I’ve always found Clive Cussler’s novels to be both entertaining and relaxing. For anyone who has read any of his books the entertaining part is rather obvious; the reason for their calming affect isn’t the calm and easy-going nature of the plot (Cussler prefers fast paced and action packed), but rather the simple structure of the book. I don’t have to spend too much time trying to analyze the writing, understand or argue with characters, or unravel a complex plot. It’s a great yet easy book to read when I’m feeling overwhelmed and don’t want to spend too much energy on intellectual thought.
While providing assistance and relief for the areas in Mexico struggling with the aftermath of an earthquake, Sam and Remi Fargo stumble upon a cave where they find a mummified man holding a sealed ceramic pot. Their archeological discovery soon turns out to be much more important than they originally thought when the pot turns out to contain a valuable Mayan codex: a book that, among other things, contains the locations of over a dozen undiscovered Mayan cities and important sites. But when the information about the codex leaks out, a young wealthy European aristocrat with an interest in proving herself as an archeologist decides she will have the codex by whatever means necessary.
I first want to reiterate what I said above: I love Cussler’s books. They’re fun, contain an interesting historical subplot in each book, and strive for accuracy in the settings of countless places around the world. I can tell that Cussler has done a lot of research and put in a great deal of effort into writing his books, however his novels are in many ways cliché and predictable.
Sam and Remi, as well as the other Cussler protagonists that I am familiar with, are wealthy, highly intelligent, physically fit to perform a variety of martial and athletic tasks, stunningly handsome or beautiful, resourceful, and with a wide array of skills. In a sentence: they are the perfect heroes that we all dream of being. The result is that it is near impossible to relate to them as characters because we are all imperfect. Though I don’t usually like characters without weaknesses, Cussler makes it work for the story. Though that doesn’t stop me from feeling a bit more distance from the story than I might feel for other novels with more imperfect characters.
The villains in the Cussler novels, at least the ones I have read, also seem very much the same in a lot of ways: rich, conniving, intelligent, resourceful, malicious, arrogant, and they almost always die. Before I go further I will say that it’s rather easy to make the ridiculously wealthy people into evil psychopaths because of the stigma that has been created in our society. However, it’s a necessary detail for the purpose of the book; someone without a great deal of money would have a hard time traveling all over the globe, or having others do so for them, in order to keep up with the heroes.
The last thing I want to talk about in this particular post is plot. It’s almost the same in every book: the bad guys are defeated (usually killed), the artifacts are dedicated to a museum (not sold, usually given), and everyone lives happily ever after. When I start reading a Cussler book I know that everything will be wrapped up nicely with a pretty bow on top before the last word on the final page. This is why I say that these books don’t take a great deal of thinking while reading, as there isn’t much to figure out.
From an entertainer’s perspective these books are great. They provide the audience with a hero to root for while creating a very distinct line between the black and white of the world. The villains are especially vile and everything ends happily, guaranteeing that the audience will return to read the books again because they made them feel good afterwards. But from a literary standpoint they’re lazy; the lack of weaknesses in the heroes, repetition in the characteristics of the villain, and the predictability of the plot are the easiest means to tell the story, but I think that with a little imagination you could diversify the stories to make a book that was much more thought provoking and captivating. Simply changing the dynamics of the characters to make them a little less perfect would open up a world of other possibilities that would increase the excitement of the book. What if the heroes lacked some skills or resources to help them get out of a situation? They could still prove victorious and make the book just a little more exciting. Just a thought… Though I don’t think Cussler plans on making any changes to his writing in the foreseeable future. Why ruin a good thing?