I have been a fan of Clive Cussler's writing since a friend lent me his copy of Inca Gold some 15 years ago. His writing is not amazing in a literary sense, but it is fast-paced thriller action from beginning to end with enough plot twists, semi-historical references and technological gadgetry to keep me enthralled for the duration.
Best known for his creation, Dirk Pitt, Cussler has also penned a series of novels based on the operations of the shadowy 'Corporation'. Set on the Oregon, a state of the art ship, disguised as a disgusting old tramp steamer. Cussler and his co-authors have so far penned seven novels in the series with another, Mirage, promised later on this year (2012).
The Oregon is captained by the chairman of the Corporation, Juan Cabrillo. While this name may conjure an image of an olive-skinned swashbuckler, Cabrillo is described more as a tall man in his early 40's with blue eyes and neatly trimmed blond hair. He also lost a leg (from the knee down) in the Dirk Pitt novel, Flood Tide, where him and his ship were originally introduced. This can often be turned to his advantage through a series of different prosthetic legs designed to carry knives and firearms and smuggle items as well as being an effective weapon in itself! An ex-CIA operative, Juan uses all of his contacts to secure lucrative, but morally responsible, black contracts from the government to finance his corporation as well as contracts from other customers around the world.
As you would expect from any Cussler character, Cabrillo has a strong moral compass that guides his decision-making rather than the lure of financial gain. That his corporation is wildly successful is probably down to this attitude.
The Oregon would be any seagoer's dream! From the outside it looks like a rusty old tramp steamer that could fall apart at any given moment. The upper decks give that same aura as well, cunningly disguised to fool any officials or pilots from the ports that the ship visits. The bridge, the mess hall and even the toilet are designed to get people off the ship as quick as possible. There are even false containers that can be inspected for cargo. Through the concealed hatches lies another world!
The Oregon is in fact a state-of-the-art base for what is effectively a small military organisation. The ship is powered by huge magneto-hydrodynamic engines (still theoretical on this scale) which can power the boat through the water much faster than any ship of its size. Its manoeuvering thrusters can also have it turn on a sixpence if needs be. All any observer can see from the outside stack would be a puff of oily black smoke as they may expect. The Oregon also boasts luxurious living space for all its occupants, a Michelin starred chef, a moon pool for submersible launch, a well stocked arsenal, ballast tanks that double as a swimming pool, a running track and helicopter launch capabilities. Clearly, the CIA were paying Mr Cabrillo too much!
The Rest of the Team
Cabrillo, as you might expect, is backed up by a talented team of individuals whose characters while not explored in-depth still add to the overall dynamic of the fast-paced novels that Cussler has produced. There are the 2 slightly geeky computer guys, Eric Stone and Mark Murphy,who act as helmsman and weapons control respectively and are also the de-facto hackers of the operation whose skills are called upon in a number of situations. The ship also has its own 'Magic Shop', employing an ex-Hollywood special effects and make-up expert to create all types of disguises and props that the team need on their missions. The corporation also has a team of ex-CIA and Navy Seal operatives who, when required, can be the firepower behind each mission. And of course, Cussler links in characters from the rest of his world to build up the sense that these characters inhabit our planet as it is.
Each story has a semi-historical prologue that sets the scene for the story. This is usually done in quite an obtuse fashion and you only begin to see the links as the story progresses. For example, in The Jungle, the prologue details the departure of a Chinese fleet that was lost at sea many centuries before. What possible link could this have to murders in the Antarctic and a new totalitarian regime in Argentina? Cussler relies heavily on the technology at use within the Oregon and the guile and determination of his main character to weave these seemingly unrelated incidents together into a plausible plot line that keeps you guessing most of the way through. Of course, there are some unbelievable parts of these plots. For example, the crew almost single-handedly free Tibet in the first outing of the series, Golden Buddha! This may not be literary genius but I will keep reading this series whether it be at home or on holiday.