The Sea Hunters, Clive Cussler & Craig Dirgo

Simon & Schuster, 1996, 364 pages, C$32.50 hc, ISBN 0-684-83027-2

Even the most casual reader has probably heard of Clive Cussler. Author of almost fifteen novels, Cussler has enjoyed a sting of bestsellers starring an delightfully wisecracking hero named Dirk Pitt. Starting with the success of Raise the Titanic!, Cussler has become the foremost writer of adventures today.

I’m not much of a fan of Cussler, even though I’ve read most Dirk Pitt adventures. It’s what I call fast-food novels; highly entertaining, but mostly empty. It doesn’t help that almost all Pitt novels are precisely constructed over the same framework; they do tend to be repetitive after a while. But at a rate of, oh, once a year or two, Cussler’s books are usually a good way to pass the time.

What most Cussler fans didn’t know was that Cussler himself shares some of his literary alter ego’s adventurous traits. As Cussler himself explains, he used some of Raise the Titanic‘s royalties to fund his first small-scale expedition to find lost shipwrecks. It didn’t go well, but Cussler was hooked. Since then, he goes out at least once a year to look for lost ships. Cussler is in the shipwreck business for the excitement, not the money. He doesn’t take souvenirs of the shipwrecks, or loot his finds. When he finds the wreck, he report the positions to everyone. Local authorities then may choose to raise the wreck or not. The Sea Hunters is a collection of his most memorable adventures.

There are approximately ten shipwrecks covered in The Sea Hunters, and each account is preceded by a fictionalized account of the last moments of each ship. (Much like the prologue of each Cussler book, in fact.) To be entirely fair, I skimmed over most of these historical dramas. While they’re useful to the context, they rarely bring something essential to the discovery stories. (Since each search account is written at the first person by Cussler, the historical docu-dramas might have been Dirgo’s contributions to the book.)

In any case, the accounts of Cussler’s travels are the real treasures of The Sea Hunters. Cussler takes us with him through research and discovery, enabling us to taste some of the excitement of these sea hunts. Cussler explains that not only are there a lot of lost ships, but most of them can be found cheaply (if not always easily) provided a few dozen hours of careful research.

Some of the highlights of The Sea Hunters involve a lost ship eventually found under a parking lot, another destroyed barely hours before Cussler got to it and another adventure where they search for a sunken… train. But the most rollicking and hilarious adventure is wisely kept for the finale, where Cussler and his band of merry adventurers go against nothing less that the French government, secret services and a French frigate! This part alone contains several laugh-aloud moments.

It’s easy to see where Dirk Pitt got his talent for witty repartee: Cussler knows how to tell a story, and this book shows it. The contemporary search accounts are compulsively readable, and rarely dull.

The Sea Hunters offer a look at an author that’s definitely not your usual novelist. I’ve become more of a Cussler fan after reading this, and that’s probably the nicest thing I can say about this already memorable book. Cussler fans might want to take a look. Other might find this a good introduction to Cussler.

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