Apparently, this is the first Dirk Pitt novel Cussler ever wrote; not the first published, but the first he actually drafted. You can tell that this is probably true. The majority of the formula is here: Pitt gets himself embroiled in a multi layered adventure of political and historical intrigue whilst falling for a red haired beauty and surviving enough brushes with death to make a cat blush. Having said that, there are enough departures from the norm to make it clear that this was a prototype, not a fully realised vision. There’s not introductory chapter, Pitt almost comes across as depressed or melancholy at times, rather than the usual sarcastic fire cracker and most of the other mainstays of the series are absent. Plus, most intriguingly, the love interest plot actually involves love, with Pitt genuinely falling for the girl with the gray eyes, Summer, that attempts to kill him. I haven’t read many of the series, but I’m told that this lost love is what effectively turns Pitt into the womaniser I know from the sequels; it’s a play-by-play retread of the Bond/Vesper plot, including her drowning at the end.
There are also no huge, history altering revelations, which is a shame. The titular Pacifix Vortex, a Bermuda Triangle analogue, doesn’t actually exist in real life so uncovering it as a hoax doesn’t have the same impact as discovering Roman forts in Greenland or an ancient civilisation in the Amazon basin etc. etc. I guess the revelation here is the island of Kanoli, but again this is a myth Cussler invented for the plot, rather than one based in actual Hawaiian legend. Nor does it really get answered as, once discovered, it is nuked unceremoniously, taking its secrets with it.
The introduced characters are also not that interesting. Hunter’s 101st naval unit are a fun enough concept and I like the idea of tactical salvage being a tool of international espionage, but otherwise the rest are largely forgettable, including the golden-eyed giant cast as the villain. Still, as with other Pitt novels, Pacific Vortex is a decent enough page turner with some fun dialogue and outlandish action sequences. You can clearly tell this isn’t as neatly designed a package as its chronological sequels but it is close enough to not matter that greatly.