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“Dirk Pitt of the National Underwater Marine Agency.” The voice was quiet and deep, but there was nothing evil or menacing about it. “This is an honor. I have followed your exploits over the years with some interest and occasional amusement.”

Among certain friends of mine I am notorious for my love of terrible films. Tommy Wiseau’s The Room, Shay Casserley and James Bennett’s Fatal Deviation – these are classic examples of trash cinema, that I nevertheless love irrationally. Now Breck Eisner’s Sahara is nowhere near as terrible as these two Ed Wood-like classics, but it was pretty bad.

Guess what. I liked it. It is certainly not a good film, but it has its charms. Matthew McConnaughy’s performance as Dirk Pitt is nothing to write home about, but the banter with Steve Zahn as best friend Al Giordino makes the film for me. I hoped that I would find this book by Clive Cussler as enjoyable.

Six months after a prototype nuclear submarine, the Starbuck, disappears somewhere in the Pacific, Dirk Pitt’s afternoon on a deserted beach in Hawaii is rudely interrupted by the appearance of a bright yellow cylinder just over the waves. Inside he discovers a series of messages from the captain of the missing vessel, hinting at a horrific underwater tragedy. Pitt drives straight to the office of Admiral Leigh Hunter, commander of the 101st salvage fleet, whose startled reception of this stranger wearing little more than bathing trunks is silenced when he presents the cannister. As he happened to discover the information on the lost vessel, Pitt is seconded from the National Underwater Marine Agency to Hunter’s command, on a mission to locate the Starbuck.

The night before he is due to depart Pitt finds himself in a hotel bar being literally fought over by two women, with the winner then turning on him and attempting to poison him with a hypodermic needle. A second attempt on his life is made by an assassin who tries to drive him off a mountain road. Despite his sudden popularity with exotic killers, Pitt proceeds with the mission to recover the submarine. Partnered with Commander Boland, Pitt discovers that their vessel, the Martha Ann, is actually a disguised naval vessel that resembles a rusted salvage ship. Boland proudly reveals the sophisticated equipment on board, only to be slightly deflated when Pitt claims to already be familiar with most of it through his work with NUMA. The ship sets off and thanks to Pitt’s intuition they quickly discover a graveyard of vessels on the pacific floor. To their surprise, not only do they locate the Starbuck, but there is no sign of the crew and the nuclear engines are intact. But the longer the Martha Ann stays in the region, Pitt fears they will all suffer the same fate of every vessel claimed by the ‘Pacific Vortex’.

In many ways, Cussler’s novels seem related to the Flint movie series, which portrayed an American version of Ian Fleming‘s James Bond character. Unlike the British government assassin, all ice-cold professionalism, Pitt is rambunctious and a risk-taker. However, he shares Bond’s libido, even casually threatening to rape a female assassin at one point in order to intimidate her. Given how avuncular he seems during his interactions with the navy officers, this makes for an uncomfortable note of misogyny. He also takes the time to lecture a former lover on her sex-life shortly before she beaten, much to his amusement, by the same assassin.

In fan-fiction there is a term that fits here, Gary Stu. Pitt is good at everything, his instincts are never wrong and he can survive incredible physical exertion. He punches a shark! In short – he’s a Rambo on the high seas.

What I did enjoy was Cussler’s obvious love of maritime technology. The prose comes to life when describing the various ships sunk by the villainous conspiracy behind the pacific vortex and I understand the author has dedicated a lot of effort to recovering shipwrecks. Yes, there is a real-life NUMA.

I suspect that Cussler’s work is not for me, but as he has blitzed the best-seller charts with every book in the Pitt series there are plenty of other fans out there.

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