Farewell, bold adventurer

Reviewed by Linda C. Brinson

JOURNEY OF THE PHARAOHS. By Clive Cussler and Graham Brown. Penguin Audio. Read by Scott Brick. 10 hours; 8 CDs. $45. 

My review copy of the audio version of Journey of the Pharaohs, Clive Cussler’s latest NUMA files novel, arrived on my front porch the same day that word of Cussler’s death hit the news.

That was Feb. 26, two says after he died, and a sad day for those who love Cussler’s adventure-packed tales. An Air Force veteran of the Korean War who learned to dive in Hawaii, Cussler started writing his adventure tales in 1965, when he started taking care of the children at night while his wife, Barbara, worked a late shift at the local police department. Cussler was an advertising copywriter by day.

His debut novel, The Mediterranean Caper (later renamed Mayday), starring Dirk Pitt, was published in 1973. After his second novel came out in 1975 and his popularity soared, Cussler quite his day job. 

Over the years, he has published 85 books, selling more than 100 million copies. He developed several series in addition to the Dirk Pitt tales. 

In recent years, at the urging of his publisher, he began working with a few collaborators and sometimes turned out as many as four books in a year. He’s written books for children and young adults as well as adults. That’s how I first started reading his books: One of my sons checked some of the children’s books out of the library and started talking excitedly about them.

Critics frequently – and with justification – have pointed out that Cussler’s writings are not exactly great works of art. His more or less formulaic plots strain credulity, his poorly developed characters are almost cartoonish, and, and his prose is full of clichés.

But who cares? The books are full of interesting descriptions of shipwrecks and relics. There’s high adventure, usually involving both a quest for some sort of treasure and battles with evil villains. Often, part of the formula is to start with some event in history that at least MIGHT have happened. 

Fans also appreciate that Cussler’s real life was full of adventure, and that he drew on it for his books. The NUMA files books, including Journey of the Pharaohs, feature a fictitious U.S. government agency, but in real life, Cussler created a nonprofit called NUMA that finds and helps preserve shipwrecks and other archaeological treasures. He explored some 60 shipwreck sites.

The book that arrived the day we learned of Cussler’s death is a particularly entertaining one. It starts in 1074 with the disappearance of a vast store of treasures from the tombs of pharaohs in Egypt. 

Then we hear/read about a flashy American aviator who disappeared while trying to fly across the Atlantic, not long before Lindbergh managed the feat.

In the present day, Kurt Austin, the NUMA team and an attractive British woman (who is she, really?) just happen to be around when a fishing trawler carrying a mysterious cargo sinks during a storm off the coast of Scotland.

Of course, action, treachery, crime, heroism, puzzle-solving and racing across the ocean ensue. Priceless artifacts are at stake. And where did those ancient Egyptians who ran off with the treasures really manage to go? No spoilers here; let Cussler tell you.

Scott Brick reads the audio version with his usual perfect delivery. 

Will there be more Clive Cussler novels? News reports at the time of his death said a book in the Oregon Files series will be published later this year. Whether any of the collaborators will try to keep things going after that remains to be seen.  Those of us who haven’t read all 85 of his novels still have a lot of adventures to look forward to.

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