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Literary Glance: The Gray Ghost by Clive Cussler and Robin Burcell

June 14, 2018

Clive Cussler and who?

When I first saw the cover of The Gray Ghost by Clive Cussler and Robin Burcell, I thought, wow, Clive Cussler’s name on the cover was really huge.  I mean, I used to like Clive Cussler and he’s written a bunch of bestsellers, but he’s not an author whose name should be that big.  Plus, you can barely see the co-author’s name.  Even James Patterson gives his coauthors a larger font!  This one’s almost disrespectful.

When I was a kid, Clive Cussler was a stud.  His novel Raise the Titanic was a mega-bestseller (I don’t remember if we really had mega-bestsellers back then).  I think that was the first novel that I read in one day.  To be honest, we didn’t have cable (and the internet and video games didn’t even exist) at the time and it was raining outside (I liked to read, but I’d rarely finish a book in one day).  The movie Raise the Titanic sucked, and that was disappointing, but I don’t blame the book for a bad movie.

Now Clive Cussler is one of those authors who seems to write two books a year, and they’re just mediocre.  He (and his coauthor) could do better. I know some research goes into Cussler’s books, and that can take some time, but Cussler was writing books like this before the internet existed.  Research is easier now.  Maybe that’s why he’s able to churn out so many novels.  Even though the internet can make research easier, it can’t really turn mediocre writing into mesmerizing prose.  For some authors, that’s what the coauthor is for (or vice-versa).

To show you what I mean, here’s a scene early in the novel where a boy named Toby is watching some suspicious behavior at night in 1906 England:

As he neared the tracks, he saw a wagon stopped just on the other side, a stack of lumber strewn across the rails.  Stars faded from the predawn sky, still too early for anyone to be out to help the driver who’d spilled the load.  The man seemed unconcerned about moving the wood, instead just sitting there, holding the reins of his team, as the train approached.

Why would someone be moving lumber at this hour…”?

His eyes flew back to the horseman in time to see him lifting a mask over his face.  In the distance, on the other side of the tracks, he saw two other horseman, both masked.

“Blimey…”

The train squealed to a stop, sparks flying up the rails.  He looked at the men, saw the pistols they held.  Fear coursed through his veins.  He pivoted, about to run off when someone grabbed him from behind, clamped a hand over his mouth, and dragged him beneath the wooden staircase near the corner building.

Technically, this might not be a poorly written scene by the standards of a typical thriller.  There’s a lot going on, and it’s easy for me as a reader to follow/visualize it.  As I was reading these first couple chapters, however, I felt nothing for any of the characters.  There was no sense of suspense.

The sentence “Fear coursed through his veins” probably made the scene even less suspenseful than it could have been.   I felt none of the fear that a reader should feel when empathizing with a character in distress.  It was almost like the authors didn’t know how to describe a person in fear (or were too lazy to do it).

Reading this Clive Cussler novel is like watching a movie with too much CGI; the ideas for a good story might be there, but the storytelling is lifeless.  Most of the pieces were there in The Gray Ghost for a decent story.  The Rolls Royce engine theft was interesting.  The relationship between a couple of the characters could have been interesting.  The orphanage stuff could have been interesting. I don’t know.  Maybe I was just in the wrong mood.

When I review a Clive Cussler book, I usually mention how cool his name is.  Clive Cussler, man!  But after giving The Gray Ghost a literary glance, I don’t even feel like doing that.  On the bright side, it’s still a bestseller!

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