I know: it’s been quite a while since I continued the epic undertaking that is at hand. My recent infirmity has resulted in a hasty departure for regions unknown, which is to say, the torturous bureaucracy of public health care; and, due to a criminal lack of foresight on my part, I left the odious tome in question at home.

This meant I’ve had to read something worthwhile instead, Hugo Wilcken’s Colony, which, not to put too fine a point on it, was bloody good. “Joseph Conrad meets David Lynch”, if you like that kind of ham-fisted summarising. Anyway, between the agonising stones in my kidneys and the nuggets of characterful stimulation hiding behind Colony‘s sadly rather pitiful cover, I’ve just about had my fill of man pearls for the time being. Nevertheless, I feel like I’m somehow letting everyone down not delving into genuine thriller territory for so long, so I thought I’d grace you with a little Don Brawn to tide you over. You can thank me at the book signing.

Don Brawn slowly lifted the hem of his shirt, revealing and unclasping the little strap at the top of his holster that kept the gun safely in even during the rough and tumble that had come before. He carefully teased her into his dry but anxious palm, comforted by the familiar grip, polished to familiarity by the long years of faithful use. He judged her heft: just three bullets left. But I only need one.

Squinting between the pipes, Brawn could see the black military boots of his adversary as he turned on the spot, searching. For him. Now the heel. Now the instep. Now the toe, or rather the matt-painted steel toe-cap. Don Brawn craned lower, so by dropping his eye-line he could actually look upwards more effectively and see different parts of the enemy’s body. Blood on the right thigh – Brawn smiled, grimly. He thought they’d winged him. Now he knew.

“Why don’t you come out, Mister Brawn?” Baron Lucius Arrowhead was nothing if not self-confident. As his silvery, snaky voice whispered across the silence Brawn felt himself bristling in spite of himself. “There’s nowhere for you to go, now. I know every inch of this castle. Even the grounds outside couldn’t hide you forever.”

“Your wife found a place, Arrowhead,” Brawn countered, preparing to move. “That’s not all she did – or said,” he added, wondering if he could provoke him into a mistake. “Baron by name, but barren by nature.” Brawn scurried sideways, slipping fluidly between the larger ducts to safety as a hail of bullets rained through the space he had only moments before been occupying.

“Agent… Don… Brawn.” Arrowhead was, for the first time, flushed with rage – but there was an edge to his fury. A dangerous edge. “Yes, it is true. You have penetrated more than my lair… plundered more than my plans… but, my dear foe, I knew of Marion’s betrayal before you spoke.”

Don Brawn felt his skin grow cold as Arrowhead’s pale composure quickly returned. “So, you’ve taken her once… Do you mean to take her again? To take her with you, when you no doubt escape? Be my guest – I think she’s ready.” He sneered, contemptuously. “I’m certain, in fact, that she’s waiting for you. In the grounds…

“Beneath her high balcony.”

Don Brawn realised his hands were shaking with anger. “You swine!” he growled. Arrowhead bared his remaining teeth in a foul grin of ghastly menace.

“There’s no place in this world for herpes, Brawn,” he crowed, his eagle eye flicking with hawkish intensity as he focused on a tiny movement in the shadows. “Not… any… more.” And he leveled his weapon.

from The Candid Voice, a Don Brawn thriller, by Cliff Knoetz

There. Hopefully that will keep the wolves from the door for a little while yet. You damned wolves.


…the undisciplined rush by the choking, coughing mob forced Egan against the railing. Suddenly, a heavy man with red hair and a moustache that stretched across his cheeks to his sideburns emerged from the human surge and the distant past and tried to snatch Egan’s leather case from his hands. Initially stunned, the engineer managed to hold on to the case in a death grip and refused to release it until it was dead.

In horror, Kelly watched the struggle between the two men. An officer with an immaculate …nah, “immaculate” just isn’t enough: and unwrinkled uniform stood watching with what seemed total indifference. He was a black man with a face of hardened obsidian, his features chiselled and sharp. That’s right: “Obsidian”, “chiselled” – Na-il-dit.

“Do something!” Kelly screamed at him. “Don’t stand there! Help my father!”

But the black officer simply ignored her, stepped forward and, to Kelly’s astonishment, began to help the red-haired man in his struggle for the leather case.

Seconds later Egan plunges over the rail, the case hanging limply in his hand, and Kelly sees him smash into the water below. The black officer tries to strangle her, the red-head tries to grab her, but she too escapes over the edge. She swims to her father’s side, but his back is broken and his last wish is that she take his case and live on. She tries to keep both dead parent and murdered luggage afloat, but then a flying teenager knees her in the back of the head and she loses consciousness. I’m not joking.

In that instant, a glimmer of light brown hair caught Pitt®‘s eye, spread on the blue-green water like lace filaments on a satin sheet. The face could not be seen, but a hand made a slight gesture, as if trying to paddle through the water, or was it simply movement caused by the waves? Pitt® ran twenty feet down the deck for a closer look, hoping against hope that the woman – the hair had to be that of a woman he told himself, feeling oddly nervous at the thought of the alternative, but also strangely excited by the possibility of new experience – had not drowned. The head rose slightly above the water, far enough for him to see two large beautiful blue eyes that appeared languid and dazed. Please, he thought, troubled by these confusing new emotions, let it be a woman…

Oh fuck no, he’s going to do it. This is it – Dirk Pitt® is about to die.

Without another second’s hesitation, Pitt® climbed up on top of the railing, balanced for a moment and then dove into the water. He did not immediately rise to the surface but stroked mightily Clive? underwater oh, like an Olympic swimmer after leaping from a platform. As his hands and head broke clear he barely spotted the head sinking below the surface. Twenty feet and he was there, pulling her head from under the water by her hair. Despite her drowned-rat appearance yikes, he could see that she was a very attractive young woman. Ah, sexual predation in a crisis situation: he’s a man in her father’s mould, and you know what that’s going to mean.

Kelly refuses to release the body of her father’s briefcase and Pitt® is forced to tow both of them back to the Deep Encounter. When he learns it contains her father’s life’s work he looks at the case “with new respect”, then she descends into the ship.

Whoa. He made it! Man, that whole sequence was so tense I started sweating like a cornered virgin. Anyway, that’s Rescue One, and not a bad effort, I’d say. Not enough to be expecting her to hump his leg on the spot, but not bad.  One thing I can tell you, though: Dirk Pitt® isn’t the type to pull up short, that’s for sure – or for shore! Hmm. Sorry. I’ll not do that again.

So, how is our gracefully ageing aquatic superman going to properly loosen those silky thighs? With the help of his gorgeous red-headed assistant. I shall provide appropriate stage directions.

“What do you want?” she whispered fearfully.

“Your father’s case,” he answered in a deep, quiet voice. “You won’t be hurt if you hand it over. Otherwise, I will have to kill you.”

Villain to lower cape and twirl moustache menacingly.

She felt panic stab her, and started to back away from him. He moved towards her and she could see the white teeth beneath the red moustache as his lips widened in a malevolent grin. His eyes had the smug gleam of an animal who had his quarry trapped and helpless. Is smugness really an animalistic trait? Her panic turned to terror, her heart began to pound, her breath to come in gasps. Her legs felt weak and they tottered beneath her. Her long hair streaked across her eyes and face, and the tears involuntarily began to flow. Oh, man up, for fuck’s sake. Jesus. Have you no self-respect, woman?  If anyone deserved what she got, it was… well, “a woman”.

Crowd to boo. Villain to SHAKE FIST at them.

“Yes,” he said, in a voice that was hard and indifferent. “Scream all you wish. No one can hear you above the storm outside. I like it when a woman screams. I find it exhilarating. A woo-hoo, and a whaa-haa-haa-haaah, while I’m at it.

Crowd to boo. Villain to BARE TEETH at them.

He lifted her off the floor as if she weighed no more than a mannequin stuffed with foam. Then he pinned her against a bulkhead and his hands began to move over her body, crudely, roughly, bruising her skin. Numb with terror, Kelly went limp and cried the age-old woman’s cry. Oh, this should be good.

“Please, you’re hurting me.” Yep. There it is, the battle cry of the bra set.

Crowd to chorus "He's behind you!"

Then a voice behind him said, “Your technique for romancing women leaves a lot to be desired.”

Crowd to cheer.
And me to scream, "Fuck no! Dirk Pitt® is about to die! Again!"

Quickly, the killer whipped into a martial-arts position, his hands poised in the air, and launched his foot at the intruder. Don’t ask me. Maybe it’s a wooden one.

Unknown to the killer and Kelly, Pitt® had heard the screams and silently opened the door, then stood there for a few brief seconds, appraising the situation and devising contingency plans contingency plans? She’s being rape-murdered, get your act together!

He immediately sensed this was a dangerous man who was no stranger to killing so Sherlock here removed his deerstalker and tossed aside his fiddle before adopting the Queensbury stance. Men such as this had to have a concrete reason for coldly murdering a defenceless woman. Is there any other kind? He braced himself for the attack he knew would come. Clive, correct me if I’m wrong, but didn’t he “launch” his foot a paragraph ago? Where’s the killer standing, on the Dingo’s Kidneys? Oh, wait: I think I see it. There… there. Look:

In a violent corkscrew motion which Pitt* had learned during a youth spent on the interpretive dance circuit , he twisted out of the doorway into the passageway as the killer’s leg and foot parted the clouds and sliced through the air trailing smoke and flame. The intended blow missed Pitt®‘s head by an inch and impacted on the frame of the door. The ankle bone broke cleanly with an audible crack. Ah well. He’s not going to be clipping THAT back on. Fight over then, eh?

Any other man would have writhed in agony. Not this one, this hunk thick with muscle and trained to ignore pain. The killer glanced up and down the passageway to make sure Pitt® was alone and had no help, and then he came forward, arms and hands moving rhythmically in martial-arts motions. Then he leaped towards his prey, hands chopping the air like axes.

It didn’t take a wizard’s grey matter what an eloquent turn of phrase for Pitt® to realise that he was no match for a highly trained killer with a body like a demolition ball on a crane. Whoa, dude. Is he checking out that guy’s package?

He’s not dead yet! Let us take a break here, as Cussler does, to underline the fact that split-second contingency planner Dirk Pitt® “had never taken a martial-arts course in his life”, but “had boxed during his years at the Air Force Academy” (presumably thirty years previously) when “his wins usually equalled his losses”. What he did know was the bar-room brawl “tactics of free-for-all fighting”, namely stay well back and throw whatever you can lay your hands on. What a hero, you might say: a bottle thrower. Well, rest assured that Dirk Pitt® never throws anything into the fray – except himself.

Crowd to cheer.

Now it was his turn to attack. He sprinted forward and leaped on the back of the killer I’ve never felt so proud. It was a brutal football tackle, using the combined impetus of both their bodies to bring the runner the one-legged “runner” down from behind indeed, falling with all his weight on the other’s body while ramming his face and head into the deck. My Hero.

Pitt® heard his attacker’s that’s a bit rich head hit the thinly carpeted steel deck with a sickening thump and a crack and felt the body go limp. Quick, kick ‘im while ‘e’s down! If not a fracture, the skull must have suffered a concussion, he thought. Not the brain, but the skull? Is that how concussions work?

Crowd to turn down their thumbs and bay for blood.

It was then he noticed the killer’s head was twisted in an unnatural position and his eyes were open and unseeing … All Pitt® knew for certain was that he happened to walk onto the scene of an attempted murder of a woman he had rescued from drowning that’s right, another vital recap of an event which took place on the previously turned page. Cussler has spent so much time in the company of fish he must be over used to a thirty second memory span. Now he was sitting there on his victim’s back staring at a total stranger he had accidentally murdered. He looked into the man’s unseeing eyes wow, that neck really was “unnaturally twisted” and murmured to himself, “I’m as rotten as you are.”

Yes. Yes, you are. You’re such a horrible example of humanity that you should bloody well keel-haul yourself to death right now. Please. Or, to put it another way: HOORAY, Rescue Two! Bet that little chickadee will be all over him like anemone on coral now! That’s right, all you got to do to get a girl into Pitt®‘s bed is save her life twice – and if he can only find her again, I bet that’s exactly what he’ll do…

I think Dan Brown is eighty.

My first clue came with the realisation that he has clearly only interacted with his peers from the warm, comfortably-lit confines of a gentlemen’s club, and as a result has only overheard rumours of recent technological advances while passing the swing doors to the kitchens on his way to the water closet, there for his quart-hourly bladder release, or possibly to watch more virile members then he (or his own) buggering one of the Boys. Phrases like –

Grail aficionados still discussed it ad nauseum on Internet bulletin boards and worldwide-web chat rooms.

– make it very clear that, whatever these net-and-web things might be, smoking rooms are more his pace. For certain he hails from an era when a computation machine was more glass and vacuum than metal because these to me relatively familiar terms are followed with equal emphasis by –

…the bank had expanded its services in recent years to offer anonymous computer source code escrow services and faceless digitized backup.

Suddenly I don’t know what the fuck he’s talking about, but at least find myself on an equal footing with the author. The opening two cliff-hangers of that Chapter (175) are strewn with samey-adjectives like an explosion at a clone factory: anonymous, anonymous, faceless, anonymous, anonymously and anonymity, not to mention a thrillingly italicised anonyme Lager – a proteiny, salt-water beverage I believe and something of a welcome distraction from the current theme.

Anyway, the action is hotting up and no mistake. Apart from the multitude of character motivation mistakes which litter this nahaharative (if there’s one thing I’ve learnt from Dan, its don’t give up on a winner easily). Such as Langdon’s iron-clad determination not to reveal… It …until some unspecified later, even when all logic screams for him to blurt it out now for Christ’s sake.

Sophie’s eyes flashed disbelief (** ** *** *** * *** ** * ***). “But if this cryptex reveals the hiding place of the Holy Grail, why would my grandfather give it to me? I have no idea how to open it or what to do with it. I don’t even know what the Holy Grail is!I’m guessing the “cryptex” contains a ladies size T-shirt marked “You’re With Stupid”. Or a Garnier product, possibly shampoo. Langdon realised to his surprise that she was right despite the fact that she has been consistently right about everything since he first laid eyes on her. He had not yet had a chance to explain to Sophie the true nature of the Holy Grail. Ah, then this would be the perf- That story would have to wait. Oh yeah, why is that? At the moment they were focused on the keystone. Help, I’m trapped in an infinite regress with an idiot.

All things considered it’s pretty tough to get this guy to spit out any useful information despite the fact he seems to have all of it. As a result we get sentences like “[Langdon] choked, a fearful bewilderment sweeping across his face” or “Langdon could scarcely believe his own supposition” instead of, well, anything useful. As protagonists go, he’s a sack of shit and about as proactive as the same. He has made exactly TWO decisions since I started reading, TWO. A protagonist is supposed to be the driving force of the story, but Langdon does little except drift along in Sophie’s wake. On the other hand, here is what happens when he does get all action oriented:

What’s going on? Vernet pulled again, but the bolt wouldn’t lock. The mechanism was not properly aligned. The door isn’t fully closed! Feeling a surge of panic, Vernet shoved hard against the outside of the door, but it refused to budge. Something is blocking it! Vernet turned to throw his full shoulder into the door, but this time the door exploded outward, striking Vernet in the face and sending him reeling backward onto the ground, his nose shattering in pain. The gun flew as Vernet reached for his face and felt the warm blood running from his nose.

That’s right: we get one of the poorest action scenes ever written. Was Vernet trying to close the door with his back turned to it before it exploded outwards? How much of his shoulder had he been using before electing to use the “full shoulder”? What does that mean anyway? Can a pain be so intense that it causes one’s nose to shatter? But wait, that’s only got us to the first cliff-hanger, there’s more:

Robert Langdon hit the ground somewhere nearby, and Vernet tried to get up, but he couldn’t see. His vision blurred and he fell backward again. Sophie Neveu was shouting. Moments later, Vernet felt a cloud of dirt and exhaust billowing over him. He heard the crunching of tires on gravel and sat up just in time to see the truck’s wide wheelbase fail to navigate a turn.

Count the flaws: Could Vernet see or couldn’t he? What actually happened? (After careful consideration I believe the door didn’t actually explode – Langdon charged it from the other side; but really, weak, dude. The clearness of Brown’s writing is epitomised by the precision use of “somewhere nearby”). Another question might be, why is Brown using the full names of Langdon and Sophie all of a sudden? But most crucially of all, where was the rest of that truck?

So, I guess the less involved this hero is in the story, the better. Shortly after making this escape Langdon and Sophie go to the villai- excuse me, Mr. President: they go to “Langdon’s Good Friend’s House”, where oh my God the story finally gets to the point! For the first time in about 250 chapters Brown’s decision to bombard his text with “factual” shrapnel starts to half work, because even if you don’t believe a word of it the whole thing is remotely after-dinner interesting, if you’ve had enough wine (inadvertent Last Supper reference there, I swear it is). Therefore, I’m going to break from this analysis for a moment to demonstrate the depth of my own research.

I have managed to trace the original Last Supper images which Brown used in the development of his theories, A and B. Clearly the discrepancies begin to leap out almost immediately. In the first image, believed to be Leonardo’s memory-aide doodle, there are many irregularities of perspective, there are only eleven disciples accompanying Christ, and most shocking – the table is entirely bare! However in the second image, thought to be da Vinci’s preparatory maquette, Magdalene is presumably sat at the left hand of Christ, being the only disciple lacking facial hair (with the anchor tattoo).

When confronted by inconsistencies on this level it is easy to accept that something is terribly amiss. I’m going to be a little less flippant from now on and little more open minded and I hope you’ll all learn to behave a little better yourselves. In keeping with this realignment of my attitude towards a pro-Brown stance, I would like to make reference to what is actually, all joking aside now, not a bad piece of sentence making. From Chapter 35:

Telling someone what a symbol “meant” was like telling them how a song should make them feel – it was different for all people.

Now I would say, whether you agree with what he says or not, this is quite an eloquent piece of writing. Brown states an argument in a succinct and pleasing manner and should be given a fucking break for a change instead of being ruthlessly mocked as a pathetic hack without the slightest shred of talent. Clearly this cannot be the absolute case. There is a shred. I’ll leave it to the mathematicians to reveal the proportion of quality to overall word count.

Whoa, wait. What did I say up there? For Christ’s sake. You don’t suppose…


Part Four