Trojan Odyssey, Clive Cussler

Berkley, 2003, 463 pages, C$10.99 mmpb, ISBN 0-425-19932-0

I may not respect Clive Cussler’s fiction, but I do admire his chutzpah. It takes a special kind of audacity to perfect a thriller-writing formula and keep re-using it volume after volume, decade after decade. It takes even more self-confidence to to farm out that formula to a bunch of other writers, to found an oceanographic research institute, to write books about one’s adventures and yet keep on writing ever-more ludicrous thrillers. Every time I wonder why I keep reading Cussler’s novels, I just have to stop and remember that he seems to be the happiest author on Earth. Certainly the one who’s having the most fun with the money given to him by readers.

His latest non-bylined novel, Trojan Odyssey, is more of the same for Cussler, though with a couple of inevitable twists that suggest a new direction for the series. Fans of Cussler’s “Dirk Pitt” will remember the improbable revelation at the end of Valhalla Rising, when a couple of Pitt inheritors just walked out of the woodwork. Well, this development seems here to stay and endure, as the younger Pitt siblings take on a significant part of the action this time around.

The setup of the action will be instantly familiar: After two optional historical prologues that set up latter portions of the plot, yet another nautical disaster looms on the horizon: A fancy new nautical establishment is being threatened by a hurricane that doesn’t seem to know where it’s going.

(Have a look at Page 52 of the paperback edition: “Hurricane Lizzie is moving due east and accelerating.” Then have a look at pages 53: “Lizzie was also moving at a record pace westward across the ocean.” Later, on page 104, “Lizzie is still heading due east as if she’s travelling on a railroad track.” Later still, on page 116: “Hurricane Lizzie had moved westward to continue casting her death and destruction on the Island of the Dominican Republic and Haiti…”: “My thanks to the previous owner of my paperback edition, who underlined those passages before chucking the novel to a used-book sale!)

But have no fear, because Al Giordino, Pitt the elder and Pitt the youngers are on the case. The hotel is saved and the plot is free to start. A mysterious brown tide is causing all sorts of environmental mischief, and it’s up to the whole NUMA crew to discover something that is apparently invisible to everyone else. But don’t worry, because no one would quite believe the cause of the brown tide.

Despite a problem that could be solved with a couple of well-targeted Tomahawk missiles, it’s again up to all Pitts and friends to stop the menace, fight a reclusive multi-millionaire, go against a neo-primitive cult and still save the day for everyone involved. Oh, and discover the real location of Troy. (Because apparently, this kind of detail can be lost after a few thousand years.)

It amounts to an adventure that is not less ridiculous and yet no less satisfying than previous instalments. It has taken me, mind you, a long time to re-calibrate my ludicrousness sensors to Cussler’s looser standards of reality. But once you get to roll with the improbabilities, it’s hard to stop reading. There’s a panache, almost a wilful daring to Cussler’s method that would be unacceptable in any other context and yet ends up charming his long-time readers.

What’s more serious is the end of the novel, which suggests a pretty definitive passing of the torch from the elder to the younger generation of Pitt explorers. Only time, and the next novel, will tell whether the trademarked Dirk Pitt will be satisfied with a series of supporting cameos or will take a more direct part in the continuing saga of Cussler’s novels. I’m almost tempted to stop reading and leave him to his well-earned nuptial retirement.

But naah; how else would I get my fix of pure Cussler craziness?

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