Emergency Deep, Michael DiMercurio

Onyx, 2004, 464 pages, C$9.99 mmpb, ISBN 0-451-41166-8

(Read in French as Alerte: Plongée Immédiate, translated by Dominique Chapuis)

One of the most frustrating aspect of military techno-thrillers is how often authors working in the genre will write series even when it doesn’t make sense. The problem can be tracked back to Tom Clancy, whose Jack Ryan found himself embroiled in a series of high-stakes adventures in one book after another. This makes sense when, say, your series is about events that have no impact on the shape of the world. (Which serves to explain the popularity of detective series) But wars, even when they’re imaginary, have a way of messing up geopolitical reality, and authors should at least take that in account, or abandon their fictional world once it has diverged too far away from reality. Seeing Harold Coyle trash Egypt, Iran, Mexico, Columbia and then try to merge it with real-world development (and then desperately “reset” the series in God’s Children) is almost too sad for words. Inevitably, the author ends up cheating by trying to exploit their reader’s attachment to characters while ignoring the lasting consequences of their actions. Even by the lowered literary standards of military fiction, this isn’t playing fair.

All of this to say that poor Michael DiMercurio found himself stuck with his “Michael Pacino” series after Terminal Run. By then, the fictional world he’d set up was so divorced from current reality that his series was closer to Science Fiction than to current-day military relevance. This divergent universe had kept him shielded, somewhat, from the uncomfortable realities of post-Russia submarine warfare: In a real world where submarines were tools for superpowers and there remained only one superpower, how to justify submersed thriller without resorting to highly improbable scenarios like Joe Buff’s series, or feeble-minded absurdities like Patrick Robinson’s novels? The Pacino sequence offered ever-imaginary enemies to fight against. Alas, sales were down (even for an author who, at the best of times, didn’t escape the military fiction mid-list) for a series so hermetic than only fans of the previous volumes felt welcome. Hence the perils or continuing a techno-thriller series past its expiration date.

So DiMercurio resets the clock and starts a new series with Emergency Deep, starring a new protagonist named Peter Voronado. The setting is recognizably closer to our own “War on Terror” universe, with threats coming from an unholy alliance between old-school Russian capabilities and new-style terrorist ideology. As the CIA gets wind of a plot to attack Israel, they inexplicably come up with a plan not to destroy the danger, but to infiltrate a spy in the enemy’s rank.

This spy is Peter Voronado, champ submarine captain beached ashore by an extraordinary health problem. The first third of Emergency Deep is spent bringing together the elements of the plot, thanks to two lengthy prologues, one of which has no business in this novel in its current form. But DiMercurio is a military fiction writer; efficient writing is not his style, and so the novel takes an awful lot of time revving up to cruise speed. By the time Voronado finally reaches his covert position, a certain lassitude has already settled over the novel, a slight annoyance that only gets worse.

As with many of his veteran colleagues, DiMercurio writes what he knows, but forgets how many details just aren’t useful to the vast majority of his well-meaning civilian readers. Emergency Deep quickly falls in the familiar trap of too many acronyms and not enough energy. Further problems develop along with a pair of unlikely romances, a few plotting issues and a clear lack of tension. The result is one solidly average military thriller that stretches a bit outside the usual confines of a submarine thriller, but not enough to be particularly memorable.

One can’t fault DiMercurio for finding a way to ally Cold War equipment with concerns about terrorism, or for spending a lot of time “off the boat”, so to speak, in order to explore new directions. But Emergency Deep doesn’t do much with those elements, and fails at attracting new readers. It’s a good step in the right direction while remaining comfort food for his usual audience. But it’s unlikely to make him new fans, or even revitalize the moribund submarine thriller genre. Emergency Deep is slated to be the start of a new series of books; DiMercurio may want to re-think that plan.

One thought on “Emergency Deep, Michael DiMercurio

  1. Elijah Robinson

    I thoroughly enjoyed the book because the storyline was somewhat detailed in the vein of the late atom Clancy, but the main characters were much more human and believable (and not quasi-elitist).

    It was a bit slow, but I prefer this story over many of the later Jack Ryan novels (and I’m a HUGE fan of the majority of that series). I realize it will almost certainly never happen, but I’d much rather see this made into a movie than watch the recent adaptations (still believe Alec Baldwin and the original movie were the best adapted versions) of Clancy works.

    It’s much more limited in scope than what Clancy wrote, but more engaging. I liken it somewhat to Cardinal, which is one of my top 3 Clancy works, as it takes time to get moving, but is quite intense and intriguing.

    It’s fiction, it’s a military techno-thriller, still resonates today given the fundamental Islamic issue (in comparisonto/contrast to the Cold War era that Ludlum, Clancy et al write about so convincingly), involves much with submarines which are mysterious to outsiders so naturally I loved the book.

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