Treasure-hunters Sam and Remi Fargo are exploring the Great Pocomoke Swamp in Delaware when they are shocked to discover a German U-boat. Inside, they find a bottle taken from Napoleon's 'lost cellar'. Fascinated, the Fargos set out to find the rest of the collection. But another connoisseur of sorts has been looking for the bottle they've just found. Not for the wine. He wants what the bottle may lead to.
Reviewed on 23rd April 2010
Okay, I'll admit I was fairly sceptical about this one going in. Cussler's novels have, excluding The Chase, been heading downhill for a while now, and starting yet another new series, with yet another 'co-author' (I assume this is like Clancy, where the big name comes up with an idea and the little name does the hard work of actually writing it).
The beginning backed up my idea - the main characters, Mr & Mrs Fargo, are conveniently and unbelievably rich in order to fund their treasure hunting lifestyle, and have a set up not all that unlike the Corporation in Cussler's Oregon Files series - a team of computer whizzes to back them up, training in black ops and the old friend in the CIA.
It started a little cringe worthy - the characters are two dimensional and have very little that I can identify with (except that they own iPhones, and more on that later), and just don't feel natural - they are very much like film characters - there's nothing going on inside their heads, and it's all action and no emotion. There's a dynamic between them, as always with the double-header Cusslers (Pitt/Giordino, Austin/Zavala. Dirk/Summer), and that they are married makes it a little more personal, but in places gets too annoying. One of the running gags involves Sam saying 'aren't I always' and Remi replying 'except that time when' - once is cute but it happens again and again.
In a similar vein, everywhere the characters travel they greet a local in the local language and ask them if they can speak English - exactly the same exchange just in a different language - and every time the person can speak it perfectly. Really irritating. Another irritating repetition is that every settlement is referred to as 'home to x number of souls', which to me seems an utterly bizarre way to give population data.
The novel spends a lot of time dealing with history, which is informative and possibly vital to the plot but there is too much of it - it's like every little section starts with a mini-essay on the background of the part of the world, and it's just too educational. There are also technological errors - one moment they talk on their iPhones, the next they have to navigate by 'dead reckoning' as they have no GPS, then the next they explicitly mention that their iPhones have GPS. As an iPhone user that really grated.
However, towards the end of the novel things begin to get better. The history begins to tail off and the action too after a point, leaving the plot more gripping - however the whole thing seems to speed up as well. The Fargos spend a good part of the novel working out the solutions to the first few clues, but then it takes barely any time at all to race through the last couple (and the earlier plot point about the clues not being in sequence is forgotten), which seems like the author hasn't planned these parts as well.
There's a second Fargo book coming later this year, but I'm not yet convinced that they live up to the Cussler mantle - I don't know if his novels have gone downhill or I'm just growing out of them, but since Atlantis Found things seem less believable. I'll wait and see how I feel before ordering the next book.