“It seems like every time I turn around, you’re bleeding.” (Scuba-doctor to Dirk Pitt, Chapter 17)
This first publication by Clive Cussler shows some remarkable plot similarities to his first-written book, Pacific Vortex!—the underwater labyrinth, the forgotten hero-turned-villain, the handsome (but not movie-star-handsome) Dirk Pitt lounging on the sands after a brisk morning ocean swim. Oh, and the injuries. Lots and lots of terrible, debilitating injuries that never quite seem to stop him. What first brought Cussler onto the adventure-novel scene is an entertaining tale set in the islands of Greece, when a vintage WWI Albatross plane attacks a U.S. military facility and then vanishes like a ghost into thin air.
Though not nearly as layered as his later books, The Mediterranean Caper introduces readers to the real—albeit young and frivolous—Dirk Pitt and his stocky sidekick, Al Giordino. When Pitt happens to bed a woman on the beach—immediately after slapping her across the face in the classic, 1970s macho-hero sort of way, of course—he soon finds that she’s none other than the niece of the soon-to-be-unveiled villain, Bruno Von Til. After Von Til tries to murder Pitt with a vicious dog attack in a darkened underground labyrinth, Pitt sets all his energies to unmasking and ultimately destroying the fiend.
Neither Pitt’s rank of Major in the U.S. Air Force nor his position as Surface Security Officer (a.k.a. Trouble-shooter) for the National Underwater and Marine Agency go to waste in this novel, as he uses his experience as much as his charm and street-smarts to outfox the old Nazi war-criminal who unluckily failed to take his life. Some of the later Pitt charms exist already this early on: his dislike for coquettish female games, his sarcasm in the face of death, his love for the rare automobile, his Omega watch. Still, other quirks about him in this book eventually fade with age and maturity: his love for cigarettes, his girl-a-week approach to love, his growing collection of bullet wounds.
The Mediterranean Caper is classic Dirk Pitt and the very beginning of Cussler’s whisking his readers away on a non-stop world-tour of adventure. From the shores of Hawaii to a Pacific-ocean sea-mount controlled by a (possibly Greek) giant named Delphi to a Greek island controlled by a German Nazi, Cussler introduces his readers to countless exotic locations through the course of his career. I don’t know if he ever visited them all, but I do know that his writing paints vivid pictures in my mind, pictures of places that I can recall at just the drop of a novel’s title.
One interesting thing I noticed when reading this book again, however—something that might mean absolutely nothing to readers, but which I found interesting—is that my mind’s eye changed the orientation of the labyrinths in both of these first two books from exit points on the right to those on the left. I don’t know if there was a key word I had missed when I first read the books eight years ago, but the adjustment in orientation (not to mention the fact that I forgot many of the minor plot details) almost made it seem as if I were reading the book again for the first time. That’s not a bad impression to have!