Following an all but frozen trail that leads from the States to the Korean DMZ to South Africa, Kurt Austin searches desperately for a former fiancé of his, a woman who’s supposed to be dead. The trouble is, Kurt appears to be doing so without all his marbles. Yes, in Ghost Ship, the twelfth installment to Cussler’s NUMA Files, Kurt Austin has lost it, racked by vivid nightmares and black depression, and forced to take a leave of absence from the NUMA he loves.
In this situation, sidekick Joe Zavala plays a bigger hand in this adventure, tailing Austin and saving his life a time or two. Paul and Gamay Trout have their own work to do elsewhere, important to the plot, yet never face-to-face with anyone from the office. Dirk Pitt also appears a bit more regularly in The NUMA Files now, less the adventurer he once was and more realistically the Director he’s become. Vice President Sandecker shows up for a drink as well, making this particular book feel at times like a good ol’—even pleasant—family reunion. But that’s not all. For the first time outside a Dirk Pitt Adventure (I think), Cussler writes himself into the book (not by name, of course) as a wreck-hunter who details some of his past (and true) underwater searches and excavations. The Cussler passages are very interesting and add life to an already strong plot, making this is pretty high-quality addition to The NUMA Files.
The plot to Ghost Ship, while still retaining Cussler’s classic evil-family-hijacks-the-planet scenario, finally involved technology that fits modern-day standards, without jumping ahead into ridiculous sci-fi improbabilities (as in The Storm). Simple hackers are kidnapped and forced to open back-doors into banking programs with the goal of engineering a global financial collapse. All the while, a ghost ship, the Waratah, overgrown with jungle and filled with clues to this family’s history and current hiding place, is discovered following a terrible storm, lending to the book the sea-faring mystery that’s a hallmark of any Cussler yarn.
Another interesting point made at the end of this book is that of a Calista, the seemingly psychopathic enemy whom Kurt meets a number of times along this trail. Despite her ruthlessness is murdering guards and enemies, she’s always shown a soft side that at first can’t be explained. But when she herself first finds out that her bloodline differs from that of the corrupt brothers who’ve raised her, a well of humanity opens up from within. Despite Calista’s likely future of lifelong imprisonment, newfound friend Kurt Austin appears to imply that he’ll not only see her again, but might even have a relationship—personal or professional, it’s hard to tell—with her as well. It will be interesting to see what might unfold in the thirteenth installment, The Pharoah’s Secret!