“Juan, no matter what anyone tells you, there is evil in this world. And all it takes for it to triumph is for good people to do nothing.”
Four years ago I read my first Cussler novel, Pacific Vortex. Since then, I’ve read through the Dirk Pitt series and am now making my way through “The Oregon Files” (Dark Watch is book 3 in this series). I don’t review each novel, because they all tend to meld together: one super-rich evil man or family; one super-deadly weapon or outbreak on the verge of destroying humanity; and only one man or team who can stop it all. Throw a nice treasure hunt into the mix, and you’ve got yourself a classic Cussler plot-line.
Dark Watch, however, struck me as worth a review, as much for its emphasis on the humanitarian issues of China as for its genuinely human touch. Concerning China’s issues, Cussler and co-author Jack Du Brul emphasize most the horrors of infanticide and its multi-generational impact. While their knowledge and delivery of the facts seem to be a bit outdated, the reality and the evils of such murders (whether in the form of abortion or post-birth slaughter) are real. China’s infamous one-child policy has stolen millions of lives over its 30-plus-year existence, and due to the importance of males in Chinese society, the majority of these lives have been female.
Although this trend of preferring males to females began to subside in the ’90s, the impact of a male-dominated population will certainly be felt as the surviving children become adults (though perhaps not as much as Cussler claims: 200 million more men than women by 2025). According to Cussler, China has already begun to export an army of bachelors around the world, both officially in the form of students and workers and unofficially in the form of illegal aliens. This human-trafficking becomes a major linchpin to the plot-line of Dark Watch.
The human touch that Dark Watch offers is one common to “The Oregon Files” series, though less so in Cussler’s “Dirk Pitt” series. Partly, this is due to the number of lead characters who work inside The Oregon, an outwardly dilapidated yet inwardly modern ship that cruises the world, unofficially doing the CIA’s dirty work. With so many people from so many backgrounds working in unison, they must all necessarily be regular, though highly specialized, people. Dirk Pitt, on the other hand, is a man whose solo-adventures require him to perform some relatively super-human feats. The believability of The Oregon‘s specialists and the more structured evils of the series’ antagonists give “The Oregon Files” a far more human feel.
The longer Cussler writes, the more involved he seems to get in his plots, which is wonderful. Emotions are more readily felt, and his own personal passions are more clearly heard in the conversations of his characters, which is why I am constantly drawn back to his books. It is a little unnerving, though, that in using co-authors like Jack Du Brul, he has also lowered his standards in the language that he allows his characters to use. A word of caution: “Jesus” is used as a curse word multiple times in this book, which seems to be nothing that Cussler had allowed in his earlier books.
Dark Watch adds a lot to the character development of the free-lancers aboard The Oregon. If this is your first attempt at a Cussler, I’d not recommend you read it. Instead, go back to the first book in this particular series, Golden Buddha. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.