As a kid, I remember pestering my dad about being bored and after his usual suggestions to alleviate the boredom (bang my head against the wall, play in traffic, etc.), he handed me a novel from his vast collection of books. The novel was written by Clive Cussler and featured a character named Dirk Pitt. I remembered the novels being excited and likened the adventuresome Pitt to a cross between James Bond, Tomb Raider and National Treasure. This guy could achieve any mission and I loved learning the historic flashbacks that would frame Pitt’s every adventure.
I remember those books with fondness, but I haven’t read a Clive Cussler novel in years. So while shopping in a bargain bookstore and presented with an opportunity to get three hardcover books for ten dollars, I decided to make my third novel Medusa by Clive Cussler.
Surprisingly, this novel didn’t contain one iota of Dirk Pitt…well, he is mentioned as the director of NUMA (National Underwater and Marine Agency, a real non-profit agency created by Clive Cussler dedicated to preserving maritime history by searching for, exploring and conserving shipwreck artifacts, but that’s about it. The main character of this novel is actually Kurt Austin, Team Leader of NUMA’s Special Assignments Division.
The historical relevance of this book dates back to the Spanish Flu and its deadly impact on the world in the early 1900s. The novel opens with a whaling expedition that took place in that time period. The members of the whaling expedition fall ill shortly after filling their whaling boat’s hold with sperm whale oil. The expedition lands on Trouble Island and the natives are none too pleased, but agree to help the crew after seeing the crew’s mascot, a new whaler whose survival after being swallowed by a whale has bleached his skin and hair white, making him seem ghostly to the island natives. Thanks to whatever medicine the natives produced, every member of that expedition survived to live unusually healthy and long lives.
Fast-forward to present day China, where a virus much more deadly than SARS and very reminiscent of the Spanish Flu is developing in a small rural area. Dr. Song Lee, a physician and scientist exiled for having questioned the Chinese government’s handling of SARS is now called upon by her government to join a joint American and Chinese venture to stomp out this virus before it starts expanding to other areas. Their goal is to not only prevent another SARS-like outbreak, but to cure all those afflicted by this new virus.
The key to this cure/vaccine is a jellyfish known as the Blue Medusa whose venom keeps its prey paralyzed and healthy until the jellyfish is ready to feed. Dr. Lee joins a highly classified scientific group charged with synthesizing a new vaccine from the jellyfish’s venom in a hidden laboratory. When that lab disappears, the United States government calls on NUMA to help find it and Kurt Austin is put in charge of the mission. With the help of team members Joe Zavala and Paul and Gamay Trout, Austin must find the lab while fighting the members of a dangerous Chinese Triad bend on sabotaging the whole operation for their own nefarious gains.
Kurt Austin may not be Dirk Pitt, but his character seems to get in just as many scrapes and manages to survive no matter how desperate the odds against him. After all these years, Clive Cussler hasn’t lost an ounce of storytelling skill. Medusa is a fast moving, exciting novel with tons of action and adventure that will thrill any Dirk Pitt fan…or any fan of the genre for that matter.
The storyline is believable, and in fact, incorporates some of the conspiracy theory ideas regarding the spread of SARS. The idea that a virus can spread more quickly nowadays with the advances in travel and technology, makes such an outbreak not only possible. The theory that any unscrupulous group who wanted to control the world could potentially use such a virus to hold the world hostage is definitely conceivable and I love the way Cussler presents this idea in this book.
I set out with the idea of reading further adventures of an action/adventure character I enjoyed in my youth. Instead, I found myself thoroughly engrossed in the new adventures of an equally enjoyable action/adventure character with a little less of a Bond style and a whole lot of confidence and ingenuity that allows him to survive the almost impossible. Medusa was an enjoyable rollercoaster ride from start to finish and a fun return to the Cussler literary fold for me.