The creator of the immensely popular series of marine and underwater adventures starring Dirk Pitt (Valhalla Rising, 2001, etc.) returns with a sequel to his nonfiction Sea Hunters (1996).
Cussler’s flair as a novelist often bleeds into his real-life adventures with an ad hoc group of companions variously skilled in the arts of shipwreck hunting that now bears the imprimatur of National Underwater and Marine Agency (NUMA), borrowed from the fictional entity of the same name. This is not to imply any distortion of key facts (more on that later), but it does allow Cussler and NUMA cohort Dirgo to weave corking good stories around episodes that are often equal parts adventure and misadventure. NUMA’s mission is to locate wrecks, not salvage them; nobody dives down, for instance, to tangle with a giant squid over a chest of doubloons. And here, towing a Magnetic Anomaly Detector over the seabed or riverbed to pinpoint where a wreck is not (in the case of Lieutenant John F. Kennedy’s PT 109) easily passes for a bona fide adventure. Threats of weather and wave occasionally loom, but more often botched plane reservations or cafes that don’t stock the right brand of hot sauce are the drolly rendered impedimenta. Exhaustive research on intended targets like the “ghost ship” Mary Celeste, the Civil War vessel U.S.S. Mississippi, and particularly the siege of Charleston, which cost the Union so dearly in ironclads and their crews, is genuinely illuminating, and the events often fascinatingly told. Cussler, however, belongs to that genre of writers who are somehow informed by the Almighty as to the precise final words, thoughts, and actions of those about to succumb (in this case to maritime disasters), so that hypothesis is not an issue to be flagged.
A lively narrative slickly done: nothing wrong with that, but intelligent readers who like their history straight up may find it simply annoying.