It seems like I’m at that age where so many of my idols and icons are passing away (I’m looking at you, Neil Peart!), but news that Clive Cussler passed away yesterday hit me particularly hard.
I used to wash dishes in this greasy spoon diner, and there was this little used ‘bookstore’ attached. It hadn’t been open to the public in over a decade, and the only maintenance it saw was the cleaning I did a few times a year when the owner sent me to clear a path for a buyer.
It was a claustrophobic mess of books, with tightly packed, overflowing shelves, and stacks of too-full boxes blocking the aisles. It smelled of old books – that dusty, musty smell that you can’t find anywhere else – and I loved it. I was already a voracious reader at the time, so sending me to tidy up the bookstore was like sending a kid to clean up the candy store.
The best part was, if I found a few paperbacks that I wanted, the owner simply let me have them.
At the time, in addition to being a voracious reader, I was a sucker for tales of lost treasures and unexplained mysteries. Okay, so that’s never changed, but that’s beside the point. The tale of the Titanic was one of those stories that fascinated me, with recent news of Robert Ballard’s discovery of the wreckage only serving to further stoke my imagination. Yes, that dates me a bit, if you care to do the math.
Anyway, that brings me to Clive Cussler. I was cleaning the bookstore one sunny afternoon, sweaty and dirty because the buyers wanted access to the rare books at the very back, when I spotted this tattered, water-damaged (ironic, yes), dog-eared copy of Raise the Titanic! As it turned out, it wasn’t quite the book I’d been hoping for, with far more James Bond thrills than any genuine underwater exploration or salvage, but that wasn’t necessarily a bad thing as it opened my shelves to a new genre that has never let go of my imagination.
That, of course, was one of his Dirk Pitt Adventures (his most famous character), but Cussler went on to write The NUMA Files, The Oregon Files, the Isaac Bell Adventures, and more. All variations on a theme, often set in the same universe, and (increasingly over the years) with the assistance of various co-authors, including his son, Dirk.
I wandered away from Cussler (and authors like him) for a long while, as my literary journeys took me ever-deeper into the forests of epic fantasy (and the dungeons of erotica), but that sense of discovery and exploration never left me. It was conversations with other readers of his that led me to authors like David Gibbins and Andy McDermott, and they in turn led me back to Cussler with the Fargo Adventures.
While it will always be Dirk Pitt who first comes to mind when I think of Cussler, it is Sam and Remi Fargo, the husband and wife treasure-hunting team, who I reach for first when perusing my shelves. I first met them in The Tombs, a vacation pleasure read that I picked up at a drug store on our way to go camping. I was in a Cussler mood at the time, and was actually looking for a new Dirk Pitt story or maybe something from the Isaac Bell series. I knew nothing about Sam and Remi Fargo, but the cover blurb hit all the right notes with an archaeologist, a secret historical site, a hidden tomb, and treasure hunters, so I gave it a shot . . . and I was hooked. It proved to be a familiar, fast-paced read that felt authentic in terms of history and technique, and Sam and Remi were thoroughly enjoyable protagonists
Pirate, their 8th adventure, is probably my favorite so far. Not only did it have missing royal treasure, a cypher wheel, a hidden map, easily-looted shipwrecks, and abandoned castles, but it included a visit to Oak Island! Just ask my wife on Sunday nights, as she goes to bed early and leaves me this week’s episode of The Curse of Oak Island, and she’ll confirm I’m still a sucker for those tales of lost treasures and unexplained mysteries!
So, with Cussler’s passing weighing heavily on my mind and my shelves, it’s definitely time for another read. I considered Spartan Gold, the 1st Sam and Remi Fargo Adventure, but ultimately decided that The Mayan Secrets, their 5th outing, would be my tribute read, going with lost Mayan cities over Napoleon’s lost cellar.
As it happens, Wrath of Poseidon – the 12th Sam and Remi Fargo Adventure – was already on my schedule for an upcoming Can’t Wait Wednesday, but I think I’ll bump that to next week to stick with theme. And then, in a timely matter of bringing things full circle, The Titanic Secret hits paperback in August, so there’s a good chance this year’s camping read will be my first Isaac Bell Adventure.
Farewell, Clive Cussler, and thanks for the memories.