Night Probe! (Dirk Pitt #6)

0553277405.01._sx450_sy635_sclzzzzzzz_Night Probe! by Clive Cussler
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Months before World War I consumed Europe and brought Britain’s Empire to the fields of France, a historic treaty could have changed everything if not for two accidents. The sixth book of Clive Cussler’s Dirk Pitt series, Night Probe!, finds the series protagonist on a historical and internationally significant hunt for a Treaty that sold Canada to the United States even as the aforementioned nation is on the verge of splitting and the United Kingdom is sending it’s great secret agent to stop him.

On the same day, a railroad disaster along the Hudson River and a ship sinking in the St. Lawrence kills two diplomats from the United States and Great Britain heading from Canada to their respective capitals with signed treaties that sells Canada to the United States. After both men die and the treaties presumed lost, President Wilson communicates with his British counterpart to forget that it ever happened. Three-quarters of a century later, Heidi Mulligan finds a unknown letter by Wilson communicating to Prime Minister Asquith about the North American Treaty setting off a chain of events that discovers evidence about the unknown treaty and makes it’s way across the Pond to the British archives sending 10 Downing Street into a panic and getting out of retirement it’s greatest secret agent, Brian Shaw (not at all James Bond, but is basically an older James Bond). One of those Heidi tells is friend (from Vixen 03) Dirk Pitt who doing his own research on top of Heidi’s gives his circumstantial evidence to the new President, who was previously in the Senate with his father. The President uses the information as part of his plan with the embattled Canadian Prime Minister threatened with Quebec secession while recovering from an assassination attempt by a Quebec terrorist group headed by his own right-hand man in his cabinet, who is also having an affair with his wife. Shaw seduces Heidi to learn everything she does and then attempts to prevent Pitt from getting either copy of the treaty but comes just short. Pitt gets the Treaty to the President, who is speaking to the Canadian Parliament and announces the historical find while inviting the provinces to apply for statehood.

Before anything else, the biggest issue with this book is Cussler’s total lack of understanding of the Constitution, Canadian history, and the Commonwealth of Nations. Of the three it’s the Constitution as all treaties must be approved by the Senate, which a President that had been a sitting Senator would know as well as Pitt’s father who is still a Senator, and after 75 years attempting to bring it to a vote would probably result in a Supreme Court case. The second is the Commonwealth of Nations are all self-governing and not the British Empire under a new name, so while it would have been embarrassing to Britain it wouldn’t result in what happened in the book. Now let’s get to the story; overall, it’s a good overall adventure tale with a good spy subplot and some good political intrigue (Canadian) and not so good (President). Pitt was able to get more nuisance and Heidi Mulligan was the best female character in the series so far, Brian Shaw as the older not-James Bond but basically is was a nice touch and good way to segue into so many plots. The Canadian political intrigue, if fleshed out more, could have been its own book but just added to the overall quality and somewhat makes up for the lack of understanding of various things on Cussler’s part.

Night Probe! is a very good installment of the Dirk Pitt series that is unfortunately undermined by Clive Cussler’s intentional or unintentional lack of understanding over various political and historical factors. The various adventure, spy, and political intrigue subplots work well together to create fun book to read if you don’t think too much.

Dirk Pitt

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Vixen 03 (Dirk Pitt #5)

055358944x.01._sx450_sy635_sclzzzzzzz_Vixen 03 by Clive Cussler
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A deadly biological weapon thought long-lost is suddenly out in the world and a South African-planned black-op terrorist attack on the United States meant to discredit an insurgency to white rule intertwine with only one man finding himself at the crux to stop them. The fifth book of the Dirk Pitt series, Vixen 03, by Clive Cussler finds the intrepid NUMA Special Projects Director racing to first solve a mystery and then racing to save the nation.

An Air Force transport plane takes off in a January Colorado blizzard carrying a deadly cargo, but the storm results in the plane crash landing on top of a snow covered lake then sinking. The Pentagon, under orders from Eisenhower, alters the records of the plane to hide its deadly secret. Thirty-four years later in South Africa, Scottish naval captain-turned-farmer Patrick Fawkes goes to a meeting with the South African Defense Minister and discusses the feasibility of a black-op, which Fawkes explains is impossible yet during the meeting his family is murdered during an attack seemingly by the African Army of Revolution run by an American-born black against the white South African government. As a result Fawkes talks the Defense Minister into letting him do the black-op, which the AAR finds out about and gets the info to the American government though they regard it highly unlikely to take place. Meanwhile in Colorado’s Sawatch Mountains, Dirk Pitt is at the cabin of his current girlfriend, Congresswoman Loren Smith, when finds parts from an old aircraft in the garage that Loren believes her deceased eccentric father found while hiking. Bored while not having sex, Pitt begins investigating and stays at the cabin after Loren returns to Washington where she runs afoul of a black congressman who supports the AAR for his own political ends and attempts to blackmail her after getting racy photos of her and Pitt sleeping together. Pitt’s investigation results in him identifying an aircraft that shouldn’t be in Colorado but in the Pacific and along with his friend Al Giordino and an Air Force Colonel Abe Steiger investigate a nearby lake and find the wreck along with the body of Loren’s father—he supposedly blew himself up. Steiger is stonewalled in Washington while Pitt heads to his assignment raising a Union ironclad, but travels to Virginia to talk with the man who assigned the plane’s mission and finds out it carried a deadly biological weapon. Pitt finally informs his boss Admiral Sandecker and NUMA raises the aircraft but find that 8 out of the 36 shells are missing. Pitt, Giordino, and Steiger confront Loren’s neighbors who killed her father and sold them to an arms company for extra money. After conning the arms company Pitt and Steiger track down six of the eight, but the last two were accidently purchased by the AAR but really the South Africans for their terrorist attack. Fawkes with his unwitting black crew and the kidnapped AAR leader in an overhauled battleship go up the Potomac to within range of Washington and start bombarding the capital on December 7. The U.S. government “warned” by the South African Prime Minister launches an attack on the battleship since Fawkes doesn’t know he has two biological weapons. Pitt is able to get onboard the battleship and neutralizes one of the weapons, but the other was already loaded into a tube. The shell is fired, but do to it being a biological warhead it parachutes and a helicopter piloted by Steiger intercepts it and flies it out to the Atlantic. Pitt travels to South Africa to bury Fawkes and meets with the South African Defense Minister, who orchestrated the murder of Fawkes family and who sent the Prime Minister warning, is killed by a member of his own staff and a member of the AAR then buried in Fawkes’ grave.

Set a 1988, Cussler’s guess at the overall situation in the world was off but still made for interesting alternate history in which to set his book’s narrative. The two main plots following Pitt and Fawkes were well written while the two main subplots of the AAR and Loren Smith were underwhelming. Fawkes as a good tragic figure who setup by the Defense Minister was easy to guess, while Loren Smith’s first appearance as Pitt’s on-and-off girlfriend was just showing off Pitt’s sexual greatness and given his characterization in these early books isn’t surprising. The science behind the biological weapon was a little farfetched if one really thought about it, but overall it wasn’t the worst thing in the book. Critically nothing was bad, but there were a lot of things that alright.

Vixen 03 is a nice next installment in the Dirk Pitt series by Clive Cussler, building up on Raise the Titanic! Overall it’s a good book with only a few bits that were unfortunately off putting but nothing compared to earlier books. While the not the best book of the series I’ve read so far, it’s shows a lot of improvement on Cussler’s part.

Dirk Pitt

Raise the Titanic! (Dirk Pitt #4)

067172519x.01._sx450_sy635_sclzzzzzzz_Raise The Titanic! by Clive Cussler
My rating: 2.5 of 5 stars

Deep in the North Atlantic is the rarest radioactive mineral on the planet that can power a strategically redefining missile defense shield, the problem is that it’s in vault of the most famous shipwreck in history. Raise the Titanic! is the third published book of Clive Cussler’s series featuring Dirk Pitt, who accepts the challenge to bring the most famous shipwreck in history only to find himself in the middle of a shadowy Cold War encounter in the middle of a hurricane.

A secret U.S. government think tank, Meta Section, sends a mineralogist to Novaya Zemlya in the Soviet Union to look for byzanium that will power their new antiballistic missile defense system. Unfortunately the scientist is discovered by Soviet security until he’s saved by Dirk Pitt whose “interference” of Meta Section’s plan upsets its chief, Dr. Gene Seagram who is married to a NUMA colleague of Pitt’s. The mineralogist how has both good and bad news, Novaya Zemlya does have byzanium but only a tiny fraction that did because it was mined earlier in the century by Americans from Colorado. Gene Seagram and his closest friend in Meta Section begin hunting down this new lead while Captain Prevlov of Soviet Naval Intelligence begins investigating the American incursion of Soviet territory both the recent and newly discovered mine from the turn of the century. Meanwhile Gene Seagram’s quest to get his secret project completed results in his wife Dana leaving him just as he learns that large amount of byzanium was found on Novaya Zemlya by Coloradan miners who spirited from Russia to Britain and loaded it on the Titanic. Gene Seagram finds Pitt and convinces him to lead the salvaging of the shipwreck. Over the course of the salvage, both American and Soviet intelligence agencies have a shadowy back and forth that Pitt only learns about close to the end of salvage which comes to a dramatic end when they raise it to save one of their submersibles. In preparing to tow the now risen Titanic, Pitt and crew learn that a mid-May formed hurricane is barreling towards them which for Prevlov is prefect for his plan to steal the ship and its “secret” cargo. Prevlov and his strike force board the Titanic while it’s in the eye of the hurricane and take the crew hostage, save Pitt, who confronts the Soviet captain before several minutes before Navy SEALS take out the Soviet soldiers except for Prevlov. The Titanic makes arrives in New York to fanfare, but Meta Section and NUMA learn that their efforts were for not because in the ship’s vault were only boxes of normal stones. Gene Seagram, who had slowly been losing his sanity, has a complete nervous breakdown and attacks the mummified remains of the last American miner who by coincidence was also insane by the time he boarded Titanic. Pitt travels to Scotland and makes his way across Britain until he finds a tiny village where one of the American miners was buried, with the bzyanium thus allowing the U.S. to create its missile defense system.

Written almost a decade before the Titanic was discovered, in two pieces, Cussler writes an intriguing narrative of underwater discovery and salvage with some nice Cold War intrigue thrown in. The main plot was basically really fun to read even with the knowledge that Cussler’s details were wrong in every regard to the shipwreck. While the Soviet spy subplot was completely fine as was Gene Seagram’s slow mental breakdown, the other subplots in the book were complete trash. First was Dana Seagram’s independent woman angle in which was asserted herself and also bashed women’s liberation (which went hand on hand with the usual chauvinistic streak of these early books), the second was the President of the United States being persuaded by the CIA and NIA to let Meta Section’s secret project get leaked to the Soviets which was completely unrealistic (even in a story about raising the Titanic!). Even with those I would have been fine, but Cussler for some reason had Pitt bed Dana Seagram after going the majority of the book seemingly like the Pitt later in the series.

Raise the Titanic! for the most part is a good book, which could have been better, but it’s better than The Mediterranean Caper and Iceberg especially since Dirk isn’t a complete jerk. Cussler did write a solid main plot, but the biggest problems were some of the subplots which undermined the work plus some poor decisions around Pitt close to the end. However, after Pacific Vortex this is the best early Pitt book so far.

Dirk Pitt

Iceberg (Dirk Pitt #3)

0425197387-01-_sx450_sy635_sclzzzzzzz_Iceberg by Clive Cussler
My rating: 1.5 of 5 stars

A missing luxury yacht is found encased in an iceberg by a Coast Guard air patrol, but within a week of the discovery that bizarre sight won’t be the only thing that isn’t what it seems. Iceberg is the second published book of Clive Cussler’s series featuring Dirk Pitt, taking the U.S.A.F Major to the north Atlantic and Iceland then to Disneyland.

Taken away from his California vacation and dispatched by NUMA Director Admiral Sandecker to the titular iceberg in the North Atlantic, Dirk Pitt takes Dr. Bill Hunnewell to search for the ship before heading to Iceland. The two commandeer a U.S. Coast Guard cutter as a base of operations along the way, which proves fortuitous as the helicopter is low on fuel after a wild goose chase for the iceberg. Finding a way into the ship, they find it burned along with the crew as well as the owner, Kristjan Fyrie who is identified by Hunnewell who worked with him. As they head for Iceland, the two are attacked by a black jet and Hunnewell is mortally wounded while Pitt uses the helicopter to take out the jet before crash landing just off shore. Pitt survives an attempt on his life by two thugs disguised as local Icelandic police before eventually getting to the American consulate in Reykjavik. Sandecker offers to send Pitt back on his vacation, but as he suspects Pitt wants to find who killed him. The Admiral then orders Pitt to get close to Kristjan Fyrie’s twin sister who is now Iceland’s wealthiest person and who has shied away from the working with the U.S. government on a state-of-the-art probe, but Kirsti is engaged to fishing magnate Oskar Rondheim and Pitt decides to play a homosexual so as not to pose a threat to the man. After several escapes with Sandecker and a National Intelligence Agent respectfully, Pitt and Sandecker’s secretary are invited to party at Rondheim’s home which is a trap for several wealthy and politically important men from around the globe so they can die while a cabal of wealth businessmen that include Rondheim and Fyrie play to take over all of Central and South America. Rondheim beats the presumably gay Pitt and leaves him and the others to die in a remote part of Iceland. Pitt is able to find help and save nearly everyone, while in the hospital the head of the National Intelligence Agency swindles Pitt from NUMA to Disneyland so stop a duel assassination of Latin American leaders. Pitt gets revenge on Rondheim and then makes a deal with Fyrie, who had been Rondheim’s puppet after he learned Kirsti was actually Kristjan after a sex change.

Like The Mediterranean Caper this was a quick paced book, but this time there was a larger cast of characters instead of a tiny one that was present in both Pacific Vortex and Caper. Iceberg improved in narrative flow over its predecessor as well as making the characters a little more rounded, but still the one-dimensional characters were still prevent. While Dirk Pitt wasn’t as big of a…“jerk” as in Caper, he still wasn’t the same character that appears later in the series and what bad qualities he loses from Caper are negated from the over-the-top homosexual clichés that he displays as part of his act. Besides Pitt’s gay act, the transsexual-sex change angle and the misogynistic comments by numerous male characters could be called typical clichés of the mid-1970s but age really badly over the last 40 years. However the biggest hole in the book is the missing of Pitt’s best friend, Al Giordino, a mistake that Cussler never made again.

Iceberg shows improvement in narrative and characters to an extent, but some of the choices Cussler made negated them. Overall I can’t give this a lesser or better rating that the first Dirk Pitt book, but if there is anyone interested in getting into this series I don’t recommend starting with some of these early books. Read books later in the series and then come back to these early ones.

Dirk Pitt

The Mediterranean Caper (Dirk Pitt #2)

5b2a8a55b5bc20e597750735951444341587343The Mediterranean Caper by Clive Cussler
My rating: 1.5 of 5 stars

A lazy Sunday afternoon at a U.S Air Force base on a quiet Greek island is shattered when a WWI-era German fighter attacks and then finds itself in a dogfight with a WWII-era seaplane. The Mediterranean Caper by Clive Cussler was the first published book featuring Dirk Pitt and started off a four decade long series of books that sold millions of books and multiple times on the bestseller list.

Dirk Pitt and his best friend Al Giordino, heading to the Greek island of Thasos on a special assignment to a NUMA vessel, fight off a WWI German fighter attacking a nearby U.S. Air Force base in a WWII-era seaplane. The next morning Dirk takes an early morning swim and meets Teri von Till, niece of a reclusive shipping magnate who lives on the island. After meeting with the NUMA vessel’s captain, Pitt goes to meet Teri’s uncle Bruno for dinner and finds out he was a German pilot in World War I with a model submarine in his study. Von Till attempts to kill Pitt with his dog, but Pitt escapes and the next day with Giordino invade von Till’s mansion and kidnap Teri only to be detained by a member of an INTERPOL drug task force. Pitt and Giordino learn that von Till is a suspected drug smuggler and are ordered by the NUMA director to aid INTERPOL in stopping a massive shipment of heroin from reaching the U.S. After boarding the suspected cargo ship with the heroin, Pitt figures out how von Till hasn’t been caught. Pitt then leads a group of scientists to look for and find a massive cave in which they find several submarines, though caught by von Till and a mole from the INTERPOL task force it’s an elaborate trap as Giordino, several INTERPOL agents, and military personnel had raided von Till’s mansion and listened in on Pitt explaining to von Till everything he had figured out including that he was actually a Nazi war criminal which von Till didn’t deny.

This is a quick pacing book and has numerous cliché elements that one would expect to find in an early 1970s adventure novel with the main character notably inspired by James Bond. While I could knock the disjointed narrative flow or the weak character development of some of the other characters given the time period it was to be expected, the biggest eyesore is Dirk Pitt himself. The term “jerk” is a cleaned up way to describe Pitt’s interacting with anyone in the book including his best friend, Al, and his way to make a woman interested in him, slapping her for still mourning her late husband. This is not the same Pitt that appears in Pacific Vortex! or later in the series and would be a definite turn off for anyone encountering the character for the first time.

The Mediterranean Caper is a quick adventure that is sometimes fun, but today has a lot of problems. Though Clive Cussler’s portrayal of Dirk Pitt has improved over the last four decades, I would not recommend this book for those either interested in reading or listening to a Dirk Pitt novel. If you have read or listened to later books then be warned this is not the same Dirk that you’ve encountered.

Dirk Pitt

Pacific Vortex! (Dirk Pitt #1)

0553276328-01-_sx450_sy635_sclzzzzzzz_Pacific Vortex! by Clive Cussler
My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

A mysterious area at sea just off the coast of paradise, a missing advanced Navy submarine, and a dashing Air Force pilot that loves the sea and women just seems like adventure. Pacific Vortex! by Clive Cussler was the sixth Dirk Pitt book published, but was the first story written by Cussler featuring Pitt that he finally relented in having published and as all the classic elements that signify a book in the series.

A new advanced Navy submarine is taking its shakedown cruise when its commander decides to investigate an anomaly of both weather and sea floor, the sub disappears and resulting search finds nothing. Six months later, Dirk Pitt is on vacation in he spots a communication capsule from the missing submarine and after delivering it to Naval base is seconded from NUMA to 101st Salvage Fleet and learns of titular Pacific Vortex in which 38 ships have disappeared. Bringing both a fresh expression and information he’s learned from a local native Hawaiian, Pitt deduces that everyone has searched in the wrong area and a potentially lost island might be near where the ships are. In the resulting search, Pitt and the Navy find the sub but can’t begin salvaging because they are attacked forcing them to retreat. The attack continues on Oahu as the daughter of the admiral heading the 101st is kidnapped and Pitt almost murdered by the leader of the mysterious group. The Pentagon decides to strike the area with missiles to destroy not only the sub but any threat from the area in the future, but Pitt mounts a rescue mission for the admiral’s daughter and the sub before the strike. Unfortunately his plan fails, but luck allows both the rescue of the sub and admiral’s daughter to workout but not without a sacrifice on Pitt’s part.

Overall this is a quick paced book that keeps the reader engaged with its action and doesn’t slow down even when exposition occurs in the text. While Pitt himself is fleshed out, other characters are for the most part two-dimensional though given the type of book this is. Obviously there are a lot of clichés throughout the text, but even Cussler is smart enough to flip some on their head especially when book’s antagonist chides Pitt for thinking he can trick him into telling him his evil plan. The classic car and legendary location that connects to the sinister plot are the primary motifs that this series is known for that make major appearances showing that from the beginning were always there. The biggest flaw is that given what occurs later in the series about events taking place in this book, there is a major plot hole.

Pacific Vortex! is good adventure story that has shades of James Bond, but is very much something completely different. This first adventure of Clive Cussler’s character Dirk Pitt, it does not have to be read first or sixth but whenever you decide to if you’re reading any books in the series. If you’re into adventure, thrills, and quick books to read this is one to consider.

Dirk Pitt

The Count of Monte Cristo

The Count of Monte CristoThe Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This classic story of wrongful imprisonment, hidden treasure, and revenge is truly a masterpiece. Alexandre Dumas’ famous novel The Count of Monte Cristo has seen life not only in print but in film and television, but one cannot appreciate the novel unless you read it in its entire unabridged length.

Edmond Dantes is wrongfully accused of a crime and thrown in prison without trial to be forgotten, after overcoming both mental and physical anguish and befriending a fellow prisoner, and finally he is able to escape. Thanks to his friendship Dantes knows where a potential hidden treasure is located and finds it to be real, and using it begins finding out why he was thrown into prison and chart is path to revenge through fortune and hidden identities. Yet what this quick synopsis omits is the numerous and fascinating major and secondary characters that Dantes interacts throughout the narrative.

Originally published in serial form, Dumas was paid for how much he wrote and one would think that The Count of Monte Cristo might be riddled with meandering subplots that never go anywhere and/or have nothing to do with the central plot. But Dumas instead wove a tapestry of beauty with every word he wrote; instead of making meandering plots he described scenes and events in rich detail that it brings the story even more alive in the reader’s imagination.

If pressed to find anything negative to say about this book, the easiest answer would be cultural references that are almost 170 years old. The only other negative was the completely different societal norms that were in Parisian society in the 1840s compared today’s. However both of these ‘negatives’ can easily be put down to a piece of fiction that was contemporary when it was written but now can be seen as historical fiction with the passage to time.

The Count of Monte Cristo needs to be read in all its unabridged glory to fully appreciate why it is a masterpiece and classic. Dumas’ literary tapestry is a delight to behold once finished with the last page and makes the reader think about when they’ll have time to reread it in the future.

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