Clive Cussler - Shastrix Books

Clive Cussler

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Ghost Ship

Ghost Ship

Clive Cussler

22nd June 2014

Ghost Ship is the unoriginal title for the latest in the Kurt Austin / Numa Files series from the Clive Cussler canon, and the fourth penned by Graham Brown. Brown returns the series to the level of his first two, reinvigorating the franchise a little by making the plot more personal, and less contrived-feeling that some of the entries in the set.

We meet Austin as he’s recovering after a failed rescue mission, with a blow to the head having left him confused about what actually happened, and leading him to start digging into a variety of conspiracy theories. It’s a really good setup for the story, and one that piqued my interest from the start. Generally, I found the plot to be a good one - again it’s more of a solo mission though rather than the ensemble piece that the Numa Files series originally seemed intended to be.

There are however a number of criticisms I have of the book - not least the production values that seem to have gone into it. There were multiple spelling mistakes, including the same word being misspelt twice on successive pages, and in one chapter a whole sequence of narrative was repeated in different wording, as if part of an early draft had been left in. The story itself also has issues - the foreshadowing is poor throughout, there are parachronistic memos littering a character’s desk rather than emails - which makes the reader doubt other technological references, one character’s age fluctuates throughout (although I admit one of the references was me misreading, and assuming for much of the book that the character was 15, leading to much confusion), and in one slightly weird passage, characters communicating in morse code choose to be overly verbose, rather than save plot-vital time.

So at the end, I’m in two minds about this book - I liked the story, I liked the characters, but I didn’t think much of the narration or production values.

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The Bootlegger

The Bootlegger

Clive Cussler & Justin Scott

31st March 2014

Back to Isaac Bell's 'present' of 1930s prohibition-era America, as the private detective is drawn into investigating some smugglers which turn tangentially into a barely explained and somewhat difficult to follow plot to take over the world.

The attitudes of some of the characters feel quite anachronistic, particularly in relation to prohibition, though I freely admit to knowing very little about the period of American history. This makes the novel feel slightly silly in its approach, as the characters' morals seem to change from scene to scene. Some of the minor characters that are introduced seem really interesting at first but then are followed up weakly - the book could easily have benefited by exploring them more.

The plot starts well, dealing with issues of the time and feeling like the events a detective agency would be involved in, but then I think it goes over the top and starts to move beyond believability. I know it's listed as a thriller and that's what Cussler is known for, but the whole setup seems to beg more for a mystery story. As it is, the audience are aligned with the baddies far too much and so there's little in the way of tension as we know pretty much how things are going down ahead of time.

One exception was the climax, where the book seemed to be setting up one form of showdown but then gave something that I felt was rushed and weaker. Overall, I could say it was a little disappointing, but actually it's more of a surprise now when I really enjoy a Cussler novel, so I suppose this is now just standard.

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Clive Cussler & Jack du Brul

1st February 2014

I was pleasantly surprised by this Oregon Files novel, which opens with a thrilling rescue that leads on to a series of following adventures. Over recent years I've become less satisfied with the Cussler 'brand' but this, some three years since the last book in this series, was really enjoyable to read.

The Oregon Files started out as much more of an ensemble piece in the earliest novels, but now focus much more on the main character, Juan Cabrillo. While this can sometimes feel unrealistic it adds a lot more of a sense of adventure than the very procedural nature of the first few books.

The plot here is fantastic. There's the usual slight sci-fi edge to the threat, but the baddie is surprisingly authentic and not the almost-parody Bond-villain that sometimes features in Cussler novels. The story shows the Oregon's day-to-day as well as a big adventure, which adds realism to the story and a much more interesting look at the characters. It also helps to slow the main plot line which flits around the world quite quickly in scene after scene of action.

The best Cussler for years, in my opinion, and one I find it difficult to find much fault with. Much more of this please.

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The Mayan Secrets

The Mayan Secrets

Clive Cussler & Thomas Perry

30th November 2013

The Fargos return for an adventure in South America, where an accidental discovery sets them at odds with a mysterious collector. As recent Clive Cussler novels go, it's not a bad little adventure, although there are holes when you look too closely.

The story itself is quite plausible and fits the traditional Cussler setup, which was a good early indication that it was going to be a good adventure. The characters are slightly more realistic than they've been before in this series, being cardboard cutouts.

Where the book falls down is in the detail - the motivation of the baddies is thin and their backgrounds are vague. There are places where problems could be easily solved with the application of modern technology, and one scene in the UK makes an error that a tiny bit of research would have spotted. It's disappointing that a mistake in something that I do know about makes me doubt what the book tells me about subjects, such as the Mayans, that I don't know a lot about.

Overall I've rather enjoyed this adventure, and think it's probably the best in the Fargo series so far.

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Zero Hour

Zero Hour

Clive Cussler & Graham Brown

26th September 2013

The eleventh book, and the NUMA Files are feeling a little tired. This one tells the tale of Kurt Austin's adventure down under, and seems to miss the original idea of this series being about the four-piece ensemble group - having just one main character makes it fairly indistinguishable from the original Dirk Pitt series that it span off from.

The book starts well, with a thrilling opening followed by a mediocre first half in which the characters drift and try to explain a rather fantastic plot device which seems like something from a 90s Bond film (along with some of the characters). The second half turns into more of a run-of-the-mill thriller and actually picks up.

I felt there was a missed opportunity in this to take the characters deeper, as they were in some of the recent books in this series. I felt like it wanted to just be a mindless thriller, and not something that would fit in with the Clive Cussler tradition of exploring technology and telling the reader something about the world.

Overall, I felt disappointed. I've been a devoted Cussler reader for many years and the recent novels have been of varying quality. While this one had its moments of excitement, it doesn't make up for the trip into pseudoscience-fiction.

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The Striker

The Striker

Clive Cussler & Justin Scott

29th March 2013

A prequel to the Isaac Bell series, this book shows the private investigator tackle one of his earliest cases, investigating sabotage in America's coal mines in the early twentieth century.

The style is slightly more similar to the first book of the series, though overall the book doesn't live up to that predecessor and is far from the best from the Cussler brand. The book continues the Bell series' slightly political commentary, with Bell himself seemingly possessing modern sensibilities and liberal-leaning beliefs that feel out of place in the era the stories are set.

The plot feels bitty as Bell and the other characters dart around from city to city. The scenes don't seem to flow together particularly well and a lot of the action seems disconnected and it feels almost like random luck that an overall storyline emerges at all.

I didn't find this one to be a captivating book, and generally think it reflects badly on the series that a book can be written with no believable peril or thrill.

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The Tombs

The Tombs

Clive Cussler & Thomas Perry

8th January 2013

The fourth book in the Fargo series, featuring millionaire treasure-hunters Sam and Remi Fargo, sees the adventurous couple on the trail of Attila the Hun, chasing around the world following a variety of clues, with unscrupulous opponents on their heels. A new co-author joins Cussler, which I had hoped would make a change to some of the earlier books' shortfalls, but that's not really the case.

The fundamental idea for the story is a good one, though there are some details which seem to be glossed over as if the reader is not expected to notice - plausible character motivation being one, but the execution is poor. The style of the narrative is very basic and doesn't lend any depth to the characters - there's no thought or emotion from them, and in several points it feels like a cold description of events or even a children's novel in the way it depicts what's happening.

There are some pretty fundamental plot-holes, and I found this quite distracting, chief among them an issue with the timeline of events which suggests that historical characters knew their own futures. A lot seemed rushed, with problems being solved instantly and searches that in reality would take months being completed in an afternoon.

The most annoying thing about this book though was the characters - two multi-millionaires just don't work as main characters, as money seems to solve too many of their problems, chartering planes, replacing equipment etc. One new character also has the amazing ability to do absolutely anything at the drop of a hat despite being just a random they picked up on the journey. None of the main characters had any flaws or weaknesses and this just made for a dull and ultimately predictable adventure.

Overall, although I found it entertaining and at least didn't feel bogged down at any point, the Fargo series still disappoints. It's definitely the weakest of the Cussler brands and the new author couldn't pull it up to the standard of Cussler's original novels.

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