault, softly closed the lid to the crate really? and quietly stepped from the parts room to find a hammer and nails.

*

At slightly past seven in the evening, Kelly rapped lightly on Pitt®‘s cabin door. He opened it and found her, eyes lowered sheepishly, standing in the passageway, still clutching the handle of the leather case. He took her by the hand this is making me feel a bit uncomfortable and led her inside. “You must be starved,” he said, smiling to show he wasn’t angry or annoyed, as he understood these things to work. Eight hours later, her body was pronounced dead on the scene.

There’s something rather creepy about this guy, something that only gets creepier the longer he refrains from getting his thang on with this lusty wench. She’s his for the taking! What’s he waiting for?

Regardless, after his imminent victim scoffs down some sandwiches and good, wholesome milk, the Dirty Old Man of the Sea® and she get to talking, about her wonderful father’s genius, who would want to kill him, and what could possibly be in his mysterious briefcase. Why mysterious, do you ask? Because even Kelly doesn’t know – she doesn’t work with her father, being a merchandise analyst. Despite this career choice having nothing to do with the sea, Pitt® deigns not to spit in her lovely face.

Pitt®‘s lips spread slightly in a grin. Like I said: Creepy. “Not as exciting as creating new forms of energy.”

“Perhaps not,” she said, with a toss of the head that sent her light brown hair swirling in a cloud around her neck and shoulders, “but I make a good income.” Oh my god, is she SHEDDING it?

Hair loss horror aside, it turns out that not only did Papa Egan perfect a high powered, ecologically friendly super engine, he also perfected an impossible to replicate frictionless super-oil that would have made the world a perfect place for everyone except the EVIL oil companies, had his plans to share his discovery publicly been allowed to go ahead – aa-a-and, he had another, even more amazing project under his belt, “something that would cause an unbelievable impact on the future“.

What could it be? Nobody knows. But maybe the answer is in… The Mysterious Leather Briefcase! So, finally, at long last, Kelly opens the case her father was killed for – and discovers – it’s empty.

Bombshell.

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?

Suspicious?

Want to know more?

…oh.

Look, be reasonable. I can’t be expected to reproduce the whole damn book for you, page by page; but, equally, I know I can’t run the risk of missing out a single excellent John Hancock nor priceless example of character illustration. So, for your delectation, I will pause on occasion to offer up some of the choicest cuts. For our first diversionary outing, let’s meet those with rank. Only one really juicy name and we’ve already encountered him, so we’ll start with that; but the descriptions – well, I know I pluralised there, but…

Captain Kermit Burch

Kermit Burch came almost immediately, wearing only a pair of polka-dot shorts. I’m not above a bit of quote mining to fake a smutty moment. Oh no.

Admiral James Sandecker

…the flaming red hair with all trace of grey tinted away, the matching Vandyke beard, trimmed to a sharp point, the blue eyes that had to be flashing like neon signs from heartfelt satisfaction. I wonder if they make that little tic-tic noise every time he blinks.

Captain Malcolm Nevins (surprised it’s not “Ben”, actually)

Nevin’s ruddy features, usually humorous and pleated, excuse me? were set in concentration; his limpid “Transparent”? “Peaceful”? grey eyes squinting and uneasy. Er. Transparent then. I guess…

– and his ship, the Earl of Wattlesfield

After this day, she would be as famous as the Carpathia who the what now?, the ship that had rescued the Titanic survivors. Oh yeah. It got a big mention in that film with Di Caprio in, didn’t it. You know the one, what’s it called – “What’s Eating Gilbert Grape?”

Captain Jock McDermott

A sandy-haired Scotsman do tell with a narrow beaklike nose and hazy green eyes, he had spent twenty years in oceangoing tugs. But for the jutting jaw, and eyes that seemed to focus like light beams that’s pretty poor right there, he might have passed for Bob Cratchit, Scrooge’s bookkeeper. Not too sure it’s legit to use other characters from literature, particularly much better literature, to describe your own. Anyone have the slightest idea what Bob Cratchit does look like ? Blind and chinless, perhaps.

– and his ship, the tugboat Audacious

…like an overweight greyhound after the rabbit…

Captain Morris Baldwin

Captain Morris Baldwin was a man who walked a straight line and never deviated sounds like the recipe for a lifetime of bruised shins … His only home was the ship he served. If he had a wife, which he did not, or a home, which he found a waste of time, he would have been an oyster without a shell. Nope. To that I can think of nothing to say. This sentence thus receives the Dan Brown Award for Absolute Failure.

His face was a stern mask, red, ruddy and never cheerful. He gazed through beady dark walnut eyes under heavy lids that were set and grim. Only the magnificent silver mane gave him an air of sophisticated authority amongst the park-bench crowd. Who all call him “Captain Oyster”. And make him dance sea jigs for gin.

– and his vessel, the… [rolls] …Golden Marlin. FUCK IT.

Chief Warrant Officer Mack McKirdy and, I wonder, where exactly is the blue-eyed, ruddy, bearded-boyo that is First Mate Llewellyn “Taffie” Jones-the-Waves hiding himself then? (He’s Welsh, btw)

…a grey-haired, grizzled sea dog for pity’s sake with a beard like that of a sailor on an old clipper ship. He acknowledged Giordino’s presence with a curt nod and a wink of one blue eye and a yarr-hah-harrr and a song about rum and then they took turns rogering the ruddy cabin boy until he split down the middle. A sailor’s life for meeeeee.

Captain Jimmy Flett

He was short and burly, with a face turned ruddy from long years of a love affair with scotch whisky, but his blue eyes had somehow managed to remain clear and bright. HOW AMAZINGLY DISTINCTIVE OF HIM.

Sod this for a lark, they’re all exactly the fucking same. I’m going to bed.

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