Although I have been trying to read each of Clive Cussler’s series in order and am now much later in The NUMA Files than Fire Ice (Book 3 in the series), I don’t always get to writing my reviews while they’re thoroughly fresh in my mind. That’s why note-taking has always been such an important tool for me, and why I rarely pick up a book without also picking up a pen. After all, if you read a book without any plans for remembering what you’ve read, what really is the lasting purpose?
As happens when trying to get into a new series of any sort (novel or TV) by a writer I adore, I entered the NUMA series with a little trepidation. After all, who does this Kurt Austin character think he is, sharing thunder at the NUMA offices with the rhinoceros Dirk Pitt? And why must he also have a “sidekick” of sorts in Joe Zavala, his very own Al Giordino? These thoughts were short-lived, of course, because were I truly offended by long-standing and predictable clichés, I wouldn’t have stuck with Clive Cussler for this long! Nevertheless, I hadn’t yet become too keen on the idea of Kurt and Joe sharing the oceans with Dirk and Al. The world just doesn’t seem that big.
This third installment ingratiated me to this fresh duo, however, and I’m glad for it. This book contained much of the normal Cussler fare that keeps his readers coming back—the thick history, the damsel in distress, the murderous villain bent on total world domination—yet what made this book such a pleasure to read was its inclusion of some structural tools that just haven’t been present in the majority of Cussler’s other books, namely turncoats and fully-developed antagonists. Never before in my experience had I met a non-recurring Cussler character that I’d like meet again somewhere down the road, but I finally met one in Viktor “Ivan” Pterov, the submarine menace who shares a rocky history with Kurt Austin. This guy was a stroke of genius, and he left me wanting more. [Thankfully at this point, I’ve read ahead and know that Petrov reappears in Polar Shift, Book 6 in the series. What a pleasant surprise!]
Two things that have gotten a little tiring for me in these books are Max and the female foils. Max, the supercomputer housed inside the sea-green glass NUMA building outside D.C. is almost too super. While brains and brawn are still the top choices from these adventurers’ arsenals, having MAX on their side almost makes everything unfair. In fact, were I not a forgiving man, I’d almost accuse Clive Cussler of deus ex machina, the cardinal sin in fiction-writing. As far as the female foils go, they’re all the same. While “bimbos” certainly isn’t the right term (since they’re generally PhD candidates or experts in whatever field happens to be key to the story), they’re all pretty useless to the plots, except for giving Kurt and Dirk someone to rescue, someone with a name for whom to risk their necks. While I’ve never loved Loren Smith, Dirk’s wife, as a character, at least she’s got some body to her personality. All the other girls just have body, and that’s getting a little old.