With my reading habits thrown off by a broken e-reader, I've been forced to delve into the towering stacks of paperbacks that clutter my shelves. It's not nearly as convenient, and has certainly put me a bit behind with those titles I've been sent for review, but it's kind of nice to catch up on some of my pleasure reading. That's not to say the arrival of a replacement e-reader wouldn't be a HUGE relief, but I'm coping.
Plucked from the dusty depths this weekend was Iceberg, a very early Dirk Pitt adventure by Clive Cussler. Notable for marking the transition to a more complex story line and a larger cast of characters than The Mediterranean Caper, it's also the only Dirk Pitt novel not to feature one of my favourite literary sidekicks, Al Giordino.
What immediately struck me about the novel (and I realize it was published in 1975), is how extremely dated and politically incorrect it is, almost to the point of parody. Dirk's attitude towards women is atrociously sexist, with a few comments directed towards Admiral Sandecker's secretary that actually left me gaping. In addition, there's an extended subplot where Dirk pretends to be a mincing, prancing, lisping 'faggot' (as he refers to himself) that hits on just about every flamboyant, over-the-top, gay stereotype. What's most perplexing about it all is the fact that a character who is revealed as transsexual in the last few chapters comes across very well, and is granted a significant amount of dignity and respect.
Social issues aside, this was a fun book. The ruse that Dirk pulls to commandeer the Coast Guard boat is played out perfectly, with some real moments of tension. The exploration of the burned-out hull of the luxury yacht, trapped as it is inside an iceberg, is creepy and claustrophobic. In terms of heroics, I'm not sure there's a scene in any of the subsequent novels that can compare with a brutally injured Dirk Pitt making his way across the frozen tundra, with only a homemade compass to guide his way. Also, as much as Cussler is know for his crazy climaxes, complete with elaborate settings and frantic action, the attempted assassinations and underground battles at Disneyland are a notch above his usual work.
There are some nice twists and turns to the book, with mistaken identities, betrayals, and double-crosses galore. It takes a while before the entire diabolical scheme is revealed, but even if it's a bit too elaborate to be entirely realistic, it's ambitious and exciting. I was a bit shocked by the brutal violence, which is more extreme than I can remember in any other Cussler novel, but it does set up that heroic tundra trek that I mentioned previously.
While it may not be the best Dirk Pitt novel, it's still a Dirk Pitt novel - and that always makes for a good read.