This is the fifth book in the Kurt Austin series written by Clive Cussler and coauthor Paul Kemprecos. The prologue and first four chapters of this book do an excellent job of introducing the reader to many of the main characters and the various threads central to the plot of this action/adventure/scientific mystery. Immediately the reader meets Jules Fauchard, fighting for his life in an open cockpit plane over the French Alps in August 1914 on a secret mission as World War I is about to erupt. Chapter One then shifts to the present, and a "reality" TV show being filmed on a supposedly deserted island in The Scottish Orkneys becomes a little too real for the participants. In Chapter Two, research chemist Angus MacLean is confronted by the violence which he is trying to escape. The scene shifts again in Chapter Three to a research facility and powerplant located deep under the glacier Le Dormeur where a scientific research team makes a startling discovery. Finally, in the next chapter Kurt Austin and other members of his NUMA (National Underwater and Marine Agency) team are collaborating with Skye Labelle, an archeologist with the Sorbonne, to explore the frigid waters of Lac du Dormeur at base of the glacier for hidden evidence of early European civilizations. Thus, less than fifty pages into the story the reader has been skillfully introduced to several of the various threads that will eventually be woven together in the complicated plot which evolves.
And there are additional elements of the story still to be introduced. First, Kurt and his associate Joe Zavala are called upon to save Skye and several others trapped by an explosion deep underneath the glacier. The focus then shifts to Kurt's colleagues Paul and Gamay Trout, who are asked to join a NUMA team investigating an infestation of Gorgonweed threatening to choke the world's oceans and upset both the world's ecology and commerce. This threat has apparently originated in an area of the Atlantic named the LOST CITY due to the confluence of huge underwater towers and the microbe communities that have become attached to them. The microbial action and an enzyme found in the region have caused the seaweed to mutate into a species that has the potential to create immense havoc by clogging the oceans to the extent that all life on the planet might be seriously disrupted. In addition, it appears that the enzymes produced by these microbes are being secretly harvested by unknown predators. The plot will also be further complicated by the actions of the Fauchard family, many of whom are truly villainous and yet have wielded immense power for centuries.
Several segments of this book are very informative and truly fascinating, especially when dealing with subjects that demand the provision of detailed technical background information in order to make the story believable. I found some of the information on glaciology, oceanography and deep sea submersibles very interestingly presented. And such exotic topics as the features of the Morane-Saulnier N aircraft, ancient weapons, and early trade routes certainly added to the believability of the plot.
So, WHY JUST THREE STARS? Because inexplicably large sections of the book read like an unedited first draft. I have no idea whether there was a belief that the plot and the series' popularity were enough to make the book successful, whether there was a tight publication deadline, or if there is some other explanation, but the overall effect was very disappointing. Specifically, my criticisms are fourfold. First, a lot of the dialog is either stilted, childish, cliché filled or just plain ludicrous. (Most high school students could have made it more realistic.) Second, in several instances the characters actions make no sense. Individuals act with total disregard of the obvious dangers which they face, taking not even the most obvious precautions. Third, much of the backstory is provided by conversations which seem totally unlikely. I cannot go into detail without providing spoilers, but at one point one the villains (apparently fueled by egotism) willingly and totally superfluously engages in an extended dialog with one of her adversaries the only purpose of which is to enlighten the reader. Last, many of the escapes and much of the action, while wildly exciting and entertaining, are totally lacking in credibility, even for a novel of this genre.
In summary, the story has a hugely imaginative plot, full of the type of intrigue and conspiracy favored by readers of the genre. And there is certainly plenty of heartstopping action. But it is poorly written and obviously manipulative of the reader. In retrospect this is probably a book that will appeal much more to speed readers and individuals who are willing to just quickly skim through the sections to which I objected and concentrate on the action. So, a frustrating three stars, almost five stars for the plot and barely two stars for the authors' execution.