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I wouldn't exactly call myself a fan of Clive Cussler, but I've always enjoyed what little I've read in the past. I'm not usually too much of a fan of marine stories, which is why he's never been a first choice of mine, although he does write exciting stories. ''The Navigator'' is no exception.
Years before the birth of Christ, the Phoenicians hid something very valuable in a far away land. Thousands of years later, Thomas Jefferson, just nearing the end of his term as President of the United States, possibly discovers its whereabouts. However, there are people keen to prevent him from doing so and much of his paperwork is stolen and his friend Lewis murdered to ensure that the secret remains so.
Hundreds of years later, following the invasion or Iraq, Carmen Machadi is able to salvage a number of articles looted from Baghdad Museum. One of these is an unremarkable bronze statue called the Navigator, which is thought to be Phoenician in origin. Mechadi isn't too concerned about the statue, but someone clearly is, as the ship carrying it and her back to America is attacked. Kurt Austin saves both her and the statue, although the attempted thieves try and succeed again. Austin and Machadi want to find out who was so keen to obtain it and why.
It sounds like quite a simple story, but Cussler mixes historical and fictional characters with fact and supposition to create a decent mystery. It's not a mystery where you can follow the clues and try and solve it before the characters, you just have to hold on tight and enjoy the ride. In this way, it reminds me a little of Matthew Reilly's ''Seven Ancient Wonders'', although Cussler is a far better writer than Reilly.
Cussler's pacing of the story really helps things along. He starts almost gently with the historical background, building up slowly before the book almost explodes into the present day. Once the story has got moving, it stays that way throughout. The action moves smoothly from one continent to another and jumps between characters often enough that you can always keep up with what's going on with someone at any given point.
If there is a downside, it is with the characters themselves. Kurt Austin is a recurring Cussler character, so he doesn't spend time describing him in any great detail. This means he comes across as rather faceless and although you can tell he's on the side of right and his joking with another recurring character Joe Zavala makes him seem a little more human, it's tough to really get a feel for him. There are other characters added at parts who are clearly known to Austin, but having not read a Kurt Austin book for a while, I did feel as if I was missing out on something by not knowing who they were.
When Cussler does build a new character, though, he does it very well. Viktor Baltazar is the man wanting to obtain the Nevigator and being a new character, he is very well drawn. His motivations are clear and he is given a personality akin to that of a Bond villain; charming when he wants to be, yet despicable. Unfortunately, because he was the most complete character here, it was easier to get involved in his aims, as they felt the most real.
This is only a minor distraction, though. Whilst it's difficult to get involved with the people themselves, as they don't exactly welcome you in, it's easy to get caught up in the story. It was a great idea, which worked very well and there were a couple of surprises, including a delightful little twist late on that kept things going a little longer just when I thought they were about to end.
Cussler usually writes with flair and style and a breathless pace and ''The Navigator'' is no different. This was an enjoyable, if not terribly taxing read and if you're a fan of adventure style thrillers, you can't usually go wrong with Cussler generally. The scope of the story and the number of characters he plucks from various places would probably make this a good introduction to his work if you don't mind feeling a little out of the loop at a couple of point, especially as it's available from 24 pence at the Amazon Marketplace or from 40 pence on eBay.
This is a slightly amended version of a review previously published under my name at www.thebookbag.co.uk