The legend of Dirk Pitt lives on in Odessa Sea(published-2016) where the iconic adventure hero returns with his cast of NUMA characters in an epic, fun ride involving a Romanov treasure, old nuclear bombs, a sunken bomber plane, an Ottoman shipwreck, a sunken destroyer from the first world war, an Eastern European organized crime group, Russian intelligence and military, a suave and fun GRU operator, historians, a tech billionaire, bombs, stealth drones, and a restored civil war era ship.
There are a lot of plot lines packed inside this book while still being fast, light, and easy to read, just like most of the Cussler books released in the past decade. It’s good entertainment and more educational than a movie in terms of the history, technology, science, mechanics, locales, and other fun stuff. This is a simple, pulp, classic adventure story. But I felt that only the villains have been humanized to an extent with flaws, motivations, and personal reasons for their work, and even that is a light effort. The protagonists are likable if you’re already a fan of Cussler’s books and have read many other Dirk Pitt stories.
Dirk and Al start off the story answering a call for help from a nearby ship but find only dead people onboard and the vessel rigged to blow. They make it out alive and have to pause their excavation work in the Bosphorus in order to aid an Europol officer and her partner in the Bulgarian police force. This leads them on the trail of an Eastern European organized crime group involved in smuggling drugs, weapons, and people, but currently focused on excavating treasures from sunken ships and planes. One such treasure is a Cold War era nuclear bomb and their client is mysterious Hungarian tech billionaire – Martin Hendriks.
Martin, while not exciting like all the other Dirk Pitt villains, is a tragic character maneuvering through his elaborate plan to strike a blow at Russia after a personal loss in his life. Though he doesn’t like his actions, he goes through any means necessary to get his revenge.
Ana Belova and Petar Ralin, the two European cops working with Pitt and his NUMA crew, are thrust into action against Martin’s proxies in the smuggling crime group, after personal losses and repeated confrontations. Ana, a hot-headed and action driven character, is interesting enough to be a protagonist in her own series, and made an adventurous companion to the aging Pitt. Her romance with Petar felt unexpected and forced, like a plot device needed to bring all the characters, including Pitt’s wife and his twin adult children, together at the end for their wedding scene.
In a scene where Pitt, Al, Ana, and the NUMA crew are trapped in cave and left to die by their enemies, we see another of Cussler’s engineering brilliance as Pitt remembers a rock burning technique used by Alexander the Great’s armies, and uses it to break away the rocks to free themselves from the cave. In classic Cussler fashion, they luckily find an old antique car in the cave which Pitt purchases later to add to his ever growing collection.
Dirk Jr, and his twin sister Summer Pitt stumble upon a letter between the Tsar and the British government from the first World War while exploring a sunken ship in the Norwegian waters. They find a Russian vessel nearby interested in the same thing and conflicting with their NUMA research vessel. This propels the twins on their adventure to locate a lost and forgotten cache of gold which legally belongs to the British government but is being pursued by the Russians who want it for themselves. Dirk Jr and Summer enlist the help of St. Julien Perlmutter, the aging and obese marine historian and longtime friend of the Pitt family.
The trio get in trouble in England when chased by Viktor Mansfield, a GRU operative who’s a fun and eccentric character. Though Viktor is despised and envied by his own teammates and his NUMA rivals, his charismatic and crazy attitude steals the show from a myriad of bland 2D characters. Despite being ruthless, cunning, and egoistic, he casually accepts defeat when outsmarted by the Pitt twins at the end in Gibraltar, and walks away respecting his opponents, while being happy to go back to better work.
Though the comedy is down in this book compared to other Dirk Pitt stories, there are many epic moments like Dirk and Al holding cutlasses and swashbuckling between ships in the final battle on the Potomac river to secure a dirty bomb. Pitt resorts to using the cannons from a restored civil war era warship to attack his enemies who have them outgunned and outnumbered, in a classic Cussler style. I do miss the 90s Cussler books, but his legacy and spirit does live on in his legendary hero Dirk Pitt. Odessa Sea is a fun, crackling, adventurous yarn that moves fast and easy, with enough excitement at times to cheer up anyone who needs it.