Within the vastness of the Malian Sahara hides numerous mysteries, some like the desert itself are deadly and some will change history. Sahara is the eleventh book in Clive Cussler’s Dirk Pitt series as the titular character traverses back and forth across to save the world from a threat created from chemical pollutants.
A week before the surrender at Appomattox the ironclad CSS Texas runs the gauntlet of Union ships and artillery down the James River then heads out to the Atlantic after displaying their prisoner, Abraham Lincoln. Secretary of War Edwin Stanton sets up a hoax assassination with the murder of an actor at Ford’s Theater by setting up John Wilkes Booth. In 1931 Kitty Mannock is flying over the Sahara in quest of a new aviation record when a sandstorm takes out her engine and she crashes in the desert; she dies ten days later but after finding an iron ship. In the present a convoy of tourists crossing the Sahara reach a scheduled stop at a village in the country of Mali where they are attacked by red-eyed savages who kill and eat them, with only the tour guide escaping. Meanwhile, working in Egypt on an archaeological mapping of the Nile, Dirk Pitt rescues Dr. Eva Rojas, a scientist working for the World Health Organization, from assassins sent by the military dictator of Mali Zateb Kazim with the backing of French businessman Yves Massarde. Eva’s WHO team flies to Mali investigate a mysterious disease while Pitt, Al Giordino, and Rudy Gunn are ordered up the Niger River to find a pollutant that is causing red tide to mushroom out of control and where that pollutant is coming from. The WHO team and the NUMA trio run afoul of Kazim and Massarde with the former captured and sent to a unknown gold mine as slave labor and the former running around Mali to find the source of the pollutant that Gunn has identified and escaped the country to report on. Pitt and Giordino find out Massarde’s detoxification facility is the culprit but are captured and sent to the gold mine, but escape over the desert and only saved by finding Kitty Mannock’s plane and salvage the parts to escape to Algeria via land yacht. Once in Algeria, Pitt and Giordino lead a UN rescue team on an assault on the gold mine to rescue foreign nations then battle the Malians in an abandoned French Foreign Legion fort until US Special Forces arrive in relief and kill Kazim in the process. Pitt and Giordino capture Massarde, poison him with contaminated water so he dies as a savage madman. The two then venture out into the Sahara using Mannock’s journal to locate the CSS Texas and find Lincoln.
The Lincoln subplot—including everything connected with it—is the major reason this book barely gets the rating it does, it’s bad and ruins an otherwise good book. The next complaint is the “happy ever after” type ending which features the secondary characters introduced in the books, which along with the previous subplot soured the ending of the book. Cussler’s female characters were an assortment of good and bad, the tertiary characters like soldiers in the UN rescue team who were actual soldiers not medics stood out because the major female character (Rojas) might have been a doctor but was two-dimensional. The main plot with Pitt, Giordino, and the major antagonists was actually very good as well as the Kitty Mannock subplot, however everything else just brought it down the overall book.
Sahara is a book that was good but could have been better if not for subplot and characterization choices that Clive Cussler made. Pitt is at his action-packed adventurer best, but it was fringe features that distracted me from enjoying things.