I skimmed over the plot of the last chapter, which is good, because the next was so short that I can make up for the omissions and still not have to trouble anyone with heavy reading this time round.

It ended with a couple of revelations. The first was that someone in the team must be a traitor. This deduction was made due to the impossibility of the American forces finding Hamilcar’s Refuge as hot on their heels as they did. This raises the possibility that Stretch the Israeli, the latecomer to the team  – who’s mutually (and rather dodgily reillised) racist antagonism with Pooh Bear the Arab makes him the far-too-obvious culprit – may be the culprit.

If I felt even the slightest attachment to the narrative I might be interested in reading on to discover whether Reilly is clumsily setting up a double-bluff by having one of the others be doing the dirty instead (my guess would be Air Monster as he’s hardly raised his head so far), or whether he is simply painting this guy (and himself to a certain degree) as pointlessly racist so we won’t mind when West blows him away after all.

How much more I shall be reading will shortly become the subject of more attention.

The second reveal was of the team’s next move. During the escape West manages to take photographs of the vital secret messages hidden on the Capstone Pieces, so the plot can lumber on towards its next set piece. Unfortunately these messages fail to provide any workable clues when translated, so West hatches a plan to recruit the world’s leading Capstone Piece Expert. As someone says, maybe they should have done that sooner.

The big twist, which the following chapter deals with in a mere fourteen pages, is that this expert has been a prisoner at Guantanamo Bay for several years – so the team prepare to bust him out! However, what strikes me as a little odd is that this figure is no victim of injustice – he is called Mullah Mustapha Zaeed and is, apparently, a clinically insane psychotic terrorist qualified teacher of fundamentalist Islam assassin – feel free to clean up that string of words in whatever way you like.

So this means that West and Co. are not just in the business of dooming the globe to a short period of devastating climactic disasters, on the grounds that the alternative – allowing America or Europe to “rule the world” via the power of ancient Egyptian sun magic – would be worse, a proposition which would probably earn them a place in a padded cell if they mentioned it publicly; but that in order to achieve this dubious goal they are willing to liaise with terrorists. Ethical nose-dive there then.

Today’s chapter, “The Battle of Guantanamo Bay”, is pretty straightforward. The jumbo jet flies straight into Cuba, dropping off West (and Zoe, although she only seems to be involved so she can wear a “tight form-fitting bodysuit” that “brought out the best in her slender figure” revealing that she “was beautiful and fit“, so I’ll not mention her again) wearing the same little winged-backpack he used in Tunisia and lands in the base. While the Americans are distracted by it (more to follow) West blows the roof off Zaeed’s cell with Semtex, offers him a get out of jail free card, then flies his swivel-eyed prize back to the jumbo and they all escape without so much as a scratch. Tah-dah.

I have to congratulate Reilly for resisting the temptation to load Gitmo up with Ancient Cuban booby-traps, but the brevity with which “the most heavily fortified military base in the world” is penetrated and fled from rather shows what happens to his imagination when he is forced to abandon his fave subject. I’m only going to detail one thing about the big distraction scheme that allows West to do his ethically questionable thing. Just after he jumps out of the moving plane we are told that the rest of the team are ready in the Halicarnassus’ weapons turrets –

Their six-barrelled miniguns were currently loaded with super-lethal 7.62mm armour-piercing tracer rounds–but they had special instructions from West as to what to use later, when the battle got really hot.

Did I mention that stupid name of the plane before? Well it doesn’t matter, but that’s what it is. A few pages later, when they have landed and 3,000 US troops go pouring out to surround the plane –

…a withering volley of gunfire erupted from the Halicarnassus‘s four revolving gun turrets.

The volley of bullets slammed into the Recon Marines, sent them flying backwards through the air, slamming them into trees and vehicles.

But they weren’t dead.

The bullets were rubber bullets, like those West and his team had used in the quarry in Sudan.

West’s instructions to his team had been simple: you only kill someone who wants to kill you. You never ever kill men who are just doing their job.

This is pretty rich coming from West, as in the previous chapter the villain finds one of his drivers and four guards “shot to bits. Their blood covered the walls of the hold. All had got their guns out–but not a single one of them had got a round off“. All in a day’s work for Jack West Jnr. Slaughterer of men just doing their job.

As for right now, all that flying rubber is the sum total of gunfire that takes place, which seems to suggest that those armour-piercing bullets were only in the guns before they landed to give them something to hurry over after they landed. Or maybe to make it appear that the goodies were going to ruthlessly massacre thousands of wholesome American soldiers in their heroic quest to free a fundamentalist terrorist.

I can’t help thinking that Matthew reilly didn’t think too deeply about all this before he started typing. And it’s for this reason that…

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The images of West’s dreams:

West running desperately down an ancient stone passageway with Wizard at his side, towards the sounds of booming drums, chanting and a woman’s terrified screams.

It’s hot.

Hot as Hell.

And since it’s inside a volcano, it even looks like Hell.

Now. One of the following three versions is correctly emphasised – can you tell which?

“It even looks like Hell.” x “It even looks like Hell.” x “It even looks like Hell.”

Hope you enjoyed the little quiz. No answer sheets, but there’s a pretty good chance that you just scored better than Matthew Reilly would have, since – and you can confirm for yourself by reading his last sentence aloud – he has no idea of how the English language works. You may think it a little unfair of me to pull him up for using italics like this; after all I fairly pepper my commentaries with them. I suspect Matt and I both do it for the same reason: to make written English look a bit like how spoken English sounds. The problem is, Matt apparently doesn’t know how spoken English sounds.

The problem is, Matt apparently doesn’t know how spoken English sounds. Clarification

The problem is, Matt apparently doesn’t know how spoken English sounds. Methodological

The problem is, Matt apparently doesn’t know how spoken English sounds. Clarification

The problem is, Matt apparently doesn’t know how spoken English sounds. Uninformed

The problem is, Matt apparently doesn’t know how spoken English sounds. Clarification

The problem is, Matt apparently doesn’t know how spoken English sounds. Contradictory

The problem is, Matt apparently doesn’t know how spoken English sounds. Clarification

The problem is, Matt apparently doesn’t know how spoken English sounds. Exasperation

The problem is, there are very approximately a Marillion ways of emphasising spoken English and yet this professional novelist consistently manages to find ones that don’t work. There is a strong lobby group which would argue that the casual use of italics is bad form in literature generally, even in actual dialogue and certainly not polluting the narrative text itself – but I’m going to cry nay to their ayes. I say if it makes you happy, then do it – AS LONG AS YOU DO IT PROPERLY. If you can’t do it properly, then maybe you shouldn’t be doing it at all.

Now there’s a thought. Matthew Reilly could save a lot of trees following that philosophy.

Okay. Enough with the italics.

Boom go the drums. I meant “enough from me“. And clearly, I was lying about that too.

The evil chanting is close now.

The woman’s frenzied screams are like nothing he has ever heard: pained, desperate, primal. Rockin’…

West shoots a look to Wizard. Oh, please. If you can’t distinguish between prepositions in your first tongue, you are NOT allowed to be a writer. Your are out of the club. Go on, fuck off.

The older man waves him on. “Go! Jack! Go! Get to her! I’ll catch up! And I’d like to thank the academy – and Ed Wood Jnr. – for this Best Supporting Diction award…

West jumps feet-first into the pipe-shaft and slides fast.

Five traps later, he emerges from the bottom of the long stone pipe on . . .

. . . a balcony of some kind. Shouldn’t that pause been during the slide and not after it?

A balcony which overlooks a large ceremonial cavern. He peers out from the balcony’s railing and beholds the horrifying sight. Is it this action sequence?

“Five traps later”? It says a lot when a self-proclaimed king of booby-trap porn, at the start of only the second chapter of his trap-festooned flagship work, so loses interest in his core subject that he can barely even be bothered to mention them in passing – and I’m going to generously overlook the phrase “pipe-shaft” as much as possible. As for the formatting, have a look at this:

Boom go the drums. The evil chanting is close now. The woman’s frenzied screams are like nothing he has ever heard: pained, desperate, primal. West shoots a look to Wizard. The older man waves him on.

“Go! Jack! Go! Get to her! I’ll catch up!” Well, there’s no saving this bit.

West jumps feet-first into the pipe-shaft and slides fast. Five traps later, he emerges from the bottom of the long stone pipe on . . . a balcony of some kind. A balcony which overlooks a large ceremonial cavern. He peers out from the balcony’s railing and beholds the horrifying sight.

Now that actually looks like it might be the content of a novel. It only takes a moment’s work to turn an obvious padding exercise into proper-looking text. What could Reilly be trying to achieve, if not the obvious book stretching alluded to earlier?

Sod it. This is a short chapter, so let’s get it behind us. West witnesses a cluster of hooded priests of the ancient Egyptian variety, a platoon of French paratroopers, and the evil Juventus – excuse me, Jesuit priest del Piero stand around waiting to steal something from the still screaming and heavily pregnant woman lying utterly helpless on an alter. West heroically does nothing as, in a prophetic shaft of sunlight from above, she gives birth to a bouncing baby boy and promptly drops dead. del Piero and his cronies (definitely the word to use) march out in victory, triggering a lowering ceiling and fountains of molten lava from the pipes marked in the clip-art – oops, fuck, sorry, now I’ll have to use the tag – at the start of the chapter, just as Wizard arrives OF West’s side.

After claiming he could do nothing, West announces he’s not going to abandon Malena to be crushed (proving in the process that he knew this woman and, in my opinion, is by his inaction massively complicit in her death) so he swings down to her side. He goes into an apparent trance, rests a hand on her belly for some reason and feels the kick of… another baby! Quelle surprise. He calls “Max” to join him and – well, read it for yourself.

A gruesome yet urgent image: flanked by the encroaching lava and the steadily lowering ceiling, the two men perform a Caesarean delivery on the dead woman’s body using West’s Leatherman knife.

Well shit, I guess I’ll be throwing away my Leatherman in the morning. I’m just holding out hope that before I pass the halfway mark here West will be using Swarfega as a sexual lubricant, preferably with Wizard pitching. My DIY hobby will take a rough hit, but hell, so will West.

With a little girl in hand – and note I say hand, singular – West and Max have to flee, but there is lava everywhere and no way to stop it; or so it seems, but West’s eagle-eyes spot an off switch, hidden in a dark hole, behind a lava fall – suggesting perhaps that, for Reilly at least, there is no difference in opacity between molten rock and weak Ribena. With dazzling bravery – and Wizard’s promise that he’ll build him a robot arm that will be even better than the real one he’s about to lose – they run across a pool of lava, hang about while West pokes his unprotected arm through super-heated liquid rock and somehow turns an ancient stone switch (without snapping what’s left of his arm off until after the traps are disconnected), then run through the exit to freedom. Leaving, by the way, Malena’s body on the alter. A man of his word, is West. If his word is… er, thingie… what was it now? You know… starts with an f… damn, it was on the tip of my… whotsit…

Well, whatever. After bandaging West’s stump, Wizard contemplates the baby girl that I certainly wasn’t expecting him to find, awe-fully declaiming that “twin oracles” are “unprecedented” and that it is important that “del Piero doesn’t know” about what happened. Then he tells West that they must call the member states (of what, he doesn’t mention) and prepare for “perhaps the most important meeting of the modern age”.

A Meeting. Ooooh. I’ll take suggestions for what the previous top five vital meetings before this one were from any interested participants, and I’ll also leave you with this question to ponder:

If (in this dream that West has been having) the date reilly is 1996, and if that means this oracular baby girl reilly is Lily, and if Lily reilly was the one who gave everyone moronic novelty call-signs… then how-the-fuck-come Wizard is already called Wizard?

How do you like those italics?

…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…