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Book review: Cussler's winning formula makes 'Pirate' a pleasing, low-key read


April 17, 2017

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"PIRATE," by Clive Cussler and Robin Burcell, Putnam, $29.00, 387 pages (f)

"Pirate," the eighth book in Clive Cussler's series featuring treasure hunter/philanthropist duo Sam and Remi Fargo, is a solid addition to the group — and proof that Cussler has figured out a formula that works.

The trouble is that it feels a bit more formulaic than exciting. For those who've read most of Cussler's 50-plus books since "Raise the Titanic," it's likely that the formula feels a little more obvious than it might to a less experienced fan. His strength lies in combining a bit of history and legend — in this case, Robin Hood looms large — with a hunt for some kind of treasure, usually in a tight race against some pretty formidable and unprincipled thugs. "Pirate" is no exception.

An event in 1216 at the end of English King John's reign is at the heart of this tale, which features the Fargos, a husband and wife team who are trying to go on vacation when someone is murdered and they're launched into the middle of a mystery. It's not a whodunit; they quickly figure out the identity of the murderous man behind the evil acts. The heart of the story is their efforts to beat him and his team of thugs to a royal treasure that had been deliberately "lost" hundreds of years ago in order to keep the king's heir safe.

The treasure hunt involves finding and decoding a cipher wheel, a great deal of international travel as the Fargos and various allies try to stay a step ahead and a fair amount of derring-do and gun-play to take out the bad guys.

"Pirate" is fun, but there aren't many twists or surprises, although the plot is pretty solid. Perhaps because it's assumed that most readers already know Cussler's main characters, the books seem to devote less and less time to developing them, offering a sort of shorthand that feels a bit flat. If one reads it simply for the adventure, that's fine, but others will feel a bit short-changed.

Cussler has in recent years teamed up with different writers and in this one his co-author is Robin Burcell. She's written many books of her own and, according to the dust jacket, has spent "nearly three decades working in California law enforcement as a police officer, detective, hostage negotiator and FBI-trained forensic artist."

Cussler, as his fans know, is as expert as his characters at hunting treasures, whether it's a lost airplane or a famous shipwreck. Among others, he helped find and raise the Confederate submarine Hunley.

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