Informed account of a cave-diving disaster.
Finch (F2F, 1996, etc.), a cave diver himself, demonstrates an affinity for the heroes of the story, David Shaw and Don Shirley, as he shares their fascination with this dangerous pursuit. Shirley, a renowned South Africa–based technical-diving instructor, quickly bonded with Shaw, an unusual figure even in diving’s insular world: “In five years of part-time diving, he had gone from rank beginner to one of the world’s most accomplished and ambitious divers.” Shaw became only the fifth sports diver in history to survive a dive of more than 700 feet, but he was taciturn about his accomplishments. In late 2004, he set a world record by diving 270 meters using the high-tech rebreather apparatus, at one of the world’s deepest underwater caves, Boesmansgat (Bushman’s Hole) in South Africa. While doing so, Shaw discovered the body of Deon Dreyer, a young diver who disappeared in the cave ten years earlier. For reasons that may seem murky to non-enthusiasts, Shaw and Shirley devised an elaborate plan to dive again and recover Dreyer’s body. Finch builds gradually to this second attempt, taking time to explore the mystique of technical diving, which relies on a combination of scientific advances (in breathing systems, gas mixing, electronics and so forth) and rigorous personal discipline, with no room for error. Unfortunately, the recovery dive went awry. Shaw died at the bottom, and Shirley was badly injured. Finch does a solid job demonstrating how this tragedy was made inevitable by the extreme circumstances of technical diving. Though his style is detail-oriented and sometimes repetitive, his deft, precise pacing maintains dramatic tension and reader interest.
A nail-biter with natural appeal, but it ducks the question of whether risking one’s life for sport is admirable.