Clive Cussler has the type of literary output I aim to mimic. It started with the Dirk Pitt adventures and, over the years, Cussler has expanded his series to include the Oregon Files, the NUMA files, the Fargo Adventures and the Isaac Bell series. The first four all take place in contemporary times. The Isaac Bell series, my true introduction to Cussler’s works, is by far my favorite mainly because it is set in the early 20th Century.
Now comes THE EMPEROR’S REVENGE, the latest in the Oregon Files series. It’s the 11th book in the series, but my first. This series focuses on Juan Cabrillo, the captain of a fancy ship, the Oregon. On the outside, this ship looks like a hunk of junk, a trawler that wouldn’t normally catch the eye of any bad guy. Underneath, the Oregon is the top-of-the-line military ship equipped with all the latest technology and weapons. Cabrillo commands a group of folks who work as a team called the Corporation, a secret sub-group of the CIA.
I would have eventually gotten around to the Oregon Files series, but what jumpstarted my interest was reading my first NUMA book, THE PHARAOH’S CURSE earlier this spring. In that book, those main characters—Kurt Austin and company—got into a gunfight. In the middle of all that, Juan Cabrillo and one of his men show up. Each team tells the other team the Thing each need to know and then they went on their way. How cool is that! It was basically a little marketing ploy to get interested readers to buy THE EMPEROR’S REVENGE, which was publish three months after PHARAOH’S SECRET. It worked for me.
So what is EMPEROR’S REVENGE about? As in most of Cussler’s modern-day thrillers, the story opens in the past, namely 1821 and Napoleon Bonaparte. That’ll clue you in on whom the “emperor” is. Turns out, Napoleon escaped his exile at St. Helena taking with him secret messages from handwritten notes. Cut to the present day and Juan Cabillo and his team are on a mission. At the conclusion of the mission, he receives word of the events at the Monaco Grand Prix. It seems there was a huge accident that was used to cover-up something worse: a bank heist. Not something that might land on the Corporation’s radar until the truth is revealed: all the Corporation’s money was among the cash looted from the bank.
Now the story is personal.
What follows is Juan’s investigation into the bank heist. He and his team are assisted by Gretchen, a former partner of Juan’s and his “wife” on a previous mission. Needless to say, sparks fly, and not just from the bullets ricocheting off everything during gun fights.
To say that EMPEROR’S REVENGE follows standard thriller pacing sounds like a bad thing, but it isn’t. The pacing is nice and steady. The revelation of the bad guy, who makes up his team, and what he’s after is delivered piecemeal and in nice chunks. I enjoyed the story, the build-up, and the character moments. I suspect readers who have read the ten previous books will get more inside jokes, but as a newbie to this series, this book was just fine.
Long ago, if there was a new book (like EMPEROR’S REVENGE) that caught my eye and I learned it was a series, I’d always go back to book one and plow through the series. But I’d often get burned out and actually never get to the book with the cool cover that got my attention. I’ve chunked that reading style. Now, I read the current book. If I like it, I’ll go back. It seems that there’s a new Oregon File book every year so I have a decade’s worth of material to read.
I listened to the book by the brilliant narrator Scott Brick. He reads almost every series by Cussler, especially the Isaac Bell ones. Brick has a touch of whimsy to his voice and cadence that propels the stories, like EMPEROR’S REVENGE, along in a special way. Seriously, Brick could read the LA phonebook and I’d pay to listen. He’s that good.
Oh, and read until the last sentence…
What I Learned as a Reader:
Back in my original blog, I’d always end reviews with this and I thought I’d apply it here.
In Chapter 1, all the characters are introduced. For longtime readers, this is old hat. For newbies like me, it’s perfect. Each character gets a sentence or two of backstory and a trait. The prose makes each person on the team easily identifiable. From then on, through the rest of the book, I know what these characters look like and act like. I try to do that in my own writing, but it’s great to see how longtime professional like Cussler and Boyd Morrison do it.