I’m not sure anything written by Clive Cussler should really count, but still I am pretty excited to have actually read some books this month. It’s an age since I managed to set aside reading time and, honestly, I wasn’t too sure if it would work this time either. As a result, I decided to start on something that I knew would draw me in; a good page-turner, not high literature. In that respect, Treasure was a perfect fit.
I’ve never actually read any of Clive Cussler’s works before, though I’ve heard a great deal. They’ve become somewhat infamous within my partner’s family for their unintentionally hilarious action sequences. I believe someone, at some distant point in the past, picked one up whilst on holiday at a charity shop and it became a source of amusement during a rainy evening. The end result is that we frequently pick them up second hand, if for no more reason than to read and laugh at the ridiculous plot lines.
For ridiculous they are. The focal character of most of his works is Dirk Pitt, a man born of the union of James Bond and Indiana Jones, a Major in the US airforce, part-time archaeologist and serving operational adviser for the fictional NUMA, a US agency specialising in underwater exploration (an oceanographic NASA, basically). Pitt is an expert in close-quarter combat, weapons (particularly vintage guns), vehicles (particularly vintage cars), history, archaeology, oceanography and seduction, whilst being merely competent in just about everything else.
His adventures are formulaic, opening with a chapter set in the past that gives the reader some otherwise unknown information, normally to do with some aspect of history we have incorrect that Pitt will later “discover” and release to the world. In Treasure, the particular historical discovery is one I deeply wish were true: the lost contents of the great Library of Alexandria. Apparently, they’re buried in Texas. Because rewriting the ancient history of the old world wasn’t enough, Pitt also needed to be the one to discover that the Romans and Egyptians did trade with and explore the new world as well.
With the stage set, the next part will be some extraordinary sequence of life-threatening events, normally involving Pitt himself or the eventual love interest. Treasure opts for the latter, throwing the immeasurably beautiful (as every male character notes) UN Secretary of State through three separate assassination attempts whilst onboard a flight to New York. Somehow she survives and the plane crash lands near where Pitt happens to be searching for a lost Russian nuclear submarine because reasons. The rescue is launched, she is saved and they seek refuge in a nearby archaeological site where Pitt helps them uncover a 2nd-century shipwreck that proves that Romans made it to Greenland, as well as containing the map to the lost archive of Alexandria. Of course, Pitt doesn’t take the credit, instantly palming that off (gallantly) to the red-headed, beautiful archaeologist whose dig site they’re at; enter the true love interest (Pitt/Cussler, hard to tell which, has a thing for red-heads). It tells you something of a Dirk Pitt novel when I say that at this stage the main plotline hasn’t even begun, though all the seemingly unrelated threads introduced so far will, ultimately, weave themselves together for the finale.
As I said, somewhere between Bond and Jones, but with even more ridiculously over the top plots filled with twists and revelations. In this respect, Treasure does not disappoint. Without going into too much detail, the ensuing story involves two attempted coups orchestrated by the same Mafia-style crime family, one in Mexico and the other in Egypt (though why they pick these two countries remains relatively unknown). The UN Secretary of State is standing in the way of the Egyptian plan, as she is much loved and a friend of the current president, hence the assassination attempts. Pitt gets dragged into the show by first saving her life in Greenland, then again by racing an out-of-control vintage car (with them both inside) down a black run ski slope to escape an Egyptian hit squad, then a third time when her yacht at a world peace talk in Uruguay is abducted with his father also on board (a US Senator on a secret mission; it runs in the family, of course). Finally it all comes full circle when the archives of Alexandria are located on the border of Mexico, bringing that coup back into the spotlight as the crime family attempt to claim the ancient knowledge for themselves because… ancient oil fields, I think? That seems to be the US armies main concern about them as well, not the immense amount of knowledge and historical answers that they contain. Of course, Pitt manages to conjure some elaborate plan which succeeds in killing both coup leaders without further bloodshed, disbanding the thousands of Mexicans protesting on the US border and ensuring that the contents of the vaults remain both intact and within US control. It’s certainly a whirlwind.
Honestly, though, it was also a lot of fun. It is ridiculous throughout, with everyone dying in reality about a dozen times over. The portrayal of women is, shall we say, interesting at best. Whilst they frequently are presented in roles of high standing and intellect, such as lead archaeologists and high ranking UN officials, their actual descriptions focus almost purely on their looks and their willingness to bed Pitt. It’s not exactly sexist, but it does make your eyes roll heavenwards frequently. Especially when Pitt is described as a “man no woman could ever completely posses” during a brief moment of inner monologue from Lily (archaeologist and chief fling for this entry in the series), someone “a woman desired for an impassioned affair, but never married”. In other words, a womanising bad boy stereotype, just perhaps a tad less rapey than the Bond’s and Jones’ of the world.
Female character issues aside, most of the surrounding cast are fleshed out sufficiently. There’s a lot of tropes on board here, but where it counts most (male) characters are given just enough humanity to make the difference. In particular, the lead assassin, Suleiman Aziz was a genuinely interesting foil. Whilst Pitt could still effortlessly work out his intricately laid plans and see through the best smoke screens with an ability bordering on the supernatural, Aziz remained a threatening adversary throughout. Plus, his planning was genuinely interesting and far more intelligent than the plot called for, resulting in creating one of the more memorable characters of the piece.
By the final chapter I would definitely say I had enjoyed the novel. One or two of the myriad plot threads took a little too long to weave back together, but ultimately Treasure was a page-turning, exhilarating piece of light entertainment, exactly as anticipated.