Juan Cabrillo and his crew of mercs are thrown into a fight for their own survival when they face a villain with an outrageously overpowered device in Piranha, the first Oregon Files action adventure book written by Boyd Morrison after Jack Du Brul’s run on the series. In classic Cussler fashion, this book never lets down the fun factor, taking its larger-than-life heroes against an unrealistic and overpowered threat with action sequences that are very cinematic. Plus, a few characters, the protagonists from the author’s(Boyd Morrison) Tyler Locke series, make a cameo appearance in Piranha where they help Juan Cabrillo in their mission. This may or may not signify that they are in the same fictional universe as I am yet to read the Tyler Locke series, but it was still a fun scene. This book, like the others in this series, shows that The Oregon Files is the most tactically action packed series in Clive Cussler’s fictional universe.
The series revolves around a ship called The Oregon that looks like a rusted and dirty old freighter on the outside to trick port authorities, while on the inside it’s a hi-tech, over weaponized, richly luxurious, base of operations for a group of mercenaries who do heroic good work, usually for a high price. Their leader, Juan Cabrillo, is a one legged legend, who has multiple options of prosthetic legs to wear based on the day’s activities. He’s like a pirate of the 21st century’s ultra weaponized, tactically intense, world of covert operations who leads a crew of experts who are all the best at what they do.
Piranha begins with The Oregon and her crew pulling a large con to regain their anonymity by faking their death. This long sequence is narrated with many parts, where The Oregon’s crew aka The Corporation(a highly weaponized and technologically advanced group of mercenaries) are split at multiple places with a few deep cover operatives to establish their con, while pulling off an official job against a rogue Admiral in the Venezuelan Navy. This long sequence that runs over the first hundred pages is an amazingly orchestrated tactical operation with layers of suspense and deception, and even a crazy action scene where Juan gets into a tank to break his way out of a freighter ship with too many hostiles firing at him from many directions.
After successfully faking their deaths, the team heads to the Caribbean for R&R but every member is attacked by a well-organized hit squad that knows exactly where each member of the Oregon has gone. The Oregon’s mercs outsmart and outfight their way to safety, but find themselves caught in a larger conspiracy that involves an officially dead DARPA scientist who now has an army of mercenaries, large funding he’s got by tricking drug lords, a battery operated underwater drone swarm that can sink ships, an ambitious and corrupt Senator, the Venezuelan Admiral from the opening sequence who now has a vendetta against the Oregon, a former French Foreign Legion operator turned ruthless mercenary, and a neutrino telescope which the villain uses to see and hear anywhere in the world(through walls and barriers) like an overpowerful surveillance system.
The villains – Kensit(the scientific mastermind), Dayana Ruiz(the Venezuelan Admiral), Hector Bezin(the cold-blooded mercenary) – are all connected and interesting but very different from each other. Though their characters are stereotypical in the genre, they have understandable motivations and reasons behind their actions, while they are still comical to a high extent.
Juan is driven by a personal vendetta against Kensit who tried to kill Juan’s family(his mercs) and this made me think of all the Fast & Furious – Family memes that were popular when I was reading this book. I’m not connecting them, as Juan’s professionally badass mercs could easily eliminate Dom’s crew of untrained former criminals. The protagonist’s journey in this story takes them on a small treasure hunt for a diary of German scientist who died at the volcanic eruption on the Martinique island, and then to rare green underground crystals that are an unknown radioactive substance with dangerous powers. It’s unrealistic and pulpy, but it’s definitely fun for a light read which has a better adventure than most movies these days. Piranha is loaded with amazing guns, weapons, technology, explosive action sequences, speculative scientific concepts, amazingly epic heroes, deranged and evil villains, and feels like consuming a Michael Bay movie or a G.I. Joe epic on paper for a fun time. This book was released in an era a few years ago where the heroes could celebrate their victory at the end by drinking Corona, and damn did that word mean a completely different thing back then.