Having already read nearly every one of Clive Cussler‘s books, I’m now returning to those ones I’d failed to review. With the knowledge I have of his writing, both early and late, it’s clear to me why Raise the Titanic! was his breakout novel. While his earlier works—Pacific Vortex!, The Mediterranean Caper, and Iceberg—were entertaining and introduced his main characters well enough, this fourth novel is an epic by contrast.
Cussler begins this novel with what later becomes one of his calling cards, a Prologue set at a historical point in time with characters that usually end up dead, taking the secrets of some mystery to their often-watery graves. In this case, it’s a miner who locks himself in a vault in the belly of the Titanic just before she dips below the surface. When the US Department of Defense requires a small load of a little-known element called byzanium in order to stave off the Russian nuclear threat, this sunken vault appears to be the only known trove of byzanium left on earth. So begins the adventure to raise the Titanic!
All of Cussler’s early heroes are in this one, including Al Giordino who was conspicuously absent in the last romp. Admiral James Sandecker is his cantankerous old self (with a touch of softness) whose favorite phrase, sadly, is “G-D-“. And Rudi Gunn plays a fairly major role in this one, proving himself an able commander. But of course, the hero of the tale is Major Dirk Pitt, Special Projects Director for NUMA.
Still the swarthy character from the earlier books, Dirk Pitt has a bit more meat on his bones in this one. That being said, we’ve yet to see his hanger in Washington D.C. filled with his treasures of cars and other knick-knacks. We’ve yet to get a sense of his taste for fine food and wine. We’ve yet to see him with eyes for only one woman. In fact, in Raise the Titanic!, Clive Cussler’s number-one hero has yet to be tamed at all. He’s smart yet abrasive; he’s powerful yet cocky; he’s faithful to NUMA yet encourages disloyalty elsewhere.
I don’t know why I was so shocked by his adultery towards the end of the book, but I was. Perhaps it’s because I had forgotten the lifestyle out of which Dirk Pitt eventually grows, but when Mrs. Seagram hit on him aboard the floating Titanic and he beds her (in lurid detail, for a Cussler novel), I felt betrayed! How could this be Cussler’s hero? Al Giordino is supposed to be the character with a girl in every port, not Dirk. Happily-married Clive Cussler—though perhaps not a bastion of virtue himself—is to provide us with a hero we can love and perhaps emulate, not some other James-Bond player-type to whom morality’s something for weaklings.
For what it’s worth, as terrible as that scene was for me, I’m glad that it hit me the way it did for two reasons. First, it proves to me that my discernment is still alive and well, challenged yet undiminished by scenes such as these. Second, it shows that, since the whole thing felt so wrong, Clive Cussler has apparently done well to grow up his hero in the later books. The next installment, Vixen 03, places him together with Congresswoman Lauren Smith, whom he eventually marries and to whom he remains faithful, so it must be from now on that Dirk Pitt becomes the hero he’s meant to be.
All in all, I loved the book and consider it a great example of Cussler’s multi-layered adventures for those hoping for a taste. And now that I’ve got his first giant novel under my belt, the rest in line won’t seem so daunting!